This summer, the hub of Portland's photography scene abruptly shut down.
In early July, Newspace Center for Photography announced that the center could no longer afford to stay open and had permanently closed. It seemed to happen out of nowhere—the majority of the 15-year-old organization's supporters were completely unaware that the institution had been in any danger of folding.
"It happened over night. We got an email from the board that was like three sentences long," says photographer and former Newspace volunteer Aaron Wessling. "It caught us all by surprise."
Along with hosting classes, gallery shows and talks, Newspace had the only public darkroom between San Francisco and Tacoma, according to Wessling.
So immediately after Newspace closed, Wessling and six other photographers who had been involved with the organization went to work founding the Portland Darkroom.
"It was one of those do or die moments," says Wessling. "We really did not want the community to peter out."
The team bought all the equipment they could from Newspace's fire sale. Only a few weeks later, they signed a lease on a studio in the North Coast Seed Building. PDR opened for members on September 1. Now, the analog photography cooperative has 16 members and a fully functioning studio.
"Between this and actual work I feel like I blacked out for the last two months," says Wessling.
PDR has a darkroom and film processing equipment, but Wessling says that's just the "bare-bones" necessary. Now that they're up and running, they plan to slowly expand. Starting in October, PDR will regularly host an open house. Eventually, they hope to support a larger pool of members and offer classes to the public.
But right now, PDR's main priority is providing a life raft. "Keeping that community alive while we work to grow it a little bit more is our main priority now," says Wessling.