Darkroom fading into the darkness with renovations

New construction plans leave no space for photography dark room


A portrait of Symon Knox developing with her camera in darkroom solution.

By Symon Knox, Staff Writer

Bond renovations are gearing up and wonderful additions are being added in the next few years, but no one seems to be talking about what is being taken away.

For the art department, one of the biggest losses coming is the darkroom. Designers and administrators have decided that it is an unnecessary expense, but there are a large majority of artists in this building that think otherwise.

The darkroom changed my life. After high school I am planning on pursuing photography at Fort Hays State. I want to spend the rest of my life making people feel things through my photography. But without access to this darkroom and all of its resources, this would never be the case.

Halfway through Photo 2, I was ready to give up. All I wanted to do was quit because I had not grasped the techniques that all my classmates had, and I was falling behind.

After I told photo teacher Angelia Perkins I was going to quit, she dragged me into the darkroom and made me try photograms again. But this time she made me use digital photos printed out in addition to any new materials that I could gather, and I fell in love.

The darkroom gave me the opportunity to be hands-on, I failed over and over again while learning the new processes. But that learning made my successes even sweeter and pushed my work to an even more advanced level.

My time with digital photography hasn’t offered the tangible trial and errors that the darkroom did. Running around a darkroom trying to get something right over and over again beats staring at a computer screen any day.

This issue is important because athletes do the same thing but their skills are valued higher than artists. They run drills repeatedly in order to get stronger, they run plays in order to perfect their technique. But because their results are more entertaining and automatically rewarding, the arts get overshadowed. Why are athletes prioritized over artists when in reality we do some of the exact same things?

Now, what is my tangible proof that the darkroom actually benefits? With my images, I was able to form a portfolio full of darkroom photograms. With this portfolio, I received college credit through an AP exam, and I was granted a solo exhibition downtown with a Final Friday opening. I stood out to colleges and scholarship curators because my portfolio offers something unique and new.

Photography is my sport, but the past four years have helped me realize how little that matters to the Lawrence High community.

We live in Lawrence, one of the most sports-centered communities in Kansas, but Lawrence is also one of the most art-inspired communities in the country. So why is Lawrence High any different? Why are we so strong in one but not the other? And once I was told that the remodel did not include a darkroom, one of the three in Lawrence, my realizations became impossible to deny.

The remodel of this building is important and seriously needed. But overwhelmingly flawed. I have watched the architects completely glaze over the art department and ignore student and teacher input. I have been told over and over that the arts matter and we are important, but have yet to see any tangible proof.

Words are nice, but actions create change. I have been fortunate to have access to the darkroom for all four years of my education at Lawrence High. But it makes me angry to see my friends who are having this wonderful space taken away from them. It makes me angry to think that future photography students won’t have this fantastic opportunity that I was given.

But most of all, it makes me so incredibly sad to see the years of time Ms. Perkins has taken in order to build lessons and a curriculum to create successful artists be taken away by people who haven’t even taken the time to realize what this room offers.

This seemingly meaningless room for the rest of the school changed my entire future. But no one seems to care. Our administration needs to open up their eyes and realize how important the dark room is to our art program and its students. And it needs to happen now because it is already almost too late.