Question: Is film & Darkroom experience still usefull to the beginner?

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by andrew_ratzsch|1, Mar 31, 2012.

  1. Hi All,
    I was once an avid photographer, though I haven't done much in recent years. Being kinda, um, old-school, I was insisting to my daughter the value of some film and darkroom time. She, of course is a digital kid.
    I'm not really interested in winning an argument either here or with my kid. Rather, I want to write an article about this on my blog and I would love some feed back from those who are currently active in photography.
    So I ask: Is film photography an important and relevant experience for any aspiring photographer? Or is film just for specialized interests and old-timers who like to talk about their days of "walking to school without shoes in the snow?"
    Thanks in advance, Andy
  2. "Is film & Darkroom experience still usefull to the beginner?"
    Film YES Darkroom experience NO.
    Although darkroom experience comes in handy for those who have experienced it since photoshop and other editing software programs only replicate electronically what was done in the darkroom.
  3. I've seen this question here many times, and have always replied (if I did at all) with a somewhat ambivalent "it depends" perspective, leaning towards kids getting something out of it, since it's what I did, blah blah blah. But I never (when learning darkroom skills back in the 1970's) work with glass plates, or tintypes, or anything else that came along before the sheet and roll films I was learning on and actually using for real work.

    So my take on it now is: no. If someone is doing the right thing to help a new student mentally connect the ISO/Aperture/Shutterspeed trinity in their mind, and they can wire up those young synapses faster through digital's quick feedback loop, then ... no. I think we're past that now. A student is, I think, going to get more out of some silver/darkroom time if it comes well after they've got basic concepts down. I was wondering which year I'd finally say that. 2012, it looks like!
  4. I think just sniffing fixer (the smell) for a couple minutes or so brings back my memories of darkroom work better than going thru my scattered notes:)
  5. So I ask: Is film photography an important and relevant experience for any aspiring photographer? Or is film just for specialized interests and old-timers who like to talk about their days of "walking to school without shoes in the snow?"​
    If he/she is shooting film, sure. Digital, most likely no...
  6. ...who like to talk about their days of "walking to school without shoes in the snow?"
    It was also uphill both ways...
    In MHO the sharpening of the imagination and and the techniques to generate the image are the key things any (new or old) photographer needs to cultivate. Since there was only film that is what I used back in the day but good darkroom skills can only do so much to change information on a negative into the desired print. Studying artists you admire might be a place to start.
  7. I value my film darkroom days because I learned the technical aspects of photography as a process from composition and exposure to final print.
    I think the same can be done in a purely digital form.
    The camera basics are the same. You frame the image and make the proper exposure. Knowing the relationships between aperture and shutter speed is important.
    I use to make contact sheets from my negatives. I would evaluate them with a loupe. Now I upload my images and evaluate them in Adobe Bridge.
    In either case you determine what you wish to do with your images. You can still make prints, email them, or setup a Flickr account.
    I would think about what you have learned from your film and darkroom experiences and write an article that would be beneficial to whichever path a person wants to take.
  8. Depends on interest.
  9. None must, all may, some should. When I was a kid, I heard a priest say that about confession, but it applies to psychiatrists, laxatives, and darkroom work as well.
  10. SCL


