Focal Point Studio, Darkroom and Gallery is cementing its place as Geelong’s hub for photography

Focal Point Studio, Darkroom and Gallery is cementing its place as Geelong’s hub for photography

Words by Paddy Coppinger

The new hub of photography located in Northern Geelong offers all things film and digital photography, bringing world class art for locals to enjoy.

Originally opening in 2019, only to be buffeted by the effects of lockdown and what is surely now the world’s most tired word – COVID-19, Focal Point Studio, Darkroom and Gallery is starting afresh and back open in Northern Geelong. What’s better, the space is opening its doors to the tune of a plethora of exciting news and exhibitions, cementing its place as the city’s hub for both analogue and digital photography, offering a unique space and exciting services, that make it a one-of-a-kind location, not just in the state, but the country.

The Studio, Darkroom and Gallery offers a unique space where complete photo newbies, hobbyists and professionals can come and hire, or be taught in the use of their industry-standard studio, as well as darkrooms, or browse world-class photo exhibitions, such as the upcoming ‘2020 Nikon-Walkley Press Photography Awards exhibition’And if none of that good stuff sufficiently tickles your fancy, then read it again, because it should.

So, it is a pretty safe bet to say that photographer of 35 years, founder and owner of Focal Point, Craig Watson, is definitely not one to be camera shy. Having worked mostly in photojournalism for various newspapers and magazines, he was after a fresh start before opening Focal Point back in 2019. 

“I pretty much wanted a total change; to do something different. So about three years ago, I was looking into what to do and I looked at analogue photography, old-school film photography, that sort of thing. I went and had a look around other dark rooms in Melbourne and looked at the industry and how things were going, and realized there’s actually a bit of growth happening,” notes Craig. 

But being able to foster his vision in a perfect location wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies.

He mentions, “I looked at about 30 places to find somewhere suitable that did everything I wanted. Every place I looked at just required too much of a compromise with what I wanted to do.” 

Craig Watson at his Focal Point Darlroom and Gallery. Photo by Noel Butcher

Then finally, stumbling upon a location nestled in Northern Geelong, 10 minutes from the CBD in an old industrial area, previously home to a mechanic and builder’s showroom, Craig found a home for Focal Point. 

“It’s big. It’s 420 square metres, which is huge. It means we’ve got a large gallery; it means we can have a dark room, one of the biggest in the country – it’s a huge darkroom, and we’ve got room for everything else. The gallery itself is nearly 200 square metres.”

“There’s a studio, there’s a small shop where we sell all the requirements for film photography, and the darkroom, but also used equipment and books and anything at all that’s of interest. But we’re not a camera shop. We don’t do new cameras. We do some used and second-hand cameras, but the whole place is about providing a space for people to explore and learn photography, and just appreciate it.” 

Film photography of late, has seemed to have undergone a renaissance of sorts, with sales in film stocks rising, and interest in the medium growing by the year, fuelled by an avid online community exclusive to none, with the accessibility of the internet being the great equaliser. The beauty in the method of Craig Watson and Focal Point, is his ability to distil this reborn fervour, into a physical space that fosters and welcomes creatives, and the curious, to sink their teeth into the traditional methods and techniques of shooting, developing and printing photographs, all for Geelong to enjoy.   

“People want to find out about the old methods, and how to work in a dark room and use film and that sort of thing, because it’s a very different way to work and shoot than it is on digital.” 

A champion of all things photography, however, Focal Point also delves into aspects of digital photography techniques, experimental photography and lighting as well, just to name a few.

The space’s gallery, which boasts a slightly less-than-humble 200 square metre floor plan, is home to roughly one exhibition a month. It sees open call, local photographer focused exhibitions, designed to champion up and coming talent from the region, as well as invitational and nationally touring exhibits, which feature some of the country’s most prestigious working photographers. 

Exciting shows in the works at Focal Point include a huge Music Photography exhibit coming in October of this year, allowing a platform for predominately local artists, as well as the Nikon-Walkley Press Photography Awards Exhibition, which opens this Friday, and runs until May. 

“We’re really trying to generate a lot of interest by having those really top exhibitions come down for local people to see while at the same time, really focusing on promoting and supporting local photographers… particularly amateurs who just don’t have the opportunity to exhibit in the public space. We also have a library of about 700 books about photography, and specific photographers, which is a really great reference, particularly for students,” says Craig. 

Armed with an expansive gallery space, the beauty of Focal Point is that it’s incredibly accessible for everyone – no matter what age. The large space boasts plenty of comfortable seating dotted around the gallery and Craig has even got a wheelchair available for when fatigue kicks in at no cost. Designed with wheelchair accessibility in mind, Focal Point ensures a quality experience for everyone, with all of the photos in the exhibitions are hung at a height to still be comfortably viewed from a seated position.

Maybe it’s not the darkrooms, extensive photographic library, studio space, shop, huge gallery or banging location that brings you to Focal Point. Maybe it’s not even your desire to level up those Instagram film vibes. Maybe it’s just the passion and care of founder Craig Watson, and his dedication to the next generation of Australia’s best photo makers, and hobbyists alike, that make this space something really special. 

So, what are you waiting for then? 

For all the juicy stuff around Focal Point Studio, Gallery and Darkroom, hit the link here.       

Focal Point Studio, Darkroom & Gallery is located at 46 Douro St, North Geelong and is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am-5pm.