A conversation with the Darkroom TAs: Revealing one of campus’ darkest secrets
Arguably one of the most underused resources, the darkroom, hidden away in the corner of Hamilton “Ham” Center, possesses an abundance of free film materials and learning opportunities for students. Third-year Tricia Johnson, current TA, and thesis student Andrew Fiorillo, former TA, revealed one of campus’s darkest secrets.
“Being in the darkroom so much and having that access to a free darkroom gives you the opportunity to really explore as much as you would like,” Johnson said.
A darkroom eliminates light to allow for the proper development of sensitive film and photographs. The darkroom is sponsored by the New College Student Alliance (NCSA) and provides digital and analog camera checkout, film for black and white processing, a film scanner, audio and visual recorders, passport photos, the appropriate chemicals and paper and film development and photo enlargement services. “And it’s all for free,” Johnson added.
Fiorillo explained that while small, the darkroom budget is enough to sustain those who use the space.
“Historically, students have access to free film, paper and chemistry to capture, process, and print all the pictures they’d like,” Fiorillo said in an email interview. “If many more people started using it, which would be great, extra money should definitely be invested to repair some of the enlargers and a larger annual budget would be necessary to support the additional material costs.”
Johnson learned how to use the darkroom during her first Independent Study Project (ISP) and expanded on her abilities with a tutorial hosted by the previous TA. However, being the TA herself is what has really allowed Johnson to hone in on her skills.
Fiorillo began using the darkroom around the same time as Johnson: spring of his first year, late at night in lieu of doing problem sets.
“The darkroom always felt like a very tranquil space where I could focus on something enjoyable and purely recreational, rather than constantly trying to be productive,” Fiorillo said. He realized that utilizing the free resources available to him in the darkroom here on campus was cheaper than printing his own digital photos.
“Every time I go in there I make a new picture, I develop a new role of film, I’m furthering my skill as I learn a little more about the technique, and I’m learning how to experiment,” Johnson explained. “I finally feel like I can walk in and do it.”
To gain access to the darkroom, students have two options. They can learn how to use the equipment properly or prove they already know how. Johnson then puts their name on the key list. Once on the list, students can use the darkroom whenever they would like.
“Actually, I don’t think people really know that [the darkroom] is there,” Johnson continued.
The darkroom also displays a small gallery of students’ prints. Not only does this wall present student artwork, it also demonstrates how a variation of methods, such as different filters, work. Johnson thinks the gallery is a great learning opportunity.
“I personally would like to see more people using the darkroom and exhibiting their art around campus,” Fiorillo said.
In the future, Johnson would like to host a series of workshops. “You can come in for a couple hours at a time and learn what an ISO is or how to choose the correct F-stop or how you would guess what speed to put your shutter on,” Johnson said. However, while taking a film photo is very different than taking a digital photo, Johnson’s plans go beyond those logistical techniques. Her goal is to teach students how to experiment with different film enlarging techniques as well. Johnson would like to present these sessions in a recreational atmosphere, rather than academic.
“Working directly in that workshop group setting would be really incredible,” she noted. “It’s also more accessible instead of them choosing eight or 10 people for a single tutorial, anybody could come in and play around and experiment.”
Fiorillo mentioned one opinion that he continuously told students who came through the darkroom: professional film photography is extinct because compared to digital, working with film takes a lot more time, money and portability.
“As a hobby, though, it’s a wonderful way to spend time producing art in a way that’s very unlike sculpting, drawing, painting, etc.,” he explained. “Learning how to process and print in the darkroom teaches a person how light is controlled to actually make a photograph and it will make them a better photographer.”
Johnson’s TA office hours are weekly, usually Mondays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Thursdays from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.; however, these times are subject to change.
“In that time I’m there to help anybody troubleshoot, I’m there to give out free film, I’m there to teach people how to develop film and enlarge their photos,” Johnson said.