ESCONDIDO — Downtown Escondido now has a photography darkroom, a place where photographers of various skill levels can try their hands at the throwback development technique.
The darkroom is the second in North County, the other one is at Palomar College and mostly geared toward student use. Hubbed at The Photographer’s Eye on Grand Avenue, the new darkroom is set up for creating black and white photos.
In the age of digital photography, darkroom development harkens back to a different era. The process involves only having a finite amount of film with which to shoot photos and the need for careful and patient hands in the darkroom.
Donna Cosentino, an Escondido resident who founded The Photographer’s Eye a year ago and formerly worked as a photography professor at Palomar College, called the process “not just alchemy, but magic.”
She said that for some of her best photos she has ever developed, it took her a whole day —sometimes stretching from the morning until the middle of the night — to create them. Cosentino said that failure, and the ability to learn from mistakes, is a crucial part of the photo development process.
“With film, you have to wait until you’re done to see if you had success and if you blew it, you won’t know it until the film is completely developed and washed and ready,” Cosentino said. “With digital, you get to see your results right away. You get to make it brighter, darker, more warm, more cold. Whatever you need to do.”
The Photographer’s Eye is a collective of 15 photographers founded a year ago. The darkroom is open anytime to its members and for a rental fee to the general public.
Cosentino said she hopes the darkroom and the facility more generally — which also has regular galleries on display, its own small library and will soon begin hosting classes — can become a hub for photographic arts in San Diego County. She had long envisioned having such a photography epicenter along Grand Avenue.
“I saw this place was available about a year and half ago and I had this vision,” Cosentino said. “And so I started gathering people and asking how it would work and it all just coalesced into this beautiful, magical thing here.”
Cosentino grew up in Ontario, California, and moved to San Diego County in 1968. She has lived in her current house in Escondido, located about a mile away from The Photographer’s Eye, since 1996.
Though she has lived in various places in the county, ranging from Mission Hills to Palomar Mountain, Cosentino said the “small town” feel of Escondido drew her in as a place to live and eventually create The Photographer’s Eye.
Cosentino says her favorite places to shoot photos in Escondido and San Marcos include the Elfin Forest’s stream and oak trees, her neighborhood in Escondido and Palomar College’s gardens.
Located at 326 East Grand Avenue, The Photographer’s Eye is surrounded by what has quietly become a North County arts destination. It sits across the street from The Ritz Theater — currently being redeveloped as an epicenter for on-stage performances and movie screenings — as well as the ArtHatch Art Complex’s Distinction Gallery and the Escondido Arts Partnership Municipal Gallery, all at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Juniper Street.
Called “Surreptitious,” The Photographer’s Eye describes Mireles’ exhibit as a series of “stories told through a keen eye with great affection for a city known for its diversity of lifestyles.” The name of the exhibit fits the theme of Mireles’ photographs, unstaged and taken of the people of the five boroughs of New York City without them knowing while in their natural state walking the streets of the biggest city in the United States.
The Photographer’s Eye is open to the public Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; as well as every Second Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Classes available for a fee include Introduction to Film Development, Darkroom Printing, Beginning Photography Film and Beginning Photography Digital and more.
Photo Caption: Darkroom equipment at The Photographer’s Eye in Escondido. The room is open to collective members and the general public. Photo by Steve Horn