Blog by Amy C. Davies
For the past two years the Film Photography Project (FPP) has donated cameras and film to an Oregon high school. Armed with four 35mm SLR camera, two 120 Debonair cameras and 147 rolls of film the students hit the streets to shoot.
In a small high school in the Pacific Northwest one teacher is exposing his millennial generation students to the world of film.
Scio, Oregon is a rural town situated between Eugene and Portland. Jonathon Bernard is language arts teacher at Scio High School and he is also the photography instructor for the student body of nearly 300 students. Three years ago Jonathon began using film camera for his own work. “At first I had a typical point and shoot that I just did snapshots with.”, he said. Then his father gave him a Pentax K1000.
Jonathon said, “It all just happened at the same time. I was able to relearn that (Pentax K1000) as I was teaching the kids.”
Photography 1 & 2 classes are made up of students from all grades. Twenty-one students signed up for the class in the first semester of 2014.
“The first year I did it, some where kind of interested. Most didn’t continue on. It was sort of a novelty that I think wore off”, he said. But as the years have gone on the students have become more interested.
Jonathon says the interest has steadily grown. “The last couple of years particularly there’s been a lot of more people interested in it. I think it’s the art angle of it and that people are interested in the class itself and wanting to create things.”, Jonathon said.
He also thinks some students who live in an on demand, instant gratification world enjoy having to wait. He said it may be a “push back” to digital. “They like actually crafting something.”, he said.
He tells the students, “when you are metering the light and you’re turning this dial and that dial and that knob, if a picture actually turns out, you own it.”
The students have been using several Pentax K1000 cameras some of which were donated by the FPP. Michael Raso from the FPP says the collaboration with Scio High School fits perfectly into the philosophy of the podcast. “The FPP has become a global resource for both people who are looking to discard their old film cameras and for groups like the students at Scio School who actually need film equipment. Re-purposing and donating the gear out to students is really what we’re all about!”, Michael said.
Student Katherine Miles has embraced the concept of making a picture. “I have to admit that using film was a bit tricky at first, but I felt like I could really appreciate photography as an art after using it.”, she said. “We only had so much film, so it led us to really focus on getting a perfect shot. I think it was a lot more exciting to use film, but that’s not the point.” Miles appreciates the technical aspects of shooting with film. “ She said, “I think film cameras allow you to really capture contrast, and just better exposure and resolution in general.”
Jonathon said that it is really a matter of personality when a student decides whether to continue on with film or go to digital shooting. “Some of them can’t handle it. Some of them like the x-factor. I don’t know if it’s going to turn out or not for a couple of days and some really truly can’t deal with it.”
Scio High School doesn’t have a darkroom so Jonathon has come up with his own workflow. He develops the students’ film during his prep period and rolls the reels using a dark bag. He said the students are intrigued by the process. He uses the sink in the staff room which is next door and hangs the drying film in a corner of his classroom.
He said keeping his classroom at 70 degrees helps to “maintain the fluid temperature at 68 degrees”.
Jonathon then scans the negatives on an Epson V500 scanner for the students to see.
Jonathon said the students have been creative in finding subjects for their photos in a small town. “I’m kind of fascinated with as small as the town is, I really don’t see many duplicate pictures.”, he said. “They tend to find different angles or different things.” He said they have one business area in town, Main Street. This year students are coming up with new subjects from alleys he didn’t know existed.
“They liked the way the dumpster happened to line up with the door, the geometry just sort of worked out.”, he said. “What struck me was how similar types of friends and families and culture can still see different things in the same place they occupy day after day after day for sixteen, eighteen years.”
Senior, Elizabeth Ortega-Valdez has found an unexpected appreciation for film photography because of the class. “Being able to take nice pictures was never my specialty unless it was with my phone.”, she said. “Then for my senior year, I wanted to take photography class. I thought it’s be easy since it was just taking pictures. At first I thought that digital was the way to go for the color and whatnot, but there’s something about film that it more real.” Ortega-Valez said about film, “It’s comforting.”
Amy C. Davies is a regular contributor to The Film Photography Project. Check out her images on Flickr – https://www.flickr.com/photos/capefilmshooter/