    I think that if there is a burning interest on the part of the kid, yes, darkroom and film experience is useful, if for no other reason than it is a neat experience you can't get elsewhere. Like any artistic medium, however, it isn't necessarily a requirement for working with the current digital medium and digital processing. Perhaps doing the film/darkroom thing once with your daughter will allow her to make up her own mind. I practically grew up in darkrooms, science labs and museums, and highly value the experiences...but in today's world, my grand kids have zip interest in that stuff, and I can't say as I blame them...there are just too many new technological things going on to look backward at outdated technology. I sort of regret having even spent the money (even though it was a steal on the big auction site) on a Leitz microscope for my grandson as a young teenager....I thought it might inspire him as it did me, but video technology won out big time.
  11. Is experience with a typewriter and carbon paper relevant for writers? Is experience with a two-man saw relevant for a lumberjack?
    Museum archivists and art history majors would benefit from an understanding of the processes that created historic images.
  12. Is experience with a slide rule relevant for an engineer? Is horsemanship relevant for a cavalry officer?
  13. I was not introduced to music theory until after I'd been playing the trumpet for maybe eight years. It was not important to me as a trumpet player, but it was very beneficial to me as a musician. If I had been exposed to music theory when I was 10, I would have run screaming from the room. As a senior in high school I was better able to appreciate the nuances.
    So, to answer your question, 'Important and relevant', no, not really. Beneficial, certainly.
  14. I'm what you would consider an old timer so I use film. I have lots of darkroom eq. that I plan to set up one day. I send everything out for processing at this time. I also use digital. I consider film photography to be serious photography. I consider digital photography as disposable photography since it is used commercially with the intention it is fast, quick, easy, shoot and publish today, put the publication in the garbage tomorrow. Photography, as a word, means an "image made with light" basically so once it gets scanned and digitized it is no longer photography in the sense that an inkjet printer doesn't use light to form the final image. It more aptly becomes digigraphy.
    An aspiring photographer should know about shutter speeds, apertures, and the basics that are needed to make worthwhile images in both digital and film photography. Learn digital first. it is cheaper. Afterwards, branch out to other things. If you want to try film, try it. If you want to try darkroom, try it. You will find darkroom work to be enjoyable in that you are working with your hands to produce the image instead of letting a machine print out an image for you. That, in itself, produces some satisfaction in the same way doing woodworking or auto restoration does.
  15. Film and darkroom experience are necessary so you can see what you're supposed to imitate with digital.
  16. Yes. Because the exposures are limited and each one represents some money and work, they take on a kind of value that a digital shot doesn't have when you can run off a couple hundred with no cost in time or money. This makes you consider each shot more.
  17. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Because the exposures are limited and each one represents some money and work, they take on a kind of value that a digital shot doesn't have when you can run off a couple hundred with no cost in time or money. This makes you consider each shot more.​
    If someone needs external tools to slow them down, they have a personal problem.
  18. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Photography, as a word, means an "image made with light" basically so once it gets scanned and digitized it is no longer photography in the sense that an inkjet printer doesn't use light to form the final image. It more aptly becomes digigraphy.​

