The new Knoxville Community Darkroom reintroduces the traditional art of film photography to the local community.
The darkroom is a non-profit for artists to create and be educated on the art of old-fashioned print work.
As the organization's mission statement reads on their website, “The Knoxville Community Darkroom, KCD, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit arts center whose mission is to educate our local community about film photography and traditional film processes as a means of artistic self-expression.”
The darkroom aims to carry out this mission in multiple ways. First, it work with students, offering on-site and traveling workshops to introduce students to the basics of film photography. It also volunteers across the community to teach the basics of general photography. By focusing on education, the darkroom's goal is for “participants to feel empowered to go forward and create their own body of work,” as stated on its website. Most of these events or partnerships wrap up with a gallery exhibition at the darkroom space.
In the actual darkroom space, Knoxville Community Darkroom offers classes, meet-ups, critique nights and workshops. There is also a gallery space for darkroom members and community artists to showcase their work.
“We are very focused on growth, both in terms of memberships and also in the services and classes that we would like to offer,” darkroom vice president Jacob Long said. “We are working very hard on putting together classes and workshops that our members and the community have asked for. We want to be a part of the vibrant Knoxville arts community. Ideally ,we would like to be the hub for photography and give something back to the community that means so much to us.”
The idea began in 2015, when Lisa Ellis Flanary, creator and president of the Knoxville Community Darkroom, heard about community darkrooms in Nashville and Asheville. After research, she discovered most states had several and decided Knoxville needed one too.
Flanary believes such a place will help engage artists in traditional photography, as opposed to a day and age of photography that is almost entirely digital and online.
"Using film is more of a craft than digital," Flanary said. "You have your literal hands in the chemistry. Rather than digital, the images look different, they have more depth. In digital, you can take 200 images and hope one turns out decent. In film, it's intentional. You have a limited number of exposures, and the art happens in the camera, not a digital afterthought.
“You have to think the image out with time."
Long agreed, saying that the community darkroom gives artists and photographers a place to gather, share tips and tricks and create their art.
“Many people ask us if a darkroom is still an important part of photography in the digital age,” Long said. “The answer is yes. Even at the collegiate level, the darkroom is still highly valued as a source of valuable information for learning photography. Many professional and hobby photographers still shoot and process film to make prints in the darkroom. darkrooms have been in use since the inception of photography in the early 19th century, and they are here to stay.”
As for the community, Flanary, who teaches photography at Carson-Newman, looks forward to seeing students learn in the context of the darkroom.
"Students who start out in the darkroom will benefit by the thought process it takes, and eventually be better photographers," Flanary said. "For those who may be in the rut with digital work, film will give them a different perspective. I hope many younger people discover they actually prefer film."
Apart from the students, Lisa also hopes already established photographers of all kinds will come together in such a context.
"I have expectations the darkroom will be a center for local photographers, those who work in any type of medium, really,” Flannery said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of photos they take or how. I want it to be a community."
The Knoxville Community Darkroom's grand opening was March 31, and it is located off of Homberg Place on Kingston Pike. This May, they'll have their first gallery show featuring member's photographs created there.
"I'm really anxious and looking forward to May and to see what the member's have created," Flanary said, who mentioned she hasn't seen anything the photographers have created in the darkroom yet. "We've only been open 10 days, but I'm already excited to see what people have made."
Learn more about the Knoxville Community Darkroom and their goals and missions for the art community at theknoxvillecommunitydarkroom.org.