Fidoten, Owen, Ross Seek Accessibility in Photography Community

Jake Frankenfield

Oberlin College’s photo co-op will soon be up and running for the first time in nearly a decade and a half. College first-years Annie Fidoten, Claudia Ross and Nia Owen, who met in a photography class, are at the helm of this project. “Photo is a great way to access art if you’re not into drawing or painting, and there’s so many ways to do it,” Fidoten said. “It’s a really contemporary medium, it’s fun, and I like the environment, especially here.”

Fidoten, Ross and Owen are hoping to create a space for photographers of different skill levels and different interests. “We want to create a space where people can contribute and help with photography, or even if you need somewhere to go print and process your photos, you have a space to do that,” said Fidoten. “We don’t just want to help people make art; we want to have workshops.” The co-op would potentially hold a small symposium in the future that would function “a lot like a writing workshop would, where the community can meet and talk about the work they’re producing,” Ross said. “[Creating a photography community] is especially important considering the number of people who want to take photography classes and can’t this year,” Owen said.

According to Fidoten, up to this point, the community has only been available to a handful of students. “The photo program is great,” Fidoten said. “It’s also fairly inaccessible just in terms of money, and not that many people can get into the class. Thirty people have access to the darkroom every semester, which is nobody. So many more people try to take classes and they can’t get in.” That’s where the photo co-op comes in.

Because the photo co-op existed in Oberlin years ago, the trio has a leg up on their project. “We’re not starting from scratch,” said Fidoten. “We’ve re-enacted the charter of the photo co-op that existed from the ’90s into the early 2000s. And there’s actually been a darkroom in Wilder since the ’70s.” Despite the poor condition of that room, the co-op’s rebuilders are not discouraged. “We’re going to fix it up and set up a system,” Fidoten said.

The photo co-op would theoretically function just as any other co-op would. “People put in hours in the lab, and in exchange for that, they get to use the co-op’s resources for a small fee,” Fidoten said. Their hope is to increase the accessibility of photography equipment on campus by improving affordability. “The coop previously charged about $13 for a membership,” said Fidoten. “The Oberlin photo lab charges $300. We feel that that fee is out of a lot of people’s price range.”

The co-op would provide basic resources like a darkroom and processing equipment, though the project leaders acknowledge the need for more advanced options. “Analog photography is something that a lot of people … are interested in,” Fidoten said. They would also like to make 35mm cameras available for rent and make film available for purchase. The group plans on seeking ad hoc funds for a budget.

“We went to the Student Finance Committee. They are interested in our project, but it’s unclear how much funding we will be receiving,” Fidoten said. Regardless of external funding, however, the co-op will be up and running in a matter of weeks thanks to a high level of interest. “I’m actually a little concerned [about] overenrollment,” Ross said, “the space is really small.” All the rooms in Wilder are taken this year, but the co-op expects to move into a bigger space in the building next year. “Once the SFC gives us a budget, all we need to do is clean up the space and get the word out and we should be ready to go,” Ross said.