    Guess you missed all those people using digital cameras but light-based printing. And interestingly enough, other than you and a handful of others, nobody thinks that Salgado, Sherman, Greenfield, etc. all became non-photographers when they switched to digital.
  19. Agree with Mike. Forget the question of ease of use or most recent technology. If your daughter expresses an interest in film photography and darkroom work (B&W photography), why not? Don't push it, but do show her some prints (Ex. B&W prints) made with an inkjet printer, and others made in the darkroom. She will get to see and feel what they each are, their slight differences. Also, you might show her a manual camera, if you have one, with aperture, shutter and focus controls. She will very likely be familiar with a compact automatic camera and what it is, and will take it from there if she has an interest in understanding the basics before deciding or not on a more automated camera. She may or may not show interest. If she does, fine, and in any case she can later adopt whichever or both technologies.
    These are technical matters of process. Why she wants to photograph, and for what end, can also be good initial subjects of your help. Introducing her to the work of some artists in photography may be of interest to her as well. I taught photography (half day workshop) to some young (11 to 12 year old) school children last year. At first they were interested in photographing their friends in the normal mode of social photography, but they eventually shifted to photography with specific objectives and under more trying conditions, as had been mentioned to them in the preliminarty exposé. They did very well at that and we arranged an exhibition of images for the public during the month that followed. The whole exercise was quite basic and unpretentious, but I think thay got a good appreciation of the potential of the medium, which may be something to start with, with your daughter.
  20. If someone needs external tools to slow them down, they have a personal problem.​
    A beginner needs aids that an experienced photographer doesn't.
  21. Quite unneccessary ... on a par with those who suggest one needs a DSLR to learn about photography.
  22. I think Ron A really hit the nail on the head. Way back when ducktail haircuts and pointed suede shoes were stylish I was a member of our high school camera club and took great technical delight in developers and stop baths and fixers and winding more than 36 exposures from bulk film.
    I have found, however, that the learning curve with digital is just plain steeper, more satisfying for the learner. I spent a lot of time early on with film recording f/stops and apertures (you remember, no metadata) in a little notebook, then trying to see which frame the little stamped number on the celluloid corresponded with my notes about that frame.
    Ditto with "warming filters" and guessing at and bracketing exposures and then waiting for the transparencies to come back from the lab, hoping I'd done something right.
    With EXIF data available, a histogram right at your fingertips, the chimp screen under your nose, blinkies warning you of overexposing the highlights — asking your daughter to grind through historically interesting processes might dull her excitement.
    Maybe, if she becomes such an aficionado as those who populate these forums, it might be interesting to look back at the day. Maybe even talk about daguerreotypes. In terms of producing images today, I think film has very limited utility as a learning scaffold for the beginner. Everything "artistic" you can learn from film you can learn more quickly from digital.
  23. If she is going to work in a darkroom (or some related work,like the film department of Kodak), then she should have darkroom experience. If she is going to use digital cameras only then she should spend time on a lot of other things instead of DR experience
  24. The question wasn't whether it's necessary. The question was whether it's useful. The word "relevant" was also used. To a beginner, being forced to work slowly, and the simple act of creating a set of 36 artifacts that go together in a 6x6 page (and can we throw in the large finders on a 35mm SLR and manual focus?) can be useful learning aids. The temptation is to let the sophisticated camera do the work, or to shoot a whole mess of shots and delete the bad ones later. Making a set of 36 exposures is a different type of exercise that can have a useful function. This is not a "film vs. digital" thing.
  25. >>> Question: Is film & Darkroom experience still usefull to the beginner?


    Valuable time is much better spent shooting, leaning digital post-processing, learning how to see,
    shooting, going to museums to appreciate great photography, browsing photo-books, appreciating photography and art in general,
    contemplating simple projects, shooting, developing a mentor relationship with a photographer who is
    experienced, shooting, taking an art history class or two, developing a network of photo friends, attending a workshop, more shooting, etc.

    If, after all that (and more), there is some spare time, then maybe...
  26. I firmly believe that if you don't understand where we've been, you can't possible know where we're going. Given the fact that some of the terminology and functions used in digital photography migrated from film photography, such as "ISO" and "grain", I think that learning the basics of film photography is a must. That's from the viewpoint of someone who developed his first roll of film in 1952 and the last roll in 2005...
  27. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    A beginner needs aids that an experienced photographer doesn't.​

    Funny. If you go back to pre-digital on this forum, the number one recommendation for beginners was to "burn film," as much as. In the (paraphrased) words of Garry Winogrand, "shoot to see what it looks like."

    And speaking as someone who has taught and mentored beginners (and more advanced shooters), I usually try to get them to think about why they are shooting and what they want their photos to look like and how they are going to put all that together. Not shooting fast or slow.
    I firmly believe that if you don't understand where we've been, you can't possible know where we're going.​

