East Lansing Class Looks to Keep Darkroom Photography Alive

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Monday, February 10, 2020, 4:30 pm
Emily Joan Elliott

From left: TreSean Hoskins, Tobias Rule, Kailee Borroum and Jacqui Carroll in the darkroom (photos by Gary Caldwell)

The digital age has transformed our lives in numerous ways, but Community Darkroom 517 is keeping at least one analog practice alive: developing photographs from film.

As part of its community outreach, “CD 517” held its first “Intro to Film and Darkroom Processes” class of the year in January and more aspiring photographers can attend upcoming classes on February 20 or March 19.

The classes are observation-only, but the facilitators demonstrate the proper techniques for processing film from start to finish. Participants leave knowing how to safely use darkroom equipment.

The registration fee of $15 provides admittance to the course, a roll of film, and admittance to a future open lab night to process the film.

CD 517 is Mid-Michigan’s only communal facility and is facilitated by Jacqui Carroll, who has worked as a fine arts teacher at ELHS and MacDonald Middle School for four years.

Two years ago, Carroll invited photographers affiliated with Refuge Lansing to speak to her ELHS students. ELHS’s facilities impressed her colleagues, and they considered how the wider community might gain access.

After consulting with appropriate departments at LCC and MSU, it became clear that ELHS had the best facilities in town. Carroll and Amanda Grieshop, who had worked on the Refuge Lansing project, then began the process of opening the darkroom to the public.

The two discussed the project with Glenn Mitcham, the East Lansing Schools Curriculum Director, who readily approved. His father ran a darkroom at MSU for more than 30 years, and he valued the process. Currently, all ELHS students enrolled in darkroom photography must attend at least one open lab night, sponsored by CD 517.

Carroll is thrilled to see her students working alongside photographers in the community, fostering positive and professional relationships.

According to Carroll, CD 517 provides “a place to bond and create relationships. It’s an experience that is unmatched.”

Gina Tremonti-Gembel, an amateur photographer who uses the space, agrees. Tremonti-Gembel enjoys working with the students and is currently using her background in outreach to publicize CD 517.

Above: Amanda Grieshop (left) and Gina Tremonti-Gembel develop a photograph on one of Community darkrooms 517’s meetings 

The darkroom’s open lab nights have been running for about a year, using grants that Carroll and Grieshop received from the East Lansing Educational Foundation and the East Lansing Arts Commission. They will also be partnering with the MSU Broad Art Museum for a workshop this spring.

Carroll, Grieshop, and Tremonti-Gembel all recall using darkrooms during their formative years. Grieshop says she fell in love with the darkroom at age 15. Unlike with digital photography, no two photos — even when developed from the same negative — are exactly the same in darkroom photography.

“The hands-on process ignites all the senses,” according to Grieshop.

For Carroll, the process is calming — the dim lighting and the smell of photography chemicals provide a sense of Zen.

For Tremonti-Gembel, CD 517 provides a space to return to photography as a hobby. She appreciates the new friends and the slow, methodical process that requires mindfulness.

CD 517 is well-regulated, balancing outreach with concerns for safety. Everyone who uses the room must have proper background knowledge on equipment and chemical use. The current classes being offered serves this purpose.

Adult community members who are interested in using the darkroom outside of the class must submit to a background check to ensure the safety of ELHS students. Students and community members alike must take a safety quiz and submit an application.

When completing the application, community members can opt to purchase a daily drop-in pass for $10, a month pass for $18, or semester pass for $80. Members need to sign up for open lab nights in advance and note which equipment they plan to use.

The rules and expectations for members are simple: be kind; honor the schedule; clean up after yourself; and treat equipment with respect.

Those interesting in taking the course should visit Community Darkroom 517’s webpage.


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