photographer and journalist

In the Darkroom

 

In the Darkroom

story and photos by Emma Sarappo

The ease, speed and ubiquity of digital photography has almost entirely displaced film in the 21st century. However, at Northwestern University, some students are learning the craft and keeping the medium alive. Northwestern’s Intro to Photography class, taught by Professor Pam Bannos, teaches students to shoot, develop and print 35mm format black and white film. Students then use the ARTica darkrooms in the underground level of Norris University Center for developing and printing. Not all of Northwestern’s film photographers are currently enrolled in Intro to Photography, though—after completing the course, many students continue shooting with the equipment and knowledge they acquired in the class, or shoot to branch out from digital photography. 

   
  
 
  
    
  
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  Northwestern University senior Cara Franke loads a roll of black and white film into her camera. Franke places the film into the chamber on the left side, then pulls it to the right before closing the camera’s back and winding the negatives into place for shooting. For assignments in her Intro to Photography class, Franke uses 400 speed film, which has a medium sensitivity to light and can be used both indoors and outdoors. 

Northwestern University senior Cara Franke loads a roll of black and white film into her camera. Franke places the film into the chamber on the left side, then pulls it to the right before closing the camera’s back and winding the negatives into place for shooting. For assignments in her Intro to Photography class, Franke uses 400 speed film, which has a medium sensitivity to light and can be used both indoors and outdoors. 

 
   
  
 
  
    
  
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  Franke manually focuses her 50mm lens to take a picture. Her camera, a Canon AE-1, does not autofocus. Although she shot film casually when she was younger, her class is her first time developing it. “As long as you’re shooting the photos right, you’re going to develop okay. It’s pretty much a step-by-step process,” she said. “The only frustrating part is how much time it takes.”

Franke manually focuses her 50mm lens to take a picture. Her camera, a Canon AE-1, does not autofocus. Although she shot film casually when she was younger, her class is her first time developing it. “As long as you’re shooting the photos right, you’re going to develop okay. It’s pretty much a step-by-step process,” she said. “The only frustrating part is how much time it takes.”

 
   
  
 
  
    
  
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  Using previously developed negatives, Franke demonstrates how to develop film by spooling it onto the white reel and placing it inside a tank. This task must be done in complete darkness to prevent any excess light from touching the undeveloped film, she said.

Using previously developed negatives, Franke demonstrates how to develop film by spooling it onto the white reel and placing it inside a tank. This task must be done in complete darkness to prevent any excess light from touching the undeveloped film, she said.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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  Franke examines a developed, unspooled roll of film left to dry in a Norris darkroom. Once fixed and rinsed with water, the negatives are clipped to a rack and dry hanging vertically with the canister weighing them down, she said.

Franke examines a developed, unspooled roll of film left to dry in a Norris darkroom. Once fixed and rinsed with water, the negatives are clipped to a rack and dry hanging vertically with the canister weighing them down, she said.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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  Northwestern sophomore Anna Kubacsek uses the safety light to examine a plastic sleeve of her developed negatives. “I took a gap year between high school and college, and I really got into photography then, but I’d only used my dSLR,” she said. “I was really interested in analog photography, but didn’t want to experiment with it because I didn’t know how it was going to come out.” Kubacsek took Intro to Photography fall quarter her freshman year and has shot film ever since.

Northwestern sophomore Anna Kubacsek uses the safety light to examine a plastic sleeve of her developed negatives. “I took a gap year between high school and college, and I really got into photography then, but I’d only used my dSLR,” she said. “I was really interested in analog photography, but didn’t want to experiment with it because I didn’t know how it was going to come out.” Kubacsek took Intro to Photography fall quarter her freshman year and has shot film ever since.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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  Flipping through her binder of negatives, test sheets and prints, Kubacsek searches for the contact sheet that will tell her how long she should expose her print to light. Printmaking works the same way as developing film—a photosensitive surface is exposed to a controlled amount of light, then immersed in developer, stopper and fixer chemicals and hung to dry, said Kubacsek.

Flipping through her binder of negatives, test sheets and prints, Kubacsek searches for the contact sheet that will tell her how long she should expose her print to light. Printmaking works the same way as developing film—a photosensitive surface is exposed to a controlled amount of light, then immersed in developer, stopper and fixer chemicals and hung to dry, said Kubacsek.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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  Checking its alignment in the light, Kubacsek prepares to put the metal disc containing the negative she wishes to print into one of the darkroom’s enlargers. The negative came from a leftover roll of film from class that Kubacsek shot from January to June. “I took that on the lakefill in March or April,” she said. “It was during a really, really, really foggy day.” 

Checking its alignment in the light, Kubacsek prepares to put the metal disc containing the negative she wishes to print into one of the darkroom’s enlargers. The negative came from a leftover roll of film from class that Kubacsek shot from January to June. “I took that on the lakefill in March or April,” she said. “It was during a really, really, really foggy day.” 

   
  
 
  
    
  
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  Kubacsek checks her test sheet again before turning on the enlarger and exposing her print. Film appeals to her because of the level of control it allows, she said. “From the moment you decide ‘Oh, that looks cool, I’ll take a picture of it’ to ‘This is a printed picture!’ you’re involved in every single step,” she said.

Kubacsek checks her test sheet again before turning on the enlarger and exposing her print. Film appeals to her because of the level of control it allows, she said. “From the moment you decide ‘Oh, that looks cool, I’ll take a picture of it’ to ‘This is a printed picture!’ you’re involved in every single step,” she said.

 Freshman Spencer Cox places his photosensitive paper in the fixer chemical for five minutes. Cox has extensive experience with digital photography, but his first time shooting film was this quarter for Intro to Photography. “There’s definitely a learning curve,” Cox said. “I think I’ve probably wasted 20 or 30 sheets of paper over the past few days. At this point, I am wasting less paper for every successful print, so it’s getting better.”

Freshman Spencer Cox places his photosensitive paper in the fixer chemical for five minutes. Cox has extensive experience with digital photography, but his first time shooting film was this quarter for Intro to Photography. “There’s definitely a learning curve,” Cox said. “I think I’ve probably wasted 20 or 30 sheets of paper over the past few days. At this point, I am wasting less paper for every successful print, so it’s getting better.”

 
 
   
  
 
  
    
  
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     Cox removes his nearly-finished prints from the chemicals. The prints must be rinsed with water to remove any residual fixer and dried before they are finished. “Our assignment was ‘point of view,’ and we could interpret that however we wanted,” Cox said. “My interpretation was to make a tabletop landscape out of flour and paper. I would kind of sprinkle the flour on the paper to look like mountains or desert scenes.”

Cox removes his nearly-finished prints from the chemicals. The prints must be rinsed with water to remove any residual fixer and dried before they are finished. “Our assignment was ‘point of view,’ and we could interpret that however we wanted,” Cox said. “My interpretation was to make a tabletop landscape out of flour and paper. I would kind of sprinkle the flour on the paper to look like mountains or desert scenes.”