Traditional Photographic Processes Abound in VisArts’ Darkroom

January 18, 2018 Features

This spring, the Visual Arts Center of Richmond is offering more photography classes than ever in a single session. There are 20 classes scheduled and many of them offer students the chance to explore historic photographic processes.

Emily White

VisArts teacher and photographer Emily White is looking forward to teaching Portrait Photography with Film. She’ll lead students in an exploration of various portraiture styles, including self-portraits, fashion photography, candid photography, street photography and more. “In the age of people constantly taking pictures, it’s great to be intentional and take some really compelling portraits,” White said.   

In her own practice, Emily’s medium is wet-plate collodion photography. Nine months ago, she opened a studio and darkroom in the Manchester district of Richmond, where she offers private tintype portrait sessions. She also transports her portable tintype studio to community events and private gatherings around the city.

Another local photographer, Mike Bartolotta, is gearing up to teach two weekend tintype photography workshops this spring. He’s been teaching various forms of wet plate collodion photography since 2009 and first taught at VisArts in 2012. Bartolotta says he’s watched VisArts’ photography course offerings evolve over the years and he’s proud to see some new and unique classes in the spring catalog.

“From tintype photography, salt printing and cyanotypes to mixed media, traditional darkroom and 8mm filmmaking, there really are a wide array of classes being taught by some wonderfully talented people and I feel really fortunate to be a small part of that,” he said.

VisArts’ darkroom is the largest publicly accessible darkroom in Virginia and photography students at the center have full access to the space while they’re enrolled in a class. Both White and Bartolotta see VisArts’ darkroom as a valuable asset that’s needed to keep historic photographic processes alive.

“It’s important to maintain a darkroom because that’s where the foundation of photography is,” White said. “We’re losing touch with tangible photography. It’s great having a space for people to understand the history of this medium.”

Photo credit: Emily White

For Bartolotta, it’s valuable for students to have access to learn about traditional photographic processes. “I truly believe that to better understand where you are as an artist and photographer, it’s important to know the history,” he said.

This year, VisArts’ Collectors’ Night art auction will be darkroom-themed and fundraising efforts will place a special emphasis on the center’s photography programs and facilities. The event takes place on Saturday, March 17.