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STCC photography students focus during lockdown

In March 2020, when Sondra Peron, Springfield Technical Community College assistant professor of photography, sent students home for what she thought would be a few weeks, she was worried.

“What are we going to do?” she thought.

“How am I going to teach photography without a darkroom?”

More than a year later, Peron and her students still haven’t made it back to the STCC darkroom, but Peron came up with a novel workaround.

Four sections of students in her introduction to photography course — two in the fall semester and two more in the spring — basically built dark rooms in their homes.

Technically speaking, the students built a camera obscura (Latin for dark chamber or dark room) which is a box-like device (or an entire room) that lets light inside to reflect images from outside in much the same way a camera works.

“I find it endlessly fascinating,” said Peron, a Holyoke resident. “You’re basically standing inside what functions as a kind of camera and that is also how the eye works.”

In 2012, Peron turned her office off the Carberry Fine Arts Gallery on the STCC campus into a camera obscura and then began using it as a teaching tool.

Covering all the windows with black plastic, she then made a small hole — known in the language of photography as an aperture. Light coming through the aperture transforms into something amazing inside: It displays the scene outside upside down and reversed. What that looks like in her office is the scene on Pearl Street in Springfield, right outside the office windows, with trees, a parking lot, other buildings and the sky.

“On a beautiful day you can see it in full color and in motion,” said Peron. “On the ceiling you see the ground.

You see people walking and on the floor is the sky.”

The set up shows students the technical aspects of how cameras work and the law of optics. It also, says Peron, inspires philosophical discussions around what is a camera, the role of time and slowing down to create art and the impermanence of art. In the camera obscura, students see that images reflected in the room are temporary, disappearing when the door opens, and that they take time to see.

“An image will not instantly appear, you have to give yourself a little bit of time to sit and be in the space,” she said. She encourages students to think about what they want to take pictures of, inspired by the images created in the camera obscura.

“Instead of taking this machine gun approach to art making, it is very much about slowing down,” she said. “It’s very meditative.”

Richard Greco, dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, said Peron’s approach illustrates how technical learning at STCC runs through every program.

“There are technical elements to our science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs at STCC, but we strive to make sure that students also gain technical knowledge in liberal arts courses like the photography class,” Greco said.

“I’m thrilled that Professor Peron has figured out a way to bring the camera obscura into the students’ homes and give them an engaging, hands-on learning experience.”

SONDRA PERON

Springfield Technical Community College assistant professor of photography Sondra Peron sits in a camera obscura room she built in her apartment in Holyoke. Four sections of students in her introduction to photography course — two in the fall semester and two more in the spring — basically built a camera obscura (Latin for dark chamber or dark room) at their homes during the pandemic lockdown.

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