When you walk into the darkroom, it takes awhile for your eyes to adjust before you make out several shadowy figures bending over four different basins, scrutinizing the papers floating in them. Then, using tongs, they move the papers from one basin of chemical solution to another, finally washing them in clear water before taking them to show their mentor, Ann Conver. Conver discusses various points of the pictures that have emerged and questions their methods, and then the students dash off to make the adjustments she has suggested.

When you walk into the darkroom, it takes awhile for your eyes to adjust before you make out several shadowy figures bending over four different basins, scrutinizing the papers floating in them.

Then, using tongs, they move the papers from one basin of chemical solution to another, finally washing them in clear water before taking them to show their mentor, Ann Conver.

Conver discusses various points of the pictures that have emerged and questions their methods, and then the students dash off to make the adjustments she has suggested.

These teenagers, who have grown up with color film and color splashed all over onetime black-and-white newspapers, recently learned a new philosophy from their mentor that may remain with them for life.

“Color film will always remain digital, but black-and-white photography will remain an art form,” says Conver, a local artist who has been working with the 12 students involved in the Peoria Art Guild’s Mentor Apprentice Program

The students are thrilled by the new world Conver opened up to them with pinhole photography, making a camera out of tin cans or a gum container with a tiny pinprick aperture.

Jana Kotysan, who will be a sophomore at Peoria Notre Dame High School, was elated by what she’s learning.“This is totally different from anything I’ve done with Photoshop or just plain photography. This is so great,” she says.

Kotysan has done some art in high school but says “what they teach us is limited.”

“Here, I can do so much more and go so much further, especially when considering a future at college and the job I want to do,” she says.

Aaron Black, who graduated from Pekin Community High School, and Kyle Hill, who recently graduated from Peoria High School, also appreciate the program.

Black is enrolled at the Art Institute of Portland, Ore., where he will be studying industrial design in the fall, while Hill is headed for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 

“This is definitely pushing us to experience new things,” Black says. “I like all the mentors. They only want what’s best for you. They’ll not let you fail.”

Hill will focus on a career in graphic design and illustration.

“This program actually taught me to step outside the box, to explore new areas and take chances,” he says. “If I hadn’t taken those chances, I’ll always be wondering, ‘What if?’ ”

The guild’s eight-week apprenticeship program gives hands-on instruction to these Tri-County Area high school students whose admission into the program is based on a rigorous juried evaluation process.

“The selection process was very difficult because there were so many talented kids,” Conver says. “This program is free for them, and that’s the amazing part, because if it wasn’t, so many of them couldn’t afford the supplies.”

In addition, she says, many of the students are forgoing incomes from summer jobs to explore and develop their artistic skills.

The other instructors in the program include studio potter Jerry McNeil, who did a ceramics project with the students. Doug Goessman is teaching the silk-screen process, and Patricia Keck will work with students on sculpture.

Catharine Schaidle can be reached at (309) 686-3290 or cschaidle@pjstar.com.