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Where have I been?

ASM Darkroom: A High School Photography Program

Posted Feb 10, 2009

For the past 4 months I've been teaching a high school photography program on the Northwest side of Chicago. Nearly 10 years ago Maggie Daley formed a non-profit group called After School Matters and began working with Chicago Public Schools - providing constructive activities for creative youth. Now, the team has 600 such programs across the Chicagoland area.

The program I lead meets 3x a week to shoot and develop 35mm B/W film. We work in the basement of the student's school. There are 25 'apprentices' who attend and are paid for their time. For many of the students it's their first job - and for nearly all of the students, it's their first experience with a traditional film camera. Each year two 10 week programs are held. We introduce photography as an art-form and we cover a lot of ground. I've been better at updating the ASM Darkroom website than I have my own.

Spring '09 Darkroom Photography at Chicago Academy

On the surface, the program gives students hands-on experience with a working artist. In reality, the goal is to provide a professional environment where students can develop soft skills, bettering their communication, teamwork and leadership. To that tone, I've done my best to automate the repetitive tasks in a darkroom, spreading the responsibilities across the students. We've broken the process down into the following duties:

  • Chemical Testers: measure the potency of the day's developing chemistry
  • Light Checkers: make sure the film loading rooms are light-tight
  • Equipment Manager: keeps track of all darkroom-related equipment
  • Camera Checkers: track all camera usage
  • Print Dryer: organizes all final prints and safe overnight drying
  • Calendar Detail: update calendar and print new posts from class website
  • Test Strip Detail: cuts the necessary test strips for the day
  • Floor Detail: clean up any remaining mess
  • Enlarger Detail: ensures all enlargers are off and filters removed
  • Sink Detail: wash all tubs and address chemistry

In daily lab activity, these students answer to a student manager who fields general questions and hands over specific or difficult issues to the instructors. Positions are rotated and changed based on regular assessments. It's a pretty simple setup and has produced some good work. One project is viewable below and more are on their website asmdarkroom.com.


I've developed a few organizational documents that might help anyone else who's managing a darkroom. I'll keep updating this list as I build more material. Feel free to download and use any of the resources below: