SCC’s Dark Secret


Traditional film? You mean those black-and-white pictures taken with a weighty film camera? It may sound old-school to you but the SCC’s photography department might not agree.

In the back of the Visual Arts Building sits a photo lab, composed of a black-and-white darkroom, individual color darkrooms, a film processing room and an equipment library.


Students in the introductory photography class spend the first half of the quarter with film and working in the darkroom, and then the second half with digital shooting and learning how to edit images using Photoshop, according to Lauren Greathouse, one of the photography instructors at SCC. In that way, students can get a full understanding of both processes.

In this digital age, camera and photo editing have become more accessible to the public — everyone has a camera on their phone and an Instagram account, “and everyone thinks they are a photographer,” Greathouse said. Greathouse believes learning about the process of film photography can make students’ work stand out from others.

“I think if someone is passionate about photography, they should learn about all facets of it, including the analog process,” she said.

“I think the product that one creates shooting film, developing and creating an enlargement in the darkroom is sometimes incredibly more beautiful than a digital print,” she said.

Despite the greater effort needed in obtaining a picture using film, she said, “the product is much more rewarding.”

“When we put a great deal of effort into creating it, refining it and crafting it, we become more proud of it not just as an image, but also more as an art object,” she said.

Film photography can also be edited, yet Greathouse believes that the uniqueness of each print is the point, making it special and beautiful.

“There is an aura about them that just isn’t as present with digital prints,” she said.

John McMorrow, who is taking the basic photography class this quarter and who was working on his film project outside the darkroom, agreed that learning film photography helped him to better understand the composition and design of a photograph.

McMorrow said he thinks film shooting requires more confidence than digital.

“You get more chances to take a good photo with digital shooting,” he said. “You can see it right away, you can change the composition of the photos, but once you shoot film, it’s already over and you have to fix everything else in the darkroom.”


Stepping into the Photo Lab, you will see a man with grayish hair sitting at the checkout desk, shaking his leg with the beat of his favorite punk rock music — that’s Mark Swanson, who has served as the photo lab technician for five years.

His friend Joel Clarin, another photography instructor and the person who asked Swanson to work as the lab technician, said that Swanson is a “celebrity” in the Photo Lab because he also manages the equipment library, loaning out photography equipment such as film cameras, digital cameras, tripods, lenses, light meters and other photography accessories to all the students who need help with resources.

Only students who take the photography courses are able to use the checkout system.

“I just need to scan the barcode on your student ID and the barcode on the camera, then the two are married,” Swanson said, laughing.

Other than the facilities checkout, the Photo Lab maintains a studio on the lower level for students who want to use studio lights and reflectors. For traditional film production, the Photo Lab also has a darkroom, where Swanson has to make the chemicals and keep them fresh. The darkroom also has over 20 enlargers, which are the specialized transparency projectors that will be used in the production of film photographs.

Echoing Greathouse, Swanson said he thinks photography has become more common due to digital shooting and editing.

“Here we do the same thing but we sepia-tone with the ‘four-bath film wash.’ That takes a long time, plus you have to process your own film, then you have to pick your pictures, then you take (the negative you want to print) into the darkroom,” Swanson said.

Not only is traditional film time-consuming, it also requires more attention.

“(You can fail) at every turn, you can screw up loading your film out of the camera, you can ruin things when you process film,” Swanson said. “But it’s superior and it looks still.”

According to Swanson, the film program has existed since the school was built in the 1960s, despite the closure of all color film processing in 2007 due to a limited supply of color photo chemicals.

As a past photography student and the photo lab technician, Swanson said he believes that SCC does the best in the traditional film among all colleges, providing vital supports for students, ranging from equipment loans and film processing.

“Not only do we have 35mm cameras but also 4-by-5 and 8-by-10 cameras to do really big field work,” he said.

McMorrow said he thinks the darkroom is hard to access for some students because of the short hours it is open and because they have to stay there for a long time to get one print. Therefore, students have to manage their time spent in the darkroom.

Despite the challenges, Swanson said more people are learning traditional film.

“Some people think the film is a dying art but we think it’s making a resurgence,” he said. “It’s coming back, being popular, people really want to learn the physical side of analog of photography.”

By Fraces Hui,
Staff Writer