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.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
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

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam