By John Benson
Shari Wilkins is all about keeping memories alive.
When she’s not working as a found photo dealer, someone who goes to estate and garage sales hoping to salvage and sell old photos, the Lakewood native-resident is busy trying to keep the 20th century camera from falling into obscurity.
You know, the old school film cameras using Kodachrome or Polaroid film. Odds are if you have no idea what this is, then you’re also probably confused about why your digital camera makes a clicking sound whenever you take a photo. Just ask your parents.
Whatever the case, Wilkins’ efforts have come to fruition in the form of the Cleveland Print Room, located in the St. Clair/Superior neighborhood in Cleveland. The non-profit venue boasts a community darkroom, educational center, studio workspace and photographic gallery. While opening day takes place next month, its debut exhibit, Welcome to Hard Times by Vaughn Wascovich, opens Fri 1/11 in the Quadrangle arts district venue.
Cool Cleveland talked to Wilkins about her emulsion-based photography passion and cool exhibit.
Cool Cleveland: What’s the idea behind The Cleveland Print Room?
Shari Wilkins: Our hopes are to offer educational photography classes to people in the general public and alternative processes – basic black and white. We’re sticking with the pre-digital photography and so we’ll be working in Polaroid, different black and white 35mm film. Also, we’re interested in working within the community having courses for children working with older processes as well. That’s something that’s down the line.
First of all, the darkrooms in the area in a lot of the community centers have been closing down over the last four years. But there appears to be a renewed interest in working with Polaroid film and using older cameras. Older camera companies are also starting to make newer versions of older black & white, 35mm type, that were in use years ago. So there’s that. It’s the same kind of renewed interest that is going on with vinyl. You had vinyl and then CDs came out, and now years later people are wanting to get back to vinyl.
My father was an amateur photographer, so we had cameras around and had pictures taken my whole life. Cameras have always been a part of my life. My daughter is now at CIA and she works in B&W 35mm predominantly. We noticed about five years ago when we were signing up for classes there weren’t any classes being offered at certain arts centers any longer. A lot of universities have scaled down their darkrooms.
There’s an annual membership fee. You can use the darkroom as a pay-as-you-go basis or we have a yearly contract where you can use the facility any time.
As far as Welcome to Hard Times by Vaughn Wascovich, how does this exhibit fit into the venue’s motif?
I love Vaughn. He works with large format pinhole cameras. He builds the cameras himself and they’re pretty big, like 12×12 inches. He can only do one exposure at a time on paper. I met him in the summer when the Bidwell Foundation commissioned him to do a bridge in Cleveland series. He’s not local but has ties to the Cleveland area. He’ll be here for this.
I feel that the atmosphere would provide for people to bounce ideas off each other and work together instead of being a lone photographer at home with your basement darkroom. Basically, this gives people in the Cleveland area a place to show their work.
Cleveland Print Room’s opening reception for Welcome to Hard Times by Vaughn Wascovich is from 5 to 9 p.m. Fri 1/11 in The ArtCraft Building, 2550 Superior Ave., Cleveland. Be sure to check out the artist talk on Sat 1/12 @ 1pm. Call 216-401-5981 or visit http://ClevelandPrintRoom.com.
When he’s not writing about music or entertainment, he can be found coaching his two boys in basketball, football and baseball or watching movies with his lovely wife, Maria. John also occasionally writes for CoolCleveland.com.