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Old school photography: Crockett students develop skills in film, darkroom techniques

Madison Mathews • Feb 27, 2012 at 9:59 AM

After the last two years in Kay Grogg’s photography class at David Crockett High School, senior Megan Cottage sees the world differently.

Where she used to just take out her digital point-and-shoot camera and snap away, Cottage now takes time to look at the subject she’s photographing. She sees lines, composition and the way a certain setting on the camera can manipulate the image — all thanks to Grogg’s lessons.

“I learned more than I thought photography ever was,” Cottage said.

Cottage used the word “magic” when she described seeing her first print appear while in the darkroom.

“All the sudden there’s this image that you took that you saw (in) your imagination and it comes to life,” she said.

That kind of response from students is something Grogg is used to after starting the program two decades ago.

The class is unique in that it’s one of the few high school-level courses in the region that still utilizes film and darkroom techniques. Daniel Boone High School has a similar program taught by Robb Houser.

Utilizing techniques that have more or less been wiped out by the rise of digital photography and the age of Photoshop is something Grogg is proud of. She said the old-fashioned way of doing things gives her students a better appreciation for photography as an art form.

“I feel like if they have the traditional background, they have a little bit better appreciation for what photography is, where it came from and the premise is very simple,” she said.

Grogg has offered the photography course since she began teaching at David Crockett in 1992. She also teaches the school’s other art classes.

Since then, the program has grown in both student interest and areas covered by the course.

The class is offered to juniors and seniors who must apply when selecting their courses. The class typically ranges from about 14 to 15 students.

Students start off learning a little of the history behind the medium before jumping into shooting with 35mm film. From that point, the students are taught how to develop and print in the darkroom before finally learning how to matte and display their photos.

Toward the end of the course, Grogg incorporates digital into the mix — something she was hesitant to do at first.

“I’ve gone kicking and screaming into digital, because I am a traditionalist, but I really do enjoy working with the digital now, because I’m using it more and the kids really like it,” she said.

This year, Grogg is going to begin incorporating what she called “iPhonetography” into her lessons since so many of her students have smartphones and other camera phones.

Grogg uses donated SLR film cameras in the class, and she said they are always looking for more.

With state standards and cross-curricular learning being such important aspects within education, Grogg also makes it a point to work with the chemistry department when going over the chemical process that takes place during the darkroom portion of the class, as well as the history lessons that come with looking at the medium as a whole.

One of the things Grogg prides herself on is the interest in the art form that’s generated early on in her students. That love of photography has led to a number of students who have gone to pursue either college classes or careers in the medium.

“The interest has grown. I’ve always had students who’ve taken photography, but I’ve had more students in photography who go on to major in photography in college than I do in my art classes,” she said.

In fact, nearly half of her photography students have studied the art form in college.

Cottage is one of those students. During college, she would like to study photography as it relates to print or broadcast journalism. She also wouldn’t mind having a photography business on the side one day.

“I think that doing that on the side — something that I love — wouldn’t be a job,” she said.

Brooklyn Snapp, another senior in Grogg’s class, will be attending Milligan College in the fall, where she plans to minor in photography.

In the past, Snapp has done pageants and was always interested in the photography aspect. That was the initial reason behind wanting to join Grogg’s class last year.

“I really had to trust Mrs. Grogg and what she was saying and just kind of go with it and had to really pay attention in class because it was something that was completely new to me. I didn’t have any idea about photography and the different aspects. There’s a lot to it,” she said.

Over the course of the last two years, Snapp said photography has become one of her favorite things.

“Photography became a passion because I saw how much happiness it brought out in people and you can catch different lights of people,” she said.

Snapp credits Grogg’s teaching with her wanting to pursue photography while at Milligan. She hopes to one day work with kids in the same way.

“I see how much fun she has with her students every day in photography and I think it would be really fun to have a class like what we had last year and this year and get to work with kids like that who get really passionate about something they believe in and have fun with,” she said.

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