Chris Smith and Community photography

Chris Smith found photography through a girl who was studying photography. The moment that he saw a printed image appear he was hooked.

By Christopher Osborne.


One of Chris Smith and students during a workshop.

Chris & I started talking through a Facebook group. He had asked if anyone had experience using the Intrepid Enlarger. When I found out that he wanted to install the enlarger in a caravan to provide a facility for children I was intrigued.

I asked Chris how he had become involved in photography.  Chris sighs.  “I did not have the best childhood. I went into foster care when I was fifteen and was living in my own flat before I was sixteen. There was not a lot of parental supervision, and many of the kids that I knew had turned to drugs and alcohol. I found photography through a girl who was studying photography at college”.

One day my girlfriend asked if we could turn the spare bedroom into a darkroom. I told her that it was reserved for other projects. When she left for college, I set to work. By the time she arrived home, I had blacked out the windows. Two weeks later, we had a fully functioning darkroom. I became hooked the moment that I saw a printed image appear for the first time”, Chris explains.

We had to make a choice every month. We could either eat canned beans for the month and buy paper and chemistry, or we could eat properly for the month. Most months we chose beans. One month my girlfriend came into the darkroom as I was loading the paper into the paper safe. That month we had beans and no printing.

An anthotype print made by one of Chris’ students

Roll on thirteen years, and covid happened. Chris started searching online for box cameras. “They were so beautiful. I ended up purchasing a Box Brownie Flash B. I ordered film, and when it arrived, I shot it. The experience took me back to the analogue camera experience I had when I was sixteen. I sent the film off for developing but was disappointed by the results. I ordered the equipment and chemistry and began my own processing. I have some beautiful negatives”.

I asked Chris what had appealed in returning to analogue photography. “First of all, you can not “Chimp”. You have to have patience. And, there is the feeling of surprise when you first see the results”, Chris explains.

Chris has been photographing weddings, and charity events and taking portraits. Recently he has started servicing analogue cameras. He was entirely self-taught, and someone asked him about his qualifications. He discussed this with his then-fiancée and two days later was enrolled on an MA in Photography at Falmouth. “To start with the course was a complete shock. However, it has been an eyes opener” says Chris. His MA journey is an interesting story in itself and will be the subject of another article. In summary, Chris has explored photography together with a group of teenage students.

He bought a caravan to turn into a darkroom with the help of a grant through the Richard and Siobhán Coward Foundation. The idea is to be able to take the caravan to locations that are suitable for promoting photography and the darkroom to young people. Chris is currently developing a syllabus that he can offer to schools, youth and community groups. The group of students who Chris has worked with on his degree will have the first use of the darkroom.

Chris has talked with experimental photographer and educator Brendan Barry who inspired him to enable the caravan to be used as a camera obscura too.

The caravan darkroom is something Chris is very passionate about. “When I was a teenager, photography helped me see the world differently”, Chris explains. ”If I can help someone else who is going through something similar, then that is a win. I want the project to be free to the end user, and so I am exploring ways to fund the project”.

Chris has constructed a bench for the darkroom and is currently struggling with the electrics. The leisure battery and solar panel were working until Chris disconnected the battery for a week. Any help in the Hull, East Yorkshire area would be greatly appreciated.

You can read more about Chris Smith’s community work at on the internet at Instagram at @enthusing.young.minds

Chris’ personal photography can be seen at (analogue) and at (digital)

Images © Chris Smith 2023.

You might also be interested in this previous SilvergrainClassics article on Sébastien Bergeron – a street Box Camera manufacturer based in France.


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