    Yes, the Rolling Stones obviously got where they got by learning to play classical music.
  28. Typewriters for aspiring writers, slide rules for engineering students, and hand-cranked cars for beginning
  29. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I knew there was a reason I'm a lousy driver!
  30. Jeff, many great 20th-21st century musicians started with classical music.
  31. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    And many didn't. What's your point?
  32. "Aspiring photographer" is such as broad description--and in reality choices to learn using digital or film/darkroom can be dependent on external factors. Last year my daughter took her first photography class in public middle school. The whole course was film and darkroom based.
    While I think her teacher is very good, the only good reason to teach the kids at a middle school level using a film+darkroom perspective is that the school district simply doesn't have the budget to convert their staff skills, tools, and physical space to digital. They even limit the capacity of bulk-loaded 135mm cassettes to 12 exposures which moves the kids through the darkroom just quickly enough to give them a few tastes of the experience without overloading the instructor. After I provided my daughter with several 36-ex rolls, the teacher asked me to refrain due to the resource strain.
    In retrospect, she had an excellent learning experience quite similar to what I fondly recall, so there is goodness with the film and darkroom approach. She even managed to lose track of time in the darkroom and spaced her following class--something I'm sure many of us have experienced too.
  33. Jeff, pointing out bands that didn't have classical training shows classical training isn't necessary. Pointing out that
    others did shows it can be useful. The question was whether learning film shooting is useful, not whether it's
    necessary. Useful is a very broad concept. If it's not useful to learn film, learning film has no benefit at all. I find that
    proposition very hard to take seriously.
  34. No. You could learn a lot more, a lot quicker, with digital photography, and leaving film out of it.
    Film and darkroom work is an alternative type of photography, just as digital and instant film are alternative means to achieving an image. I believe it is only necessary if the resulting product or art relies on film and darkroom work.
  35. For a beginner, maybe....

    It's no different than wondering if she is better off learning fine wood working on a hi tech lathe with some CAD-like
    program or by hand with hand tools, that is the basic aproximation of the mediums, one easier than the other, results
    often similar or different because the journey is different, it changes the way you think, live...

    Think about this for a moment...I am a professional who has about 20 years of experience in the digital realm, love my
    new D800. But I am certain that the bulk of my income for the next 20-30 years will come from prints made in my newly
    crafted home darkroom. Why on EARTH would I do that if I felt digital were the only way forward...?

