Traditional film photography is impossible without the aid of chemicals that can be potentially hazardous to the environment. The Guilford photo department has always tried to make sure used chemicals are disposed of properly, but this year Maia Dery and her Photo II class are trying extra hard to abide by Guilford’s eighth core value, Sustainability. There has been an influx of caffeine to the photo lab, but not just because the photographers have been spending long hours in the darkroom. By mixing up coffee, washing soda, and vitamin C, the Photo II students are forming a developer alternative called cafenol. The ratios between the ingredients vary from film to film, but the results, although surprisingly putrid smelling, are astonishing. The mixture creates rich, deep blacks and brilliant, bold contrast. After a print is made the paper, can be left with a sepia tinted stain, which gives the photograph an antique look that works extremely well with shots such as portraits. When the cafenol is exhausted, the foul smelling liquid can be poured right down the sink.
The cafenol mixture is also a much cheaper alternative. Frequent visitors to the Greenleaf have expressed interest in collecting the used grounds from the co-op to save even more money. Some students who are really interested in pinching pennies for the department are substituting stop bath (used to halt the developing process) for vinegar. Maia is even challenging students to make and use pinhole cameras. Karla McDonald’s curiosity is what drove her into accepting the challenge: “I just want to see what I can do with it.” There are three other students who plan to experiment with the pinhole process as well.
The idea to explore this new technology at Guilford actually stemmed from its high availability and low cost. While studying abroad in South America, Senior Daryn Lane was looking for a way for local children to develop their film and prints. When she came across this method, she could not help but bring her findings back to Guilford. Going green has always been a goal in the darkroom, and this semester seemed like the perfect time to try it out.
Something else Maia is asking of her IDS and Photo students (48 of them in all) is to write their own blogs. In a time where the technology of digital photography is becoming more and more advanced “if you throw a rock you will hit a good photographer.” Anybody with a bit of cash and enough time on their hands can capture a great image. But, if you have the ability to write about your work as well, you will be a step ahead on the road to getting published. Maia also explains that the college kids these days exist “under tremendous pressure to live publicly.” Everyone feels the need to know what everyone else is doing, and how they are doing it, and writing a blog gives meaning to this urge we have to share our lives on the World Wide Web. Facebook and Twitter just are not providing enough substance, and blogging hopes to provide substance in a culture that really “encourages you to brand yourself.”
Some students are having trouble keeping up with the weekly blogging, but the feeling that I received overall was one of positivity and optimism towards the future of writing and experimenting with unconventional methods post shutter release. The pictures I previewed were outstanding. If you have the chance to venture down the steps in the back of Hege Cox, please do. There are usually prints pinned to the walls and jars of coffee stashed away in various corners. If the caffeine doesn’t perk you right up, the photographs certainly will.
Maia Dery’s blog can be accessed by clicking her name under the Faculty heading to the left. If you are enrolled in Photo II this semester and would like to share your prints and blogs, please leave links in the comment section below. Thank you!
Edit: This weeks post of snapshots has Photographs developed in cafenol!