Seeing Life in Black & White: Fayette's photo class 2007.11.28

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

When Fayette art class students head into the darkroom with a roll of film to process, they’re taking a step into the past.

Developer, stop bath, fixer, water wash—hardly anyone follows that routine anymore.

Instructor Ryan Colegrove knows he’s teaching the proverbial dinosaur, but it’s still a good beast to have around. Even in Fayette’s art classes, however, film is probably heading toward extinction. When classes move into the new school, digital photography will take over.

photo.class.colegrove.jpgFormer art teacher Tom Spiess remembers starting up the school darkroom in 1971.

“We had a Yankee enlarger, three trays and a developing tank,” he said.

At the time, the darkroom wasn’t at all a permanent fixture.

“We used the girls rest room across the hall from the boiler room,” Spiess said.

During the class period when the darkroom was in use, a student would be posted outside—both to warn a visitor that she might want to use another rest room and also to prevent an open door from exposing film or photo paper to light.

Spiess has the satisfaction of knowing that over the years a few of his students took their basic skills with them and went on to use photography after graduation.

It wasn’t a class for everyone, but many students found it fascinating.

“Some of them would get intellectually involved in the process,” he said. “Even kids who were generally considered trouble-makers were paying attention.”

The magical process of watching an image appear on a white sheet of paper captured the imagination of most students, but not everyone was comfortable in the darkroom.

“I used to tell them, ‘If you go into the darkroom, your hands are going to smell like feet,’” Spiess said.

Spiess remembers that Fayette was the first school in the county to have a darkroom and Colegrove figures it’s one of the last.

By the time he took over as art teacher from Spiess in the 2000-01 school year, a permanent darkroom was in place in the art room.

Colegrove was pleased to continue the tradition. He learned about photography in Spiess’s art classes and he studied the art further when he earned his teaching degree at Defiance College.

He appreciates how the photo class can offer an art experience to a wider range of students.

“It’s always been nice for kids who wanted to be in art but weren’t really artistic,” he said, referring to the drawing skills used in art class.

As far as processing and printing goes, it’s more of a technical process where a prescribed set of steps is followed. Still, a student needs an eye for capturing the image before the darkroom work begins.

Colegrove offers a variety of class projects, ranging from sports action shots to portraiture to landscapes. Darkroom techniques include sepia toning, solarization and high contrast printing.

When students move on to his advanced class, they’ll learn about the electronic darkroom using Photoshop software.

“Photoshop has made some of the more difficult techniques a one-click process,” Colegrove said.

And in the ever-changing world of digital photography, some processes, such as sepia toning, are now done right on the camera.

Photoshop opens up a new world of darkroom control, yet something is lost that a few students miss.

“Some kids who go on to digital still want to do some darkroom work,” Colegrove said.

But for most students, the instant gratification of a digital camera wins them over for good.

“In this day and age, people want to look at the back of a camera and see the result instantly,” he said. “Black and white photography is going to be a thing of the past.”

In the new school, Colegrove expects to  expand on the digital work and bring web design into the curriculum, but he can’t let the dinosaur die off completely.

The darkroom has to be approached with a different attitude now, Spiess said. It can only be taught as a historical process.

“We were on the leading edge when I started it,” he said, “and when I retired it was on its way out.”

On its way out, but not yet extinct.

There’s a closet in Colegrove’s new art room that could serve as a temporary darkroom and he’s going to bring along one of his enlargers.

“We’ll still do some work with film,” he said. “Some of the kids really enjoy it.”

  • Front.bridge Cross
    STEP BY STEP—Wyatt Stevens of Morenci makes his way across a rope bridge Sunday during the Michigan DNR’s Great Outdoors Jamboree at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The Tecumseh Boy Scout Troop constructed the bridge again this year after taking a break in 2016. The Jamboree offered a variety of activities for a wide range of age groups. Morenci’s Stair District Library set up activities again this year and had visits with dozens of kids. See the back page for additional photos.
  • Front.bridge.17
    LEADING THE WAY—The Morenci Area High School marching band led the way across the pedestrian bridge on Morenci’s south side for the annual Labor Day Bridge Walk. The Band Boosters shared profits from the sale of T-shirts with the walk’s sponsor, the Morenci Area Chamber of Commerce. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.eclipse
    LOOKING UP—More than 200 people showed up at Stair District Library Monday afternoon to view the big celestial event with free glasses provided by a grant from the Space Science Institute. The library offered craft activities from noon to 1 p.m., refreshments including Cosmic Cake from Zingerman’s Bakehouse and a live viewing of the eclipse from NASA on a large screen. As the sky darkened slightly, more and more people moved outside to the sidewalk to take a look at the shrinking sun. If you missed it, hang on for the next total eclipse in 2024 as the path comes even closer to this area.
  • Cecil
    THE MAYOR—Cecil Schoonover poses with a collection of garden gnomes that mysteriously arrive and disappear from his property. Along with the gnomes, someone created the sign stating that he is the Mayor of Gnomesville. He hasn’t yet tracked down the people involved in the prank, but he’s having a good time with the mystery.
  • Front.rest
    TAKE A BREAK—Last Wednesday’s session of Stair District Library’s Summer Reading Program ended with a quiet period in a class presented by yoga instructor Melany Gladieux of Toledo. Children learned a variety of yoga poses in the main room at the library, then finished off the session relaxing. Additional photos are on page 7. Area children are invited to visit the library today when the Michigan Science Center presents a flight program at 11 a.m. and roller coasters at 1 p.m.
  • Front.batter
    THE DERBY—Tyler “Smallpox” Flakne of Minnesota’s Home Run League All-Stars goes for the fence Friday night during the National Wiffle League Association’s home run derby in Morenci. This year the wiffleball national tournament moved from Dublin, Ohio, to Morenci’s Wakefield Park. During the derby, competitors had two minutes to hit as many home runs as possible. The winner this year finished with 21. See page 6 and 7 for additional photos.
  • Front.green Screen
    OUT OF THIS WORLD—Elizabeth McFadden and Elise Christle pose in front of the green screen as VolunTeen Noah Gilson makes them appear as though they are standing on the Moon. More photos from the Stair District Library’s NASA @ My Library program are on page 12.
  • Front.fireworks
    FIREWORKS erupt Saturday night over Morenci’s Wakefield Park during the waning hours of the Town and Country Festival. Additional festival photos are inside.
  • Front.batter

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2017