In January 2019, I’ll be opening a public darkroom, Obscura Darkroom, in Newark, NJ. Located in the University Heights neighborhood, Obscura will provide open darkroom hours, memberships for unlimited facilities use, and classes for both adults and teens. In addition to being a darkroom, Obscura will also offer a photographic arts gallery to showcase work by facility and community members.

A resident of Union, NJ, I’ve been involved in film photography since 1989. In August 2018, I left an 18-year career with IKEA to pursue my lifelong dream of bringing photography to the public. I think accessibility is key. There are no other public darkrooms in New Jersey, so Obscura will be a valuable addition to the New Jersey arts community.

I wanted to open in a community which is being revitalized, and which is accessible by public transportation. Newark, NJ fit the bill completely. Located at 50-60 Dickerson Ave, we are researching opportunities to reach out to younger people with interest in analog photography, because I feel it’s imperative to connect with younger people, to expose them to photography. It provides another avenue for them to visually communicate their unique point of view, while ensuring that the medium stays sustainable and alive in the future. Classes for home schoolers and youth groups are of particular interest for me because kids are always amazed by the magic of photography. It’s so easy to get started, there just needs to be a location in which to actually process and print their work. Obscura will be that place!

The photos I’m sharing here show the current state of construction at Dickerson Ave:

Not just for children, Obscura will also serve adults from those new to photography as well as people who are comfortable in a darkroom. We will provide classes ranging from “crash course” introductions to 8-week long seminars which explore the medium in depth and culminate with a final project. I feel it’s important now for people to explore their creativity, but time and resources are limited. You can see the growing popularity of art classes in general… those ‘Paint and Sip” places are popping up all over.

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Obscura will give a convenient outlet for those wanting to explore photography, but who might not have time or space to have a setup in their own homes. They can come in, do their work, and have a great time… leaving all the technical setup and cleanup to us! We will offer memberships as a cost-effective way for people to utilize our facilities while supporting Obscura at the same time. Members will have unlimited access to the space during business hours and will be invited to participate in members’ only gallery shows.

I get most excited when talking about the gallery. It was so important for Obscura to also provide a space to share the work that people produce… photography is of course a visual medium, and needs to be seen in order to communicate. Within the context of curated shows and events, these works can take on new meaning and speak louder together. The gallery will be open to the public, and will showcase both members’ works as well as final projects from classes and community members. As a member of the Film Shooters Collective, a global group of film photography enthusiasts, I hope to engage the film community with workshops and film related events. There are so many talented photographers working on fantastic things, and I hope to use my contacts to bring these exciting experiences to a greater audience.

Starting up a darkroom can be an expensive endeavor. Quite honestly, I need help. So many people have been so supportive of this project, it’s so wonderful to see. But there’s always some other piece of equipment to purchase in order to fully serve customers. Currently, I’m using Kickstarter to involve people in the project and runs until November 7, 2018. More information can also be found at the website.

~ Jen

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About the author

Jen Zehner

Jen Zehner is a NJ based fine art film photographer who seeks to capture the movement and energy of urban landscapes. Using film and analog medium format cameras, she makes fleeting moments tangible for the viewer, telling the story through use of light,...

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  1. Good luck with the KS Jen, I keep my fingers crossed after the water heater disaster.
    I hope people support your Kickstarter with just 9 days to go and a little over 4.000 dollars short.