A few moments with lab manager Vern Burnett, a veteran professional photographer, can prove insightful for even the most inexperienced of amateurs. "Dust is a killer in photography," he says, emphasizing the importance of a clean lab. More tips follow: "You have to get the lighting down. You have to know how to finish." He talks about subject matter, light, shooting, processing, spotting, mounting, framing, writing, and exhibitions. "People will come in here and have no idea how to roll film," he says. "In five weeks they can have something on the wall, mounted and behind glass. It's great for their self-esteem."
      On a Monday evening, a beginners black-and-white photography class starts with the basics of film rolling. "I always wanted to take a photo class, so I decided to give it a shot," says Dan Majka of Nedrow. "I look at it as a continuing education side of my life."

      Soon, Majka and a handful of other students are developing film, discussing photo subjects, and offering advice. Questions fly back and forth as they huddle around the deep sinks, monitor water temperatures, watch timers, and go from one chemical to the next. "Don't be nervous about developing your own film. It's good to see how it happens," says instructor Willson Cummer, a professional photographer from Syracuse. "The one thing that will screw it up is if you add the wrong chemical at the wrong time."
      Before long class members emerge from the developing rooms, holding up strips of negatives before settling at a light table for closer looks at images of dogs, trees, landscapes, and buildings. "If you have dark areas and light areas, you're fine," Cummer says. "If you can't see images, you're in trouble."
      Not much trouble on this night. After cutting negatives and inserting them in sleeves, they enter the darkroom to make contact prints. Cummer shows them how to use the enlargers and do different time exposures before they gather around a row of trays filled with chemicals. A sheet of photographic paper goes into the developer tray—presto!—images appear. "It's neat," says Hillis Davis of Syracuse. "I want to learn how to do this as an art."Jennifer Johnson of DeWitt eyes a contact sheet filled with pictures of her English springer spaniel. "I've always wanted to shoot black-and-white," she says. "The prints can be very artistic."
      Class members collect their prints and move on to the next steps—a 10-minute wash followed by a run through the dryer. It's a seemingly ceaseless activity that generates and proliferates a sense of excitement and community. And as they discover the wonders of photography together, they experience a deeper connection to this place.
      After all, through their programs, the Community Darkrooms and Light Work draw people together from around the globe, whether they're first-time film developers, experienced amateurs, budding professionals, committed artists, or Contact Sheetsubscribers who have only seen Syracuse on a map. "The idea of community is important to us," Hoone says. "We work with and serve many different communities, so no matter how people enter our programs, there is an attachment to a community."

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