AMMAN- To many of us in the digital age, a photo represents a quick snippet that pauses a moment in time and acts as a print that one could go back to through a screen. With the introduction of cameras to mobile phones post-90s, the rapid application of technology into the camera industry became part of a generational shift. As our lives got faster, so did taking pictures.  

For most people, the love for analogue is linked to personal memory and nostalgia. We find ourselves digging through old family albums, asking our family members about moments we vaguely remember, from times that seem ancient in the digital age. Luckily, film is making a comeback in all parts of the world, and we are gradually witnessing the SWANA region ride the wave as well. 

Darkroom Amman is a modern creative space promoting the revival of analogue photography. Centered in the heart of Jabal Lweibdeh, the collective is a welcoming venue for film enthusiasts and local photographers. Founded by Diana Zubi, Lina Khalid, Mohammed Hammad and Zahed Bata, the project is driven by a shared love for the process of analogue photography.

Darkroom Amman logo on window front, courtesy of DRA

Darkroom Amman’s mission is to continuously showcase visual archiving in Jordan and across the Arab world. Established in 2018, the space was founded as an educational hub for analogue photography, from photo development to printing techniques and working with different camera formats. 

Darkroom Amman founders, Left to Right Zahed Bata, Lina Khaled, Mohammad Hammad and Diana Zubi, courtesy of DRA

The space holds a variety of events from photo walks to exhibitions by local photographers. In their most recent “Point and Shoot Walk ” sponsored by Hikmat Culture, Darkroom Amman teams up with artists and residents in Jabal Lweibdeh. With this initiative, photographers are invited to visit some of the city’s oldest streets and explore artifacts such as the abandoned Al Khayyam Cinema. Visitors are also taught about the architectural history of the buildings and sites around the area. At the time of writing this piece, Darkroom Amman has held two walks so far, one led by Jordanian architect Nuha Innab, and the second by Abu Ata, a local resident of Jabal Lweibdeh for over 40 years.

“Point and Shoot Walk” funded by Hikmat Culture led by Abu Ata. Photo courtesy of Zina Qabbani

In early 2020, Darkroom Amman hosted their debut exhibition Negative Era at the MMAG Foundation. The exhibition was dedicated to portraying analogue photography by a variety of Jordanian artists in black and white. The show featured a lineup of emerging photographers based in Jordan, documenting pieces of their everyday lives and journey through monochromatic film. Moving onto recent expositions, Jordanian multidisciplinary researcher Maryam Khasawneh was the first to grace the walls of Darkroom’s new space in Omar Al Khayyam Street with her Pleasure Garden collection. With an interest in agriculture and community, Khasawneh shoots a wide diversity of plants with color film, giving spectators room to explore their link to nature and evoking intimacy between the human and surrounding natural elements.

As the darkroom grows day by day, the film community is sprouting in Amman. artmejo had the pleasure to speak with co-founders Lina Khalid and Diana Zubi on how the passion project came to fruition. 

As a group, our family photo archives are what keep us connected. In my flashbacks, I see myself looking at old photo albums. The idea of touching a memory, holding it between your hands, evokes so much emotion and intimacy. Something warm. From that context, there was a gap in our lives where we could not touch these photos. I want to touch photos and want them close to me. – Lina Khalid 

The technical aspect of the analogue process might be time-and-energy consuming, but there is always the factor of curiosity mixed with patience that comes along with it. When expressed by modern definition, a picture can be shot more than once until the desired result is achieved. The case is entirely different when you hold an analogue camera between your hands, hear the roll scrunch inside a machine, and hope for the best. By introducing film to amateur photographers and assisting those with experience, Darkroom Amman sets the stepping stone for the future of analogue in Amman. The space also works hard on enhancing accessibility to bigger groups of people in Jordan to the film community, while harboring a sense of nostalgia and sentimentality to the typical photograph. 

Photo development at the lab.  Photo courtesy of Darkroom Amman

Each story with analogue is different from the other, but they all start off experimental. 

There was Studio Sport in Downtown Amman, and I used to go there and develop my films. I started off with black and white film then, and after that, I never stopped. – Lina Khaled 
My story with analogue photography started off because I admired it. I always used to look at my parents’ photos; my dad took a lot of pictures. I would look at the pictures and ask myself: “Where’s the camera”? Because I only saw footage around me, I would wonder where the camera behind it might be. – Diana Zubi
Photo development at the lab.  Photo courtesy of Darkroom Amman

Analogue is about imagining what your shot would end up like after processing, and what story it could tell depending on the result. Mistakes are irreversible. Light leaks, over-exposure, and color mismatches always serve as a possibility. Walking into a space where images are actively created helps individuals embrace these errors and turn them into learning opportunities. 

A lot of people send us messages like “I want to start analogue, where do I start from?”, “I want to buy my friend who is interested, where can I find cameras?”. This creates an open dialogue. – Diana Zubi 

As the film scene blooms regionally, Darkroom Amman has become one of the many renowned analogue collectives in the Arab world. From photo labs, to film suppliers and darkrooms, analogue photography has turned from a dying art into a powerhouse that connects photographers and enthusiasts from different backgrounds, generations, and interests. Pioneers supporting the film community such as Analog Majlis and Analog The Room shed light on up and coming analogue artists. The concept of a “Darkroom” transitioned into various cities, like Cairo and Beirut, where developing, scanning and printing services are offered. It was quite evident in our conversation with the co-founders, that a sense of cross-country collaboration, support and collective love for the craft ties all these collectives together.

Darkroom Amman office space. Photo courtesy of Darkroom Amman

Through tapping into the roots of photography, Darkroom Amman encourages visual research in family archives and the creation of one’s own compilation. Being both a creative space and photo lab simultaneously, Darkroom Amman celebrates versatility and fascination for film, one roll at a time. 

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