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Harvey Milk Photo Center Spotlights the Art of Darkroom Photography

Harvey Milk Photo Center Spotlights the Art of Darkroom Photography

The Harvey Milk Photo Center is open to every interested photographer, no matter their status or income level

For more than 75 years, the Harvey Milk Photo Center has put the arts within reach of Bay Area residents.

To begin to unpack why the Photo Center is special, it’s best to start with its namesake. Many know Milk as a member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. In addition, Milk was among the first openly gay elected officials in U.S. history.

But fewer know that he was a lifelong student of the arts, with a special love for photography. A former U.S. Navy veteran, Milk moved to San Francisco and opened a camera store in 1972. This occurred five years before he won election to the city’s Board of Supervisors. In that role, Milk represented the Castro District, known even then as a safe haven for the LGBT community.

A haven for photographers of all stripes

Harvey Milk was a longtime political and social rights activist. He would no doubt be pleased that the Photo Center that bears his name continues to uphold its commitment to making art accessible to all people.

Since it opened its doors, the Harvey Milk Photo Center is a invaluable resource. Any photographer, regardless of talent or subject matter, has access to world-class darkroom facilities for a nominal membership fee.

They even loan equipment to members who can’t afford a camera and offer classes on how to get the best results.

Harvey Milk Photo Center
The Harvey Milk Photo Center levels the playing field for photographers, with low-cost classes and access to a huge wet darkroom. [Courtesy of the Harvey Milk Photo Center]

A place to learn and explore

The Photo Center boasts the oldest—and largest—wet darkroom in the United States. Its also delivers much more than darkroom facilities. It boasts a full, onsite digital lab and an expansive program of more than 300 lectures, workshops, and classes each year.

The wide selection of classes spans a multitude of topics, from commercial photography to fine arts, and each is open to the public. The center has a scholarship fund for Bay Area residents who need financial assistance.

“Without the Photo Center, I would not have had a photographic career,” says one Harvey Milk Photo Center member who has been using the darkroom for more than 55 years. “There would have been no place for me to develop my film, print my pictures and teach myself photography.”

In this digital age, it’s a wonder that the Photo Center continues to thrive. Darkroom photography is an art form, requiring a great deal of patience and skill.

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If digital photography produces instant gratification, darkroom photography is its converse. This analog medium offers delayed gratification in the form of signature prints that are well worth the effort.

Visit the Harvey Milk Photo Center

The Harvey Milk Photo Center is located in San Francisco’s Castro District and offers classes and facility access every day except Monday and Friday.

The Photo Center has several exhibits on tap for 2020. Exhibits include Earth Shot, a photographic spotlight on the earth’s environmental crisis. Orlando, which examines the constructs of prescriptive gender and social norms, is also popular.

At the end of March, the center will feature Any Other Way, a showcase of the life and activism of rhythm and blues singer Jackie Shane.

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