This week photographer Matt Sillars shares some of Inverness College’s history of art courses where, as Head of the Art Department, he initially set up the darkrooms within the Midmills building. The college was based at Midmills for over 30 years, before moving to its new site at Inverness Campus in August 2015. Matt has many years’ experience teaching and lecturing in photography and now runs The Inverness Darkroom with Rachel Fermi and Brian McIntosh. 

The new Inverness Darkroom sits almost on the same spot as the first ever ‘teaching’ darkroom in the Highlands, which was created in 1948 by Fred Hardley when it was occupied by Inverness Royal Academy.  In turn the Inverness College art department created a modern darkroom in the building around 2003. So, the current darkroom is the 3rd to be built, and we are carrying on a now long established photographic tradition!  

I started work at Inverness College in the mid 1980s and my first office was at the ‘Midmills’ Building.  At that time the College was still part of Highland Council and the Midmills campus was gradually being restored and developed for use as a base for further education. I recall the front half of the building being reminiscent of a building site, with all the floorboards up and access restricted – very similar to the way it is at the moment! 

The art department was originally located in two ordinary classrooms in the main Longman Building and photography classes were held in a large cupboard on C floor, just big enough for 8 enlargers and a small sink, with tutorials and crits being held in the corridor.  

However, when the HIDB closed its doors on the Highland Craftpoint building in Beauly (which was shared by Made in Scotland, now the Co-op) at the end of the 90s the College rented the building. This transformed the art and media departments with the creation of excellent new facilities, which included large studio spaces, multimedia rooms, a new purpose-built darkroom, and an exhibition space.  We quickly expanded courses and developed our sense of a mini ‘art school’.  Unfortunately, for a number of very practical reasons this was short-lived and a move back into Inverness became inevitable.   

Due to the excellent recruitment to the art and media courses a move to the Midmills Building was proposed as the large airy spaces and good light created an ambiance perfect for art and drama to continue to expand.   

It is fitting that Wasps’ Inverness Creative Academy now hosts working artists, a dedicated community of photographers and students from the UHI – carrying on the creative enterprise begun by Fred Hardley in 1948. “

The Inverness Darkroom opened in February 2019 at Inverness Creative Academy and is a community workspace with 8 enlargers and black & white film processing facilities. They run regular workshops and  membership of the darkroom is affordable and flexible with options to pay monthly, quarterly or annually.

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Images courtesy of The Inverness Darkroom

Our heritage programme is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund

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