    To heck with the techno-babble, what about how precious your daughter's life is in a world with far less that is precious?
    Life is the journey, not the framed result. I can't imagine not spending some of my life in the darkroom when all the
    craptastic hype machine says is that the Lightroom is the only way to go.
  36. Yes, I would say it is vital. Gary Moyes, a professional photographer, speaking in this quarter's Calumet Focus magazine (UK edition) emphasises the importance of the knowledge of film and darkroom practice to the current generation of photographers.
  37. I can't see that it would be of much use. I learned in a darkroom years ago and of course much of what I learned relates to what I do now, but there nothing I learned in the darkroom that I use now that I could not have learned just shooting digital.
    If somewhat wants to learn out of work in a darkroom then go for it, but I can't see it as something needed.
  38. "Yes, the Rolling Stones obviously got where they got by learning to play classical music."
    No, it's more like moving from acoustic guitar to electric...
  39. I don't know what music and cars have to do with learning about photography, but as the subject has been raised, remember that Leonard Bernstein once gave Saturday music talks to kids, in which the Beatle's use of classical music forms (a-b-b-a form, etc.) was shown by him to have been applied in some of their music.
    Is it really only a question of either-or (film or digital)? Most craftspersons and artists happily work with all sorts of media, whatever works for them at the time. Is it a waste of time to work with different approaches? For some, no. For many, probably yes.
    As someone said, the learning curve to making impressive photographic prints with digital is quite steep. I agree with that, from my own experience. You can of course get OK results with minimal experience of (1) seeing, (2) controlling light, composition, and exposure, (3) post exposure treatment using elementary or sophisticated software, (4) choice of printing media and printer, (5) printing, including calibration of the monitor with the printer and the paper chosen.
    To get high quality results at each of these levels requires a lot of effort, unless you have the desire to let someone else take your digital files and treat/print them.
    Eventually, a young person who is intent on serious amateur photography is going to need to master all those steps. It can be a formidable task and many don't even bother to perfect to the best of their abilities each of the steps. However, I think that first attention should be given to transferring to your daughter as much as you know about "photography and the art of seeing" (as one famous photographer/instructor put it). This capacity to transfer life and three dimensional objects to a two dimensional image can be taught with the simplest of compact digital or film cameras, although the simple digital might be the easiest initial approach for the question of practicing visual perception of subject matter.
    After that step is covered, at least in a preliminary sense (we never really stop learning about seeing and making images), I would teach the "trinity" as Matt puts it (paraphrased as focus-aperture/shutter speed-exposure) with either a manual exposure option on a digital or film camera, but possibly using the digital camera as it gives immediate feedback for learning purposes.
    Once your daughter has understood those concepts, should she engage in learning and experimenting with the full chain of digital output of prints, or practice film photography and darkroom printing (if she is interested in black and white photography), or just stop there? Who knows? You will have to ask her what interests her. Most will probably not be interested in film exposure/scanning or film exposure/darkroom photography, but she should know that both digital and film media are alive and well (there are more brands of film available today than in the immediately pre-digital days, although at increased cost, and some new silver printing papers are appearing), and that if she chooses to start with darkroom photography, the challenges in producing fine manipulated prints are not at all minimal or menial, that it is an exacting activity.
    The important thing I think is to teach her, or encourage her to learn, the basics of seeing and good photography, and let her experience the pleasure (or not) of that, to let her know what the traditions of photography have been, where it is at present, and to let her choose her own initial path. The cost of used film equipment and darkroom equipment is so reasonable these days that it might be of a first interest to her, before she invests considerable funds and time for an equivalent digital print output. Not wasted time or effort.
  40. I she an advanced digital photographer? If so then yes, it's useful but definitely not necessary. If she is a beginner then film and darkroom exposure at this time would simply confuse and overwhelm her.
  41. O/P: "So I ask: Is film photography an important and relevant experience for any aspiring photographer? Or is film just for specialized interests and old-timers who like to talk about their days of "walking to school without shoes in the snow?"
    I'm not sure why there is an "or" between those questions? I'll treat them as two separate questions.
    Film photography is an art technique. Learning it is relevant to those who take a fancy to using that technique. Of course, when you say "aspiring photographer" you've covered dozens of very different avocations and vocations. For someone who wants to make a living shooting underwear ads for magazines, the answer is "of course not." For someone who wants to just be an artist with no particular commercial objective, the answer is "try it and see." If the technique is enjoyable, use it. Can you imagine telling someone "Don't bother learning water color techniques, because now we have Photoshop!" That would be idiotic advice, right?
