By: Grace Rose ’19
In the age of digital photography, young people may never be exposed to the film process, a highlight of Passaic Valley’s Photography classes. PV is one of just a few high schools that have maintained a “dark room” and continue teaching the multi-faceted film process in addition to digital photography.
When you walk in Passaic Valley’s Dark Room you are hit by extreme darkness with only a few dull, orange safelights guiding you through the walkway. Along the walls, are several stations where negatives are enlarged on light-sensitive photographic paper. In the center of the Dark Room is an island where chemical baths wait to develop, fix and refine the test-strips and prints students are creating. Everyday, Passaic Valley students are taking the lead in their photography classes and becoming appreciative artists and photographers.
During the early 2000s, high schools started removing the their dark rooms because film photography was thought to be a dying art. Now, film photography has made a comeback and young people are becoming increasingly more interested in learning the “vintage way”.
“When I have spoken to people who work in either the photo-field or at colleges, they have said that the students who have experience in a dark room have a better understanding of how to work a digital camera,” said Photography teacher Ms. Melanie Vasa. “The background of film photography is so beneficial.”
Photography classes are stocked with 35 millimeter lens cameras, tanks and reels, Beseler enlargers, changing bags, film rolls, photographic paper, timers and chemicals. When learning how to shoot film photography, students learn all the basics, from how to properly use a film camera, all the way to finding the perfect F-stop and time when exposing a negative to light. Students’ interests are captured by the process and they find it to be a valuable tool in their skillsets.
“Learning the Dark Room process has helped me see how much work actually goes into creating a print and that it’s not just taking a picture and printing it with a click of a button on a computer,” said Violette Go ‘20. “I appreciate what I create so much more because I put in so much time and effort into it.”
Every year, Photography students of all levels (Photography I, II, and AP Photography) are featured in several competitions. This year, Anthony Giannotte ’21 won a merit award at the Pingry School Invitational competition.
“Teaching film photography is very hard because it is so foreign to all of my students,” noted Ms. Vasa. “I have to let them take it slow, but also be very encouraging so that they don’t give up.”
Teaching and learning film photography is filled with many emotions, but when a student reaches their peak performance, the teachers also share the excitement. “The best part is when they get their first roll of film developed and the looks on their faces when they take the film off the reel!” exclaimed Ms. Melanie Vasa.
“It is a credit to PV that they have kept the Dark Room because it shows foresight,” declared Ms. Vasa. “They know what programs will help our students when they graduate and they haven’t looked to just get rid of it because it was not the fad anymore.”