Nashville Community Darkroom proves film isn't dead

John Haubenreich
 
With all the quick phone-photo snapping/deleting/retaking we do day to day, it’s easy to forget that even amateur photography used to be a much more tangible, more permanent thing. In the days before the Valencia filter, we waited patiently to see the photos we took, then treasured the good shots in carefully arranged books.
 
The beauty of film photography — and the art of developing those images — is celebrated and carried forward at East Nashville’s Nashville Community Darkroom, a nonprofit that just opened its doors at 1143 Gallatin Pike, and hosts its inaugural exhibit — The f-Stops Here, featuring the work of a crew called The Photo Girls — starting Friday, June 27.
 
The space — a professionally equipped darkroom, photography workspace and gallery — offers members a place to work on their personal and professional projects, but it also serves as a community education hub. Working with local schools and nonprofits, NCD will bring chances to learn hands-on film photography and traditional film processes to young folks in our community.
 
To founder and president John Haubenreich — a photography buff, lawyer and former teacher — that educational component was key to making the Nashville Community Darkroom something truly valuable.
 
“During the 2012 school board race, I heard a number of times from MNPS principals that they didn’t have the budget or flexibility to offer arts education for their students like they wanted to,” Haubenreich says. “During graduate school, I studied how No Child Left Behind had a negative impact on non-core subjects such as the arts. I learned film photography in high school, and it was something I loved dearly. I wanted to help offer that to MNPS students.”
 
The hope isn’t just to engender a passion for photography, but to use that arts education to boost learning across the spectrum.  
 
“There’s good research out there that cross-curricular learning, based on a unifying theme or project, can really make a difference in motivation and student achievement,” he says. “We’re hard at work designing lesson plans for chemistry, math, physical sciences, English, and other subjects that connect to each other via photography and darkroom processes. Any spark of motivation or interest you can give students offers an opportunity to get them invested in school and learning.”
 
As the doors open and the Darkroom board preps for this first show, Haubenreich and exhibiting photographer (and regular East Nashvillian contributor) Heather Lose took some time to talk with us about the Darkroom, its future and the beauty of film.    
 
The East Nashvillian: What sparked the idea for the Darkroom?
 
John Haubenreich: “I’ve loved film photography since I was young, and by 2012 had become desperately tired of trying to use my awkward and dusty set-up at home. I wanted a place to keep doing film photography, but also a place that I could meet and learn from others. Given my background as a teacher, I’ve also seen how the arts and project learning can spark motivation and interest in kids; it certainly did in me when I was in high school. The idea to create a community arts group to do both — educate as well as support local artists — seemed like a natural fit.
 
Heather, what made you interested in linking up with the Nashville Community Darkroom?
 
Heather Lose: “I have been on board from the first meetings, which were at Ugly Mugs back in Spring 2013. Anyone who has ever responded to the magic of watching an image come to life under those red lights knows how sexy it can be to print in a darkroom. You have to move slowly and deliberately, and it can become very zenlike. I had my own basement darkroom for a few years while living in the 12South area. When my husband and I returned to East Nashville, there was no space for it. So for me personally, having a place to do my work means everything. I'm a dedicated film shooter, and now I can pick up my tools again. The importance of this resource simply cannot be overstated.
 
“And we're sharing the love! Volunteers from our core gaggle of founders have already been working with students at Lockeland Springs Elementary and with Stratford High students. We feel like part of our mission is to shore up arts education in our city, and make sure that the next generation gets a chance to experience the magic too.”
 
Learning with the Nashville Community Darkroom
 
Was there any particular reason you chose East Nashville for the Darkroom's home?
 
Haubenreich: “I absolutely love East Nashville. My family and I live over on Fatherland Street, so the convenience of locating on the East Side was almost irresistible. More than that, though, was the huge outpouring of support from local artists, many of whom also live in East Nashville. We have such a vibrant artist culture here, that it just seemed like the perfect fit.  
 
“Finally, as a community arts group, we wanted to have a positive impact on the surrounding neighborhood. Locating on Gallatin Road and supporting the revitalization of that corridor was a very deliberate choice we made. As I tell folks, we think that to go from a payday lender to a community arts space is a hell of a step in the right direction.”
 
Can you talk about your personal feelings on film and digital photography, and why you felt like it was important to carry the traditions of film photography forward?
 
