John Driscoll: Printer of exquisite fashion pictures

 

Any photographer who came of age in the pre-digital era can still summon up the vertiginous mix of excitement and fear that attended a trip to the darkroom to review the results of a shoot.

Most London labs reeked of fixer and testosterone: some referred to their clients as "the enemy", and any cock-up or infelicity left the photographer open to mockery and abuse from short-tempered darkroom staff. But there were some noble exceptions to this rule.

The passing of John Driscoll – "Johno" – marks the end of a chapter in photographic history. Driscoll was proprietor of the legendary Johno's Darkroom – black and white only – where he made exquisite prints for a generation of young fashion photographers who went on to dominate the international scene in the 1980s, '90s and beyond, including Nick Knight, Craig McDean, Elaine Constantine and many others.

Driscoll was born in Barking in 1953, and got his start in the photographic business as a messenger boy at the Evening Standard in 1969. After being sacked for spending too much time hanging around the Standard darkroom, he began work as a printer at Hatton Photographic in 1972, which later became The London Darkroom. After a spell at Thompson Publishing, he worked in Mark Trew's darkroom, and by the 1980s he had become the printer of choice for many of that decade's key photographers, including Brian Griffin and – most importantly – Nick Knight. The timing was propitious, and Driscoll decided to set up his own establishment, Johno's Darkroom, which opened in 1987.

Based in a series of slightly Dickensian locations around Clerkenwell and Hoxton, and suffused with Driscoll's warmly welcoming bonhomie, Johno's became something of a photographers' club. In a shabby room dominated by a huge Nick Knight print, visitors could shoot the breeze with his colleagues – Christine, Jason and Paul, Barb and Cherie – check out other photographers' work, and glimpse Driscoll emerging from the dark to take a call, retouch a print or send someone to the bookies.

When the rush jobs were cleared, there would be the inevitable migration to the pub, where Driscoll had to be forcibly prevented from buying every round. His wife, Barbara – the other half of the double act – was frequently at the lab, and could usually be persuaded to come for a drink: much shouting and hilarity and missing of trains home would ensue.

The best photographers went to Driscoll because he was the best, yet all the posturing associated with the profession fell away when you were in his company. Driscoll's understanding of photography was the equal of any curator's: he cut through to the essence of what made a good image. Furthermore, his mentoring of photographers saved more than one career, as he rescued them from disaster in the aftermath of a difficult shoot. In a war film, Driscoll would have been the cheerful sergeant steadying the nerves of an inexperienced officer. There are a number of successful photographers who have very good cause to be grateful to him.

Driscoll first worked in New York in 1999 at the request of Craig McDean, who insisted to a client that no other printer could do his pictures justice. In 2000, Driscoll moved to the city and established Johno's NY on Grand Street in Little Italy. Although he liked New York, he only relocated because the market for traditional black and white was drying up in London. (When asked what he missed about London, Driscoll immediately replied: "All of it".) But he became Irving Penn's final printer, thus making a direct connection between the high style of 1950s and '60s New York and the London aesthetic of the 1980s and '90s. However, the rise of digital proved irresistible and in 2009 Driscoll returned to the UK and his home outside Brighton.

Driscoll was keen to get a darkroom going on the south coast, and talked about opening a gallery where he could exhibit the work of his friends and clients, a place to show "all those wonderful images that need to be seen". Sadly, the onset of cancer curtailed these projects. Had he lived, there's no doubt that he would have championed the new generation of photographers who have rejected digital in favour of film. He would have been their hero, just as he was ours. He would have given them something that you can't get from a digital camera: love.

John Driscoll, photographic printer: born Barking 26 March 1953; married 1975 Barbara; died 14 May 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
British musician Mark Ronson arrives for the UK premiere of the film 'Mortdecai'
music
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us