A fresh emphasis on the photographic process has taken hold at the White River Craft Center (WRCC) in Randolph. With a dose of fresh energy and a deep knowledge of old-school technique, photography educator Curran Broderick is hoping to renew interest in the WRCC’s darkroom facilities. The community darkroom, a rarity in the age of digital imaging, had been used as a storage closet for several years before being cleared out and dusted off by Broderick, a Vermont native who recently returned to the Green Mountain State.
“The darkroom has had various levels of activity throughout the years, from what I’ve heard,” said Broderick on Monday. “There’s a concerted effort on the part of our executive director, Kevin [Harty]—I’m working closely with him to really bring back the darkroom.”
Photography by Hand
With a background steeped in the photographic processes of the 19th-century, Broderick hopes to introduce students to the disciplined process of creating beautiful images the old-fashioned way: by hand, one exposure at a time.
“I believe in hands-on, engaging, slow, deliberate photographic processes,” said Broderick, who spoke with barely contained enthusiasm for processes that might seem closer to alchemy than to contemporary image making, an aspect he’s excited to share during an increasingly fast-paced and digitized world.
“I think that there is a lot of interest, now, in revisiting historical processes,” he said. “They’re so slow. They’re so immersive. They’re hands-on. I think that, for all those reasons, people really want something that they literally and emotionally grab onto.”
Those processes, bearing such names as the tintype, the calotype, the cyanotype, and the albumen print, force the photographer to decelerate and consider, more deeply, the final image which, said Broderick, is a physical object with far more staying power than an image on a screen.
“We live in a world where things are so rapidly changing,” he said. “They’re becoming less and less permanent, and I think that there’s a desire to hold onto things, to make things tangible.”
For Kevin Harty, who serves as the executive director of the WRCC, the desire to make something with one’s own hands is deeply intertwined with the overall mission of the craft center.
“I think art in general, and crafts in particular, you create something tangible that you can use and also look at,” said Harty, who has a background in woodworking. “I think that reaffirms self-esteem in children as well as seniors—making something … In this world that’s touchscreen and gone—it’s nice to have something that you [can] use.”
Focusing on Community
Despite his adoration of century-old photographic processes that he described as “a little esoteric,” Broderick said his primary interest while at the WRCC will be the community-building opportunities that a strong photography program can foster.
“I want people to get excited about photography and realize that their interest matters from a community perspective,” he said, noting that the first class he’ll be leading, Portraiture, is ideally suited to building photo-centric relationships in the community. “Randolph is a good place to create opportunity,” said Broderick. “It seems like if we create these kinds of opportunities for reasonable cost, then we can make a big difference. That’s what’s exciting to me.”
That sense of community—especially one that knits together dissimilar groups of people—is one of the primary goals that the craft center continues to strive for, said Harty as he reflected on the variety of people that have been involved with activities at the WRCC.
“We started with youth from the vocational school and now we have a broad range,” he laughed, “from purple-haired kids to white-haired seniors. I think that’s really great.”
For Broderick—who grew up in the Northeast Kingdom before eventually earning a Master’s degree in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design— early access and exposure to various photographic processes was instrumental in learning and understanding the world around him, an experience he hopes to impart to the next generation of local photographers, image makers, and artists.
“I talked to a lot of people that had exposure to a darkroom in high school, and then they became executive accountants and things [like that],” he said. “It made a difference in their life! I want people to know what a large format camera is. I want them to be able to feel what it feels like to focus on something really, really sharply. I think that’s something that you carry with you for the rest of your life and that’s incredibly meaningful.”
-- DYLAN KELLEY