Faced with the challenges of the pandemic, the Bullis Art Department made the decision to suspend work in the darkroom this past year due to poor ventilation and close quarters. “We felt it was the safest option,” explained Kelsey Donegan, who teaches visual arts, darkroom photography, and graphic design and is subject area coordinator for Middle School Arts.
Bullis has offered darkroom photography classes for many years in The Blair Family Center for the Arts. Students learn to use film cameras, mix chemicals, and enlarge photographs. Donegan, who has taught darkroom photography for seven years, loves building relationships with students over this traditional approach to photography.
Donegan came up with a brilliant alternative for students to gain “darkroom” experience without the darkroom. “Even though we were unable to use the darkroom this year, I wanted to give students in photography classes the opportunity to explore chemical photography through cyanotypes,” she said. A cyanotype is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print, often referred to as “Sun Prints.” They do not require a darkroom to develop and can be created in an art classroom with the shades drawn.
To provide an equitable experience for all students, in-person and remote, each student would require a kit including chemicals, mixing instruments, and safety equipment. With these supplies, students could mix their own chemistry, prepare a photographic surface, and learn how to expose photos with differing amounts of light—but this wasn’t within the budget.
Each year, the Parents Association (PA) sponsors enrichment grants to help fund enhancement projects in support of faculty and the Bullis curriculum. Donegan submitted a proposal for the cyanotype project and was awarded one of ten PA Faculty Enrichment Grants for the 2020-21 school year. Photography students taught by Donegan along with Mark Riffee, director of digital media and videography teacher, would be able to experience the magic of chemical photography.
Last spring over a two-week period, students explored cyanotypes and gained a deeper understanding of the art and science of traditional chemical photography even without a darkroom. Students reflected on their photographic process using Flipgrid, a technology tool and response system that allows students to demonstrate their learning via video. The consensus among students was overwhelmingly positive. They enjoyed the hands-on project unit, had fun experimenting and creating cyanotypes, and would highly recommend the course to classmates.
“Mr. Riffee and I were so excited to receive a PA Grant for our Photography classes,” Donegan said. “The grant not only brings different opportunities for learning into our classroom, but the PA also makes us feel supported as educators. It is clear that here at Bullis, learning is the priority.”
Please enjoy viewing student projects!
This article is featured in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Bullis Magazine.