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Guest Post | Cleveland Print Room Widens Photographic Opportunities in Northeast Ohio

GUEST POST | By Shari Wilkins, artist and Cleveland Print Room founder

Sure, there is something alluring about the darkroom – something meaningful about working with your hands in developer and fixer that seldom exists anymore. Darkrooms have been deconstructed and the film industry seems to be working hard making themselves obsolete. But it’s about more than romanticism for me when it comes to the Cleveland Print Room. It’s about existence. A picture of a hand, an X-ray, a shot of the family home, to some extent, prove humanity. For me, it’s the whole issue of existence. Photography proves that we exist.

Photography also speaks to my very core. Raised in Lakewood by a father who constantly walked around with a camera around his neck and film in his pocket I have always loved photography. 

So, in 2005, when I noticed a troubling trend of art centers, high schools, and universities shutting down their darkroom facilities, I started buying up the photography equipment and darkroom supplies they were selling off. I wasn’t sure why. Perhaps it just didn’t seem right to be thrown out.

By 2011, I started my own business as a dealer in vernacular photography. Then in 2012, after a conversation with one of the founders of Cleveland’s Zygote Press, Liz Maugans, I learned that Zygote Press was looking for someone in Cleveland to take over its darkroom. After researching the gap in services and the need in the northeast Ohio area, along with recognizing the resurgence in 20th-century emulsion-based photography, it was an easy decision. And so the Cleveland Print Room (CPR) was born as a haven for old-school photographers.

What originally began as a photography cooperative has changed over time, yet CPR still has 450 members, who for a fee are able to use the studio to work on various projects. An advisory board of eight photographers provides additional guidance and wisdom. Photography seeps out of every corner of the space, which is at ground level of the ArtCraft Building on Superior Avenue on the outskirts of downtown Cleveland. An old-school photobooth greets visitors near the doorway with strands of self-portraits cascading down its side and a wide variety of vintage cameras lines the walls’ high ledges highlighting the history of the camera. A loud, creaky red revolving door leads to the darkroom. However, most notably, exhibitions showcasing the true art of photography often adorn Cleveland Print Room’s gallery walls.

Cleveland Print Room isn’t only about observing. It’s also about experience and education. We offer workshops on photographic arts with a focus on alternative processing, analog methods, and access to a darkroom with eight individual workstations. It’s a space where aspiring artists can hone their skills and perfect their craft. My goal is to keep access to film processing in northeast Ohio.

Also an artist, I often hold classes outside of the Cleveland Print Room in art centers, schools, and community centers in greater Cleveland. A devotee of found photos, I run a workshop that could be called, “Deface This.” Its a class that provides participants with cabinet cards form the late 1800s – early 1900s that feature a portrait. The cards, often found at antique and thrift stores become mini mixed media pieces that both children and adults love to create. 

Pictured right: A transformed cabinet card made by 6th grader, Libby, in a workshop at BAYarts in Bay Village, Ohio.



UPDATE

Shari brought her "Deface This" workshop to central Ohio in the Riffe Gallery on August 25. Participants transformed photos and used the current photography exhibition on display, Earthy Delights, as inspiration. Check out the creative results: 




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