Haubenreich: “It’s tough – I love digital photography as well as film.  I won’t pretend that I’m very good with Photoshop or Lightroom, but — especially with kids — it’s awfully nice to be able to take a ton of pictures quickly and easily.
 
“To me, though, film has always felt more deliberative and soulful.  There are plenty of very talented professionals that only shoot digital, and their work is incredible. Film, though, can impose limits and a thought process that, at its best, results in more beautiful, moving images. In an age of commodification and disposability, I think it’s very important to emphasize craftsmanship, unique work, and slow creation, maybe not in all things, but at least as a counterpoint to the overwhelming agglomeration and uniformity of the digital age.”
 
Heather Lose says
 
Heather Lose: “Film makes you work and think. You're paying for each negative, so it forces you to be more selective in how you frame and what you shoot. And you don't know if you ‘got the shot’ until later! There's no such thing as checking the back of your camera, so you have to be confident — and confidence is born from practice and knowledge. You have to know what your camera will do, what your film will do, and how your light is gonna behave. 
 
“I personally like how film reacts to light. I love night shooting, and working on a tripod, and making long exposures. I like having ‘originals’ of all my work — those binders and binders of negatives. I like prints that you can hold in your hand and put in books for your grandkids to see. And, I like not being able to delete my work. You never know when an image you thought was a throwaway ends up having some sort of value. 
 
“Each time the technology advances, art forms become more democratic, and I think that's a good thing. It's amazing that anyone can make a killer-looking Instagram shot and blaze it across the planet — we truly are living in the Star Trek days. But a 16x20-inch, selenium-toned print on double-weight fiber paper, printed from a medium format negative developed in Pyro and spotted perfectly? That's just something else — it's fine art. And for those who appreciate the difference, the Nashville Community Darkroom is reason for celebration. Nashville is a town bathed in traditional processes, from recording to poster printing to those fantastic folks brewing amazing beer, so why shouldn't we have a place for film geeks to do their thing?”
 
Do you feel like the photography community in Nashville needed something like this -- a gathering place/regular place to spotlight what you're doing?
 
Lose: “Man, I can't tell you… I went to help my co-volunteer Erin Kice with orientation for our new members, and just standing in that room, talking with other people who love film photography about various papers, and developing solutions, and this and that and the other — the lingo we cherish and don't get to trot out that often — I seriously came out of there feeling like Isis. I had wind. And you could see the same joy on the faces of everyone else in there, too. Just to have that community, and to help it evolve and solidify, is a really big deal.”
 
If you were to describe the types of work we'll see at this first exhibit, what would you say?
 
Lose: “I'm not sure yet! The Photo Girls are a mysterious, talented, funny group of local women who love making art. We are a diverse gang, and all of us have very strong individual styles. We decided the theme would be ‘Summer.’ Appropriate, yes, and not too restrictive — so I'd say to expect a very diverse collection of first-class images from some really cool ladies. 
 
Catching Rays, by Wendy Whittemore
Catching Rays, by Wendy Whittemore
 
“We will have color and black and white images on the walls, and also some alternative processes. All have agreed to donate part of the purchase price of any piece to the Darkroom, so we hope this first exhibit will be a big success, and we welcome everyone to come see the images and the space. It's just going to be a big open house full of laughter and love!”
 
What do you feel like the response from the community has been, over the process of getting the Darkroom up and running, and now finally getting to open the doors?
 
Haubenreich: “The response has been excellent. We had a number of crucial supporters during our Kickstarter campaign to raise our start-up funds, and we’ve continued to receive support from local artists as they join the Nashville Community Darkroom. We’re still working hard to get our message out, though! There are still so many people who haven’t heard about what we’re doing.  
 
“We’re working hard to gain the support of local businesses as well (especially on the East Side), and are developing relationships with local schools and teachers. All in all, we’re off to an amazing start, and can’t wait to see how we grow and develop over the coming years.”
 
To learn more, visit the Nashville Community Darkroom’s website.
 

ATTEND THE FIRST EXHIBIT

 
The opening reception for The f-Stops Here with The Photo Girls (Laura Carpenter, Angela Disrud, Stacey Irvin, Heather Lose, Amanda McAdams, Emily Naff, Kay Ramming, Andee Rudloff and Wendy Whittemore) is set for 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, June 27 at the Nashville Community Darkroom (1143 Gallatin Pike). Head by to see the work, tour the space and find out how you can get involved.
 

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