From Photo to Photon: Chemistry of Photography Class Returns After Yearlong Hiatus


Photos By Evie Kwei and Chloe Nguyen

Chemistry of Photography Teachers Treavor Kendall and Frank Lopez

Mayer Sidikaro

Most Greenhill classes are taught by one teacher, but Upper School Science Department Chair Treavor Kendall and Upper and Middle School Photography Instructor Frank Lopez teach a unique course called Chemistry of Photography side by side.

Chemistry of Photography is a class that combines the creativity of art and various photography methods with the complex science of chemistry and the scientific method. According to Lopez, the Chemistry of Photography course has been around for over 10 years, but he started teaching it with Kendall just before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, Greenhill was not able to offer Chemistry of Photography due to a scheduling issue, but Lopez ran a summer course that taught the basics. The semester-long class curriculum is unique, as it is a class that brings two subjects together.

“We formulated a class out of both of our love for chemistry and photography,” said Lopez. “The foundation behind the class is the redox reaction, what is actually happening in photons, what is happening in reaction to wavelengths of light, [and] how to take the mystery out of the artistic process of the black and white silver gelatin method.”

Having two teachers and two subjects creates a need for balance. Lopez and Kendall both believe that they complement each other.

“The way that I approach the curriculum, Mr. Lopez and I, [we] try to balance it out… we’ll introduce a photographic method, send the students out to play with it, then come back to the classroom to learn about the science behind it,” Kendall said.

The class is designed to enhance the student’s knowledge of chemistry while also refining the photography skills of students that Lopez has taught in the past.

“We have several students who are taking their first chemistry class right now: Chemistry 1 and Chemistry of Photography,” Lopez said. “Now they are learning [chemistry] from an experience they can relate to, photography. It really helps the experience of education in thinking less abstract, and more about your process in application.”

Chemistry of Photography is also a class that students enjoy because it is fun. They do exploration labs, and a good portion of the work is done outside of the classroom. Students also particularly enjoy the parallel between their daily science classes and this unique one.

Olivia Kim ’21, took Chemistry of Photography as a senior. She had taken interest to photography throughout her high school career and, due to her being a “science person”, decided that Chemistry of Photography was the class for her.

During her semester in Chemistry of Photography, she founded Aeonianmagazine, a magazine that features different techniques that any student could learn from Chemistry of Photography. Artists submit their work for Kim to consider.

“I started the magazine at the same time I was taking the class during the quarantine period. And I just always had such an interest in the experimental side of photography,” said Kim. “It was great. I was very curious to see because I feel like Mr. Lopez is very much an art teacher and Dr. Kendall is very much a science teacher. But I think the thing that made it work so well is that both of them were so engaged and both of them were very interested in the other side of things. They did a great job.”

She now has her own website, where eight editions of her magazine have been published, and her Instagram account for the magazine has grown to have thousands of followers.

“To me, chemistry of photography is interesting because instead of just taking photos, editing them, and then going into the dark room to finalize your photo, you actually get involved with the chemistry behind it,” said sophomore Cooper Rabin who is currently enrolled in the class.