AKRON, Ohio — A good picture is often looked at, but how often is it looked into?
At the Community Darkroom of Akron, the printing process is part of the magic of photography and owner Joe Dagostino is ensuring the art of shooting photos with film isn’t lost.
“It’s just how you chose to work, whether you want to be in front of a computer or be in a darkroom doing it this way,” Dagostino said. “I made a commitment to film and keeping this process going.”
Dagostino developed the idea for his darkroom well before the COVID-19 pandemic.
When it opened in January 2020, the Community Dark Room of Akron instantly became a maker space where people could develop film in the darkroom and make prints using recycled equipment from other dark rooms.
“This equipment isn’t made that much anymore, and if you try to buy something new, it’s special-order and it’s very expensive,” Dagostino said.
Initially, it was a success. Film had seen a resurgence in recent years, with many people searching for more immersive experiences.
“I feel people get overwhelmed with social media and images don’t last long on there,” Dagostino said. “When you shoot film and make a print, you’ve got something that you’ve put more effort into other than throwing a filter on it and posting it.”
But when the shutdown took hold, Dagostino was left in the dark.
“It was just a world of unknowns. I didn’t know how I was going to pay rent. I didn’t know how I was going to generate revenue,” he said. “I felt very defeated. Things were going in a positive direction here and I lost all of that momentum.”
Since the darkroom had only been open a couple of months, Dagostino couldn’t secure any pandemic assistance for his business. Fortunately, he was able to work out a deal on rent at his location in Canal Place to keep the darkroom open.
“Being rejected because I didn’t have any W2 employees or...show enough of an income loss,” he said. “It was so frustrating because I was brand new, I did do something.”
When the shutdown ended and businesses started to reopen, slowly people began to return.
Thankfully for Dagostino, the return to normalcy allowed him to generate revenue again, but also continue to teach the darkroom process to others.
“You have so many ways you can go with a print," he said. “It’s not so much about documenting a scene, but you can make it your interpretation of how you felt, or your emotions at the time.”
Guests can participate in classes to learn how to shoot with film, develop in the darkroom and make prints with enlargers. There is also the option to become a member and have 24/7 access to the darkroom and all its equipment.
“One of the exciting things is when people develop their first roll of film and they open up that canister and they pull that film out, there’s excitement there,” he said. “When we get to the print-making classes, And you put that piece o paper in the developer and you watch that image develop, that’s the true magic of it.”
Seeing that lightbulb click when that first print develops is a feeling that will never get old for Dagostino.
His goal is to continue teaching the darkroom process and hopefully partner with local high schools or colleges to kick start the interest in younger kids.
“It’s an artistic form. It can help people express themselves, it can help them deal with things emotionally,” Dagostino said. “Providing the space for people to come here is very rewarding.”
The Community Darkroom of Akron is open on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 7 p.m.-10-p.m. and holds an open house every Tuesday.
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This story was originally published by Jon Rudder at WEWS.