We take, look and keep digital pictures almost every day with digital cameras. However, were photographs taken in such digital way, printed with fancy colors from the beginning? Of course they were not. Decades ago, there were only black-and-white analogue photos that are now in the state of disappearing into history. We could savor every moment of the whole process from taking pictures to developing with those analogue films. Unlike showy and unfeeling digital photos, black-and-white photos provide us with a heartful and faint images of our memory. Therefore, I did some research about an art club that still maintains black and white photography. Although there are only few amateur blackand-white photograph art clubs left, luckily I could find one at the University of Seoul which is maintaining analogue photography’s slender existence. I interviewed the president of Nun Dong Ja, Yang Ho-dong (School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, ’10) to learn more about the club.
A Brief History and Introduction of the Black-and-White-Photograph Art Study Group ‘Nun Dong Ja’
Nun Dong Ja, which has a history of thirty-nine years, was an irregular gathering of people who enjoyed handling analogue pictures in a darkroom. The club belonged to the School of Environmental Engineering until 1975. On Sept. 20, 1976, it was officially registered as a Central Club of UOS. It has improved its members’ skills through holding annual photography exhibitions. It also has widened its scope of activities by registering as a member of the Photo Artist Society of Korea and exchanging opinions between schools and related organizations.
Nun Dong Ja is equipped with a club room and a darkroom in the basement of the Student Hall. A total of 160 people have already passed through the club. After graduation, by joining an organization named ‘Hae Ge Rim,’ they have been taking pictures not just as a simple hobby during their student life but as a life-long activity. Gwon Gi-hyeok, a professor in the Dept. of Architectural Engineering, is also a senior member and an advisor of Nun Dong Ja.
Love and Passion Towards the Charm of Black-and-White Analogue Photography
While interviewing Yang, I could find a great deal of members’ love and passion towards black-and-white analogue photographs at Nun Dong Ja. According to him, the best part of all that makes him feel the beauty of black-and-white pictures is the photo printing process because developing and printing photos in a darkroom is really fun.
“We have to wait with patience until the pictures are fully printed. Since we cannot see the picture immediately, we keep them more preciously. When this process is done, it seems that the photos deliver us those vague memories contained in them,.” Yang said.
Such charm in the process of developing and printing photos is why there are still some people who stick to black-and-white photos, although switching digital photos into black-and-white photos on the computer is possible.
In fact, films and printing paper for black-and-white photographs are also quite expensive and difficult to get.
The number of members who are currently active is about 15. Some of the seniors are busy preparing for employment, so they participate less. Those members remaining in the club currently are very skilled amateur photographers with simply a great deal of love towards Nun Dong Ja. Since one has to invest a lot of time to learn photography, eventually only few people are left.
Nun Dong Ja has a ‘mentor-mentee program’. Once you join the club, you are assigned a senior mentor who will teach you about photography. Fresh members are not only acquainted with existing members but also get to learn about professional photography.
Also, they sometimes gather privately to work on travel photography ? a subcategary of photography involving the documentation of an area’s landscape, people, cultures, customs and history ? together. They go to summer membership trainings regularly as a part of their travel photography. Thanks to these frequent trips to take pictures, they not only have deep relationships with other club members but also gain good skills of taking pictures.
About Exhibitions and Their Locations
The other ways Nun Dong Ja members express their love and passion about black-and-white pictures are their two annual exhibitions: the new members’ exhibition and the regular exhibition, which are held usually in spring and fall.
A new-face members’ exhibition gives the fresh members the motivation to learn hard during their first year trying to boost their photography skills. They show their improved skills at the exhibition not just in front of seniors of Nun Dong Ja but other students at UOS. It is usually held in the lobby of the 21st Century Building for three days. The regular exhibition is not much different from the new members’ exhibition. However, since much more passionate and experienced sophomores are mostly the main participants in this, they care more about the exhibition because their work is seen not only by UOS students but the outer people including professional photographers. Their art works are exhibited for six days in total: usually three days at school and the rest of the days at the outside of school. Although it may be delayed a little this year because of the remodeling of the club room, it will be held with the same endeavor as it had in those past years.
Small Tips for Beginners
Lastly, I asked for some tips about black-and-white photography. To be a professional black-and-white photographer, not only facilities such as a darkroom but also advanced techniques in the printing process are needed. However, most of all, sticking to the basics is the most important part at the beginning.
Then what is included in the basics? Yang said, “The most important factor of taking black-and white photography is your attitude towards it. Enjoying the developing process is the second. The more arduous the process of printing analogue photos is, the more affection you will feel towards black-and-white photography. Working in a dusky darkroom with a strong smell of chemical agents is always tough. However, once you immerse yourself in the process, you would not even notice it. Another thing is understanding the very process of printing pictures. Those are the basics that Nun Dong Ja teaches to its members.”