    The second question is equally obvious. Is watercolor for "old timers?" How about print making? Just for old timers? The mistake being made here is that people think photography is about the tools - the cameras and computers. You see half a dozen references here to engineers using slide rules, and lumbermen using hand saws. Tools of production - which is what these people refer to, has not much explicitly to do with making art and using art techniques.
    Watch. Suppose I have a new software which makes "painting" as easy as pointing at a bunch of menus, and then an automatic brush produces the painting of choice on a canvas inserted into a machine. Would you advise all budding artists to use this because it is faster to make paintings? It would be ridiculous advice. It would be good advice if the person is looking for a production tool to sell artifacts, but is has nothing to do with art making.
    Some photographers like to say this: "It's only the picture that counts. So use the fastest easiest picture maker!" Of course, were this true, painters would all be using computerized paint brushes. Should every painter use acrylic paints because they were invented after oil paints and they dry faster?
    Where in the world of art making is "finish the job faster" a requisite of the art? Making art has many modalities. Some old, some new. It's every bit as foolish to assume a digital modality is superior to a film modality as it would be to assume that Photoshop will replace oil painting. Should my daughter learn oil painting technique, or skip straight to Photoshop lessons? Doesn't that sound ridiculous on the surface?
    I think it can all be reduced down to this. For making money, nothing in photography beats a digital system. For making art, all techniques and modalities are interesting in their own right, and have their own unique rewards measured in both process and product.
  42. Addendum
    This is another good example of the confusion between art making and art selling. The very moment selling comes into view, the only important questions are how many and how fast? Time is money! If making money is the object, give me the camera that I can send out on it's own and it will come back with a thousand perfect and exciting exposures! I'll buy half a dozen of them, and send them out daily! Why would I want anything short of that?
    Art is fundamentally a process of the mind and soul. It is where you work out the internal struggle of life. The fact that there is an output of sorts - a song, a painting, an object, a photograph, is your reminder of that struggle. You don't work out the meaning of life on an underwear fashion shoot for Macy's. That's a job.
    Because art is a process, it requires time and it requires activity. Making it go faster, doesn't make it go more meaningfully. Gee, yesterday I struggled for three hours working this out, now with my computerized machine I can cut that to 10 minutes? No, that's not always art you are talking about.
    Stuff with price tags hanging off it, might be art, but it might be nothing but production output too. It's hard to tell from the outside. From the inside it is easy to tell. Now speaking just from the inside, how can 1's and 0's intuitively be more soul serving than pans of developer and safe lights? Does that really make any sense that a digital computer will be a more powerful asset to working out your struggle? There's absolutely no reason it can't be your method, but there's also no reason it SHOULD be your method just because it is a new method. Imagine the guy telling some monks, "Look, you don't need brooms to sweep the temple, we now have electric vacuum cleaners, man!"
  43. A nice couple of posts from M Stephens which I agree with entirely.
  44. Yes, explained very well from m stephens.
    It sums up the question with a non bias and factual evaluation of what was asked, with excellent examples of why.
  45. The thing about film is that it's almost like shooting blind folded. The only way you are going to get some keepers on a roll of film is if you know what you're doing. Plus that if you are shooting slides. One of these day we are going to marvel how a photographer could shoot an entire wedding without chimping...
  46. Why would someone think of the digital process as faster? I thought one had to read and re-read a 400 page manual. I thought one had to search through 47 menus before taking a picture. Oh the struggle.
    Once one has a negative in their enlarger's negative carrier you frame and focus. One can then expose paper after paper. Even with tray development one can crank out a large number of prints rather quickly. It has been a method done for the last 100 years.
    Neither process owes it's strength to the amount that one struggles.
    Remember we are trying to paint the Sistine Chapel not clean the Aegean Stables.
  47. Marc Bergman,
    Just to be clear, I used the idea of "struggle" rather differently than you have above. Here is what I said: "Art is fundamentally a process of the mind and soul. It is where you work out the internal struggle of life." That doesn't in any way imply struggling with the process.
    If you weren't referencing my use of the word, then just ignore this.
  48. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Tools of production - which is what these people refer to, has not much explicitly to do with making art and using art techniques.​

    That was the point of most of the people who brought up tools. People focus way too much on tools and too little on thinking about what they are doing. That's why the question is about the wrong things. Apparently, it was a little too subtle for some people.
  49. I suppose I would go one step further and say that if it is simply art being discussed, production isn't the most appropriate word. Art is created more than produced. If it is artifacts for sale, then yes, production is the more crucial concern - time is money. Making a photograph for sale in 5-seconds is way better than 5-hours.
    Art creation though can have as much inefficiency as it needs to satisfy the artist. Arcane, and indeed outdated, techniques can often have every bit the reward as new contemporary technique. An artist spending a small eternity twiddling Photoshop bits, is involved the same way (qualitatively) as another artist dodging and burning prints, right? There is no vector of qualitative measure about those two ideas. If the artist is arting (why can't it be a verb?) then all is well, I say.
    But this doesn't apply to engineers with slide rules, nor to lumberman with chain saws, nor to underwear catalog photograhers. That is production, and the value lies in speed and accuracy, not the internal happiness of the many wielding the tool, who frankly is very disposable and unimportant. A mere "holder of the tool" often enough. The artist never wants to be that.
  50. Probably not. But to miss the thrill of going into the dark room for a few minutes, and staying for hours. For me, there was a pure joy to the whole process.
  51. I don't think darkroom skills are much use for professional training today - any more than learning DOS or BASIC is to learning PhotoShop. Too many other important skills must be attended to.
    At the start of the school year I was browsing the latest digi-gear at one of the few real photo stores left in the Boston area and noticed heaps of photo paper and chemicals. "Gee, what's that all about?" I remarked. "The kids are back. They have beginning and alternative processes classes" was the reply. I zipped back with my Mamyia 330 outfit and cashed it in for a measly store credit.
    Just today I saw a very fine early photography show at the MFA. I was reminded why doing it the old way is appealing. I'd love to know how to make a fine paper negative just to know how they got such fine detail and lovely density with paper. I saw a 8 x 10 tin-type demo last Fall that blew my mind. If you have never seen a newly-made tin-type you should. Like any historical craft there will always be darkroom photography.
  52. TOUCH, smell, taste, hearing have always deeply enhanced my learning experiences.
    Drawing also has a very tangible benefit for a photographer. The muscles used come in handy behind the lens and in the wet/digital darkroom.
  53. Many great artists have had intimate and significant relationships with their tools. This should not be discounted. Great violinists make love to their instruments. Accomplished pianists know how to adjust for the various feel of the keys and tonal production of different instruments they will have to play on. Painters have favorite brushes, architects recognize when their materials suit their vision.
    Dismissing the importance of tools is as silly as obsessing over them.
    I've watched people in the darkroom but never worked in one myself. I often call photographer friends who've worked with film and who have extensive experience in the darkroom. Those discussions often help my own work, both technically and visually. I don't care whether that's the case for others. It's been helpful to me. I doubt I will ever find the time to actually become adept at using film and a darkroom. But I know if I did make the time, it would benefit me enormously. Again, others may not benefit just like others wouldn't benefit from a lot of my other photographic practices, exercises, and learning tools.
  54. Was somebody dismissing tools?
  55. For beginners, film and darkroom and experience are absolutely essential to beginners who plan to use film and develop and print their own photos. However, no harm will be done if they jump right into using film and working in the darkroom without any experience. After a few years and diligent study and forum debates they'll have experience and will no longer be beginners.
  56. Up until just recently, I did all my printing in a local city college darkroom. Classes always were filled each semester and every Sat for "free lab" where one did not need a teachers permission slip to use the darkroom it was always at least 3/4 full. At finals time one usually had to put their name on a list in the stock room and wait for an enlarger to free up. So while the OP question may not have a clear answer, I can vouch for b&w film and darkroom printing still having some appeal to the younger generations.
  57. "But this doesn't apply to engineers with slide rules, nor to lumberman with chain saws, nor to underwear catalog photograhers. That is production, and the value lies in speed and accuracy, not the internal happiness of the many wielding the tool"​
    m, can you inform me when engineers, in creating designs and new products or processes, were engaged simply in production? Engineering involves science and the scientific method as well as a lot of conceptual art and considerable iteration that is not different to many actions of the artist. The slide rule hasn't been used since the advent of the personal computer, calculator and other devices, which in such cases are just tools to enable ideas to be transfered to designs. On the other hand, I agree with your idea that the tool itself is only part of the process of the artist-photographer and the use of digital or traditional photography are equally valid to enable his image creations.
  58. Arthur Plumpton,
    Engineering is by and large just work for hire. Work for hire is always engaged in production. I acknowledge that an engineer or designer puts his personal spit on the work, and this makes it superficially artistic, but in the end, production must conform to company objectives. The act of engineering is ultimately tied to pleasing someone else. Personal whimsy only goes so far.
    The artist on the other hand is fulfilling self-created needs of expression using self-directed activity, which results in some catharsis, crisis resolution, epