Photography is a form of creating art through technology. However, in the 21st century many have forgotten that not all photography is digital; some still prefer the longer, hands-on darkroom (analog) photography.
“I’ve taken a digital class, but I didn’t really like it because it basically [felt] like just pushing buttons on a computer,” said Jack Onorato, a senior fine art major at the University of Rhode Island. “I think because I grew up with computers, from the ‘90s onward, it’s always been around me. So I can go back to it if I want, but you can kind of mess up this [analog photography] really easily”
Onorato enjoys the risk that this small room for error leaves. Even with his experience, there is the possibility for problems at every one of the many steps required in darkroom photography.
“There’s so many different steps to it which I think is what really attracts me to it,” Onorato said. “And if it comes out then cool, you have negatives, but now you have to print it. And you can still kind of mess that one up. Â I’ve been doing it for a while so it’s kind of rare that that happens, it would usually be a chemical or camera malfunction, but even so the possibility really. Every time I take my negatives out of the developing process at the very end I’m always like ‘well I wonder if I have anything?’ [There’s] still that feeling.”
For the last year he has been taking trips across country and taking street photography, but many of his photos have been taken close to home in Providence, mainly capturing buildings. When asked how he thought his photographs came across, Onorato gave an example of an objective outsider’s opinion.
“A friend of mine showed a bunch of my pictures to someone I had never met, and they said Providence looked kind of ‘crusty,’” Onorato said. “But I mean those are the parts my friends and I hang out in: old, abandoned buildings, back alleys of downtown, things like that.”
So far Onorato has between 600 and 700 negatives of his Providence travels.
His first complete book, comprised of his Providence pictures, is titled “PVD 1.” From the hundreds of negatives he has, there are only a select few within PVD 1. All of the photographs are in black and white because URI does not have a color lab.
“These were the most interesting, and this is the first of I-don’t-know-how-many books,” Onorato said. Â “It’s going to be a series… [I] chose the best 14, where there’s a variety; some of them are landscape, some of them are portrait, but they’re all just Providence.”
Both of Onorato’s parents are also part of the art world; his father teaches Art History at the University of Rhode Island, and his mother was and art major who is now a freelance graphic designer and painter.
“It’s never been frowned upon to do [art] as a major or in life,” Onorato said. “It’s just [been] like part of daily life.”
Though he has tried other mediums, including printmaking, he has never liked any of them as much as darkroom photography. The stationary form of sitting down and creating on the spot, usually by looking at a subject, has never appealed to him. Onorato prefers being active in his art, and his love for cities has pushed him towards photographing places such as Providence.
“It’s harder to take an easel and a canvas and sit down in the middle of a city and paint,” Onorato said. “But if I have this small, 5 inch wide camera, I can just kind of move around. It’s less intrusive in some ways, as long as somebody doesn’t notice it. As opposed to the portrait artists who sit in the streets of New York, where you sit down and you can see them actually drawing you.”