The Magic of The Darkroom

by Dave Dulaney

Steven Spielberg could have not made a more perfect moment. We were in the Sawtooth darkroom. I took the photo paper and put it in the developer tray as a busload of teenagers in an introductory photo class watched. The image started to emerge.

“Whoa,” one kid whispered. “Magic water.”

We sometimes forget how magical photography can be. Darkrooms help us remember.

My name is Dave Dulaney and I run the darkroom at Sawtooth. I found this magic a long time ago when I was a teenager.

My dad worked at Eastman Kodak in Kingsport, TN, and I’d go with him to the plant on Saturdays. There was a darkroom in the basement. They sold all the chemicals and film right there for a song.

The darkroom became my sanctuary – in college at the University of Tennessee, then in North Carolina at Randolph Community College.

Today, analog photography is having a comeback. Much like vinyl records, it’s cool again.

That’s why we are so lucky to have this community darkroom at the Sawtooth school. It’s one of the last ones operating in North Carolina. We call it the Darkroom Co-op because that’s what it is. We have a group of enthusiastic film photographers who cooperate and collaborate with one another. Bill Dent has been there since the Co-op was formed. We support each other and welcome new members.

To me, the darkroom is a magic place. Nothing happens fast in there. It literally forces you to slow down. You can’t simply press a button and knock out 20 prints in an afternoon. It’s a slow and meticulous art. It took a long time, those decades ago, for a really good print to come up in the “magic water.” But when it did, it changed everything.

If you want to feel the magic for yourself, Sawtooth offers classes in beginning and advanced darkroom techniques. The Darkroom Co-op (usually) meets the 3rd Saturday of each month and welcomes anyone interested in the art of film photography. Visit the Photography Studio Page for more information.