Taking a photo can be as easy as tapping a screen and viewing the image on your smartphone. But some UCF graduates are bringing back the process of clicking a button, rewinding film and developing negatives in an actual darkroom.

Local artist and UCF master’s of fine arts graduate Dominic DiPaolo submitted the idea of Project Darkroom — a free community darkroom built into a mobile shipping container — for the annual three-day public visual and performance art festival Art in Odd Places, which has taken place in New York City since 2005.

Along Magnolia Avenue, from Anderson Street to Washington Street, this year’s festival will take place in Orlando for the first time from Sept. 17 to Sept. 20.

DiPaolo, who now works in the art department at UCF, showed an interest in displaying his work at Art in Odd Places, but he said his traditional work — mainly portraiture with the idea of perception — didn’t quite fit into the theme of the festival. As he began to think of different ways to still be a part of the festival, he decided to go with a community outreach project that turned into Project Darkroom.

“The idea was to create a community darkroom built inside a shipping container so people can come experience the magic of a darkroom if they’ve never done it before,” DiPaolo said.

By covering the interior of a POD shipping container with light, tight fabric, the container can be converted into a mobile darkroom to create a safe space to develop black and white film and print silver gelatin prints.

“It sounds corny, but it’s just this feeling that you get when you’re in a darkroom: You don’t know what’s going to happen to the film until it’s developed,” he said.

With the help of his cofounder, UCF art history graduate Halee Sommer, DiPaolo was able to make his project become a reality this past summer.

“It is our plan with Project Darkroom to introduce anyone who has never used a darkroom to the magic of analog photography in order to keep the dying art of film photography alive,” Sommer said.

As a way to foster the demand for available resources to develop film in Orlando, Sommer said she and DiPaolo were able to come up with a plan-of-action for creating their darkroom.

“There are so many artists blossoming in the arts scene in Orlando. I think it’s our role as a city to provide affordable resources to these artists to cultivate a thriving culture,” she said. “Establishing a community darkroom that is a nonprofit and is run by donation is a great way to educate a new generation of artists living in Orlando on the art of analog photography.”

Sommer said she encourages UCF students to come out to the festival and learn how to use a darkroom, but the Project Darkroom team encourages people to make a reservation on its website to secure a spot in the darkroom for a selected hour.

Also on the team are lab technicians Ashley DiPaolo and Heather Hubbard, who also work at UCF’s photo lab, and the donations manager and social media coordinator Hannah Glogower.

“We have been selected for Art in Odd Places Orlando to create a small show of photographs developed and printed in the space, as well as educate the public on traditional darkroom techniques,” Glogower said.

As a UCF 2015 photography graduate, Glogower said she was looking for ways to give her knowledge back to the community. While working on her thesis, she became more enthralled with the tangible aspects of film photography.

“We want to inspire and encourage people to shoot film and discover the magic of creating photographs with your hands,” she said. “The digital world can feel manufactured, but we want to promote an authentic experience and a tangible memory.”


Rachel Stuart is a News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter @RachSage or email her at

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