Two darkrooms, where photographers can be found dipping their prints into vats of specially made photography chemicals, sit underneath the Purdue Memorial Union and in the basement of Pao Hall of Visual and Performing Arts.
Photography classes use the darkroom in Pao, while the photography club uses the one in the Union, according to Noah Lee, a sophomore in the College of Engineering.
A darkroom is where photos can develop without the interference of light, which can end up throwing off the light-sensitive aspects of the development process and alter the photo.
The use of light in the darkroom can severely damage the photos that are being developed. Safe lights are lights in the darkroom to make sure that the people working inside do not harm themselves. The lights only give off a certain part of the spectrum, so it does not damage the photographs around it, Lee said.
“Light can overexpose and ruin photos in the developing process,” said Katherine Dean, a continuing lecturer of photography. “That is why the light in here is minimal to none, the only one source of light is our safe lights.”
Dean said that the end goal is to have a photographic print that the students create from start to finish. Though it may take a while, the results are worth it.
She keeps a wall of photos outside of the darkroom that properly reflect the ideas she teaches in her course, such as line and movement.
The walls inside of the darkroom are painted black to reduce the amount of light let into the space, Dean said.
The darkroom is only used for black-and-white photography and are unable to develop color photography.
“The chemicals for color photography are different than that of black and white,” Dean said. “Our chemistry here is only set up to process black-and-white film versus color. Some might wonder why we don’t have darkrooms for color photography.”
According to Dean, the cost is much higher for color processing compared to black and white, and the chemicals are more toxic.
Although the chemicals used for processing black-and-white photography have some risks, students using them usually have nothing to worry about.
“There are not a ton of safety hazards,” Dean said. “The process does involve silver because that is what photography is, it’s silver halide crystals, so there is still exposure to silver.”
Photographers are able to alter the focus and brightness of their photos while in the darkrooms, which can take quite a bit of time to perfect the photographers vision.
“There is a lot of trial and error involved,” Lee said. “You have to be very patient in there, I was just recently working on a print that took me close to an hour and a half to get right.”
The darkrooms here at Purdue hold a special place in the hearts of some of the faculty that work down there.
“I think one of the really beautiful things about not just getting to teach something like this is that we even offer it,” Dean said. “It’s really just incredible to work down here.”