So I’m taking my first photography class this semester. The initial attempts at accomplishing anything with artistic grace were pitiful. My previous camera experience: Kodak disposable, Kodak underwater disposable and Polaroid.
Over Christmas break I bought a used Canon AE31, circa 1970. Aside from my total misunderstanding of the dials and tiny numbers written all over it, I couldn’t figure out how to load the ancient thing on the dock by the Bridge of Lions, our first assignment.
In the midst of banging on my camera like a confused baboon, I regretted half-listening to my teacher’s instructions regarding my camera. But then I remembered the camera store gave me the manual and it was actually with me in the 30-year-old poop-brown camera case that my father lent me. When I grabbed it and turned to the film-loading section, a family of three passed by just in time to hear me let out, “Ohmigod, I’m retarded,” as I pulled up the round metal thing that opens up my camera’s back.
This is not how I envisioned shooting my first roll of film. When I signed up for photo journalism last semester, I saw myself as a total professional, taking gallery-worthy pictures with grand ease. My classmates and teacher ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the artistic, gutsy, groundbreaking photos I’d develop in the dark room.
The reality, sadly, is me silently praying that no one notices the blurry eyesore appearing in the first tray, as I am always a super-great example of what not to do. After three rolls of ugly pictures, I mustered up enough courage to ask a fellow student what the H-E-double hockey sticks I was doing wrong. (Again, thanks for your help.)
However, through all the hardships my ego has suffered over the last three weeks, nothing beats the feeling I get from one good picture — even if it’s the only good one on a roll of 24 exposures. That’s mine. I set the correct light setting before snapping the shot of the construction workers standing by the bridge. I developed it in chemicals that left my hands smelling like a nursing home for the rest of the day. I focused it and timed it with the enlarger. No computer did it for me and printed it out.
Even if it’s crappy art, it’s my art.
This is why photo students, the beginners and the gifted, are so upset about the loss of the dark room. This is why Clive Butcher, dubbed as the Ansel Adams of the Florida, is sending a letter to our administration to encourage keeping a dark room on campus. I’m all for a digital photo lab as well. As technology changes, we should too. But getting rid of the dark room is taking away creativity students produce with their hands, talents — in my case, lack thereof — and as trite as it sounds, their hearts.