2004 may have been the end for Ilford Imaging UK limited, but out of its receivership came HARMAN technology and four years on their production of black and white products is once again flourishing with their support for traditional darkroom photography being stronger than ever.
HARMAN technology is named after Alfred Harman, who founded the Ilford company back in 1879. The company is based in Mobberley, near Knutsford in Cheshire and employs over 300 people.
The company continues to grow with new distributors being appointed in Japan and Canada and they have also recently taken over the distribution for Paterson darkroom products.
While in receivership the company was taken over by the receivers who imposed that any unprofitable product lines to be quickly stopped so the SFX film production came to an end. However after receivership, when the six managers bought the company, it was decided due to popular demand to bring back SFX and maintain its commitment to the traditional darkroom motto, which seems to be shared throughout the entire company.
So how have the company survived so long? Especially as we now live in a digital age where most companies are choosing to move away from the UK, Marketing Manager Judy Wong had this to say:
"Most of our competitors in the b&w market have now pulled out. Kodak have stopped producing darkroom paper and the demise of Agfa has enabled Ilford Photo to continue to supply this market with darkroom products. We also believe that even though the analogue market only makes up a small percentage of the photographic industry, Harman believes it can exist alongside the digital world. In fact using our in-house imaging expertise we have also developed a range of inkjet products to meet the demands of our digital customers."
Their belief in the analogue market is stronger than ever, with their campaign to stop colleges converting darkrooms into digital suites still going strong.
"The Defend the Darkroom idea came about after a group of college lectures came for an onsite visit. They wanted Ilford to help them ‘defend their darkrooms' against the financial directors at colleges who were converting many darkrooms into digital suite," said Judy. "There has now been a realisation that students enjoy darkroom photography and teachers believe that the only way to teach photography is to go back to the analogue cameras where the basics of photography can be taught."
HARMAN feel it is important for students to learn and understand analogue photography to improve their digital work and Keyphoto, a dealer who sells darkroom products to schools and colleges is seeing good levels of sales.
"People are beginning to understand that the basics of photography can assist in the creation of better digital images especially recreating digital b&w images, where shadow, light and tone is key," said Judy. "We run Ilford Photo Master classes and offer the teaching of black and white photography to students and teachers. We send in professional darkroom photographers to promote the technique."
Even though HARMAN and many colleges still show support for darkroom work, many people, particularly retailers see it as a dying trade and few are willing to stock the products needed to produce the work.
"Due to the lack of retailers willing to stock darkroom products we have created a special delivery system called Direct to Dealers whereby customers can ring into HARMAN and place their orders for non-stocked items and pick it up from their local dealers the next day. Customers can also order through our dealer's own websites," said Judy.
Some of Ilford's products such as their HP 5 plus film and the Ilford multigrade paper which was first made 68 years ago are still firm favourites with those who produce darkroom work and Judy believes this is what sets Ilford apart from the rest.
"The Ilford darkroom papers in their iconic Ilford box are well known and loved world wide. Our Multigrade darkroom papers are our best selling product and although the product has had a few improvements since the 1940's it is basically still the same paper."
However for the digital customers HARMAN have developed their own range of professional quality fibre baryta papers which is manufactured on-site in Mobberley to ensure consistent quality and uses the same base as the premium Multigrade FB darkroom papers, called HARMAN PHOTO inkjet paper (www.harman-inkjet.com).
HARMAN have also began distributing
a the Paterson product range.
"HARMAN are distributors for Paterson. The development of the Paterson product range is controlled totally by Paterson, in fact rather than dropping products Paterson have asked HARMAN to help develop some new chemicals for the darkroom."
In addition HARMAN also acquired Kentmere Photographic in late 2007,
"As for the Kentmere products, they will remain Kentmere branded and will not have the same specification as IFLORD products. Kentmere customers are distinct from the IFLORD customers and thus the recognisable blue box will continue."
With the recent intergration of Kentmere into the HARMAN family, the business funds for the UK are stretched, but the company is
still actively increasing business in places such as the USA and Canada, but at present there are no plans to introduce any new films.
"There are no plans at present to introduce any new films but we will continue with our ULF program, so customers can still enjoy the art of creating beautiful silver gelatin images in large format.," said Judy "We are also developing new products for the Opaljet wide format market. This market is new to HARMAN and it is one of the brands acquired with Kentmere."
HARMAN have also re-launched the ILFORD Process and Print service with the addition of a new service, whereby b&w digital files can be sent into ILFORD to be printed onto real silver gelatine paper. The Process and Print service has gone from strength to strength, proving that the people still do love black and white photography (www.ilfordphoto.com).
If you are struggling to find darkroom products see www.ilfordphoto.com for a list of dealers and websites where you can order from or call our Customer Services on 01565 684000.