I walk through the set of heavy double doors. As I start to open one, the familiar vinegar smell hits me. The first door slowly closes behind me. I wait to make sure it's safe to enter the next door, and seconds later, I am greeted with the low hum of the ventilation system and warm red glow that illuminates the space. This small, smelly room has served as my safe place for all of high school.
I spend every spare second I have in this beautiful, peaceful environment. No electronics, no harsh fluorescents, no stress— just myself and my work. The comfort our teachers foster for students in this room cannot be understated. It is our dark room at Bartlett High school: warm, smelly, and peaceful.
By senior year, my eyes only take seconds to adjust to the red glow coming from all directions. I shuffle my way to enlarger number three, flipping the switch on. Music plays in my headphones, just loudly enough to block out everything else. I gather my materials, making sure to adjust the light and put the photo paper and film in place. I set my time to three seconds and slowly section off my photo. One section, two sections, three sections; each bit of glossy photo paper is exposed, one at a time, until the entire piece has been exposed.
Excitedly, I spin around on the ball of my right foot, placing my seemingly bare paper in the light yellow chemical, Dektol. Instantly, this boring, white paper becomes a photograph. A minute and a half passes, and my photo gets moved from the Dektol to the stop bath. As the name suggests, this is the chemical that stops the photo from any further unwanted development. After 10 seconds, my photo is ready to move on to the next chemical, the fixer, removing any extra silver from the emulsion side of my paper.
My photo is now permanent. My photo can now touch the harsh fluorescents of the classroom. My photo is real— official even. After a long three minutes, my creation is ready to go to the wash station, in which plain water cleanses my paper of any extra chemicals. Followed by a run through the dryer, my test sheet is ready. I take my photo out to the classroom, repeating the same steps to open the doors as I always have. My photography teacher, Mrs. Zappia, sits patiently at her art-covered desk, helping students decide how long to expose their photos. I open the door once more as I return back to the dark room.
The dark room is the best place to think. During my years as an upperclassman, I’ve thought more seriously about my future and career possibilities. I know I love art, and I know how influential it is in all mediums, but how practical could this be for me? As I’m developing my film, I can't help but think of my childhood. While reminiscing on my elementary years, I remember how much I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. As early as second grade, when I pictured my future, I saw a teacher. Until recently, I never knew what grade, or even subject, I could possibly teach. I liked the thought of elementary school. I never wanted to teach at a middle school, and now, I reconsidered teaching high school. It was here, in the Bartlett High School art department, room D121 with the small dark room, that I realized what I wanted. I wanted to continue with my art. I will never be done learning, whether that entails a new medium or technique.
Art is one of the strongest influences in many young lives. I hope to teach the importance of the arts and for it to be acknowledged in every way possible. At the end of the day, you will always have your piece. Revisions can be made, parts can be replaced, and edits can happen. The beauty of any piece will always depend on the viewer. A singular piece can be interpreted differently by each set of eyes. Happy accidents can be some of the best things to happen to a piece. It is my goal to share that knowledge with the younger generation of artists.
About the Author:
Alaynna Blunk is an award-winning high school student photographer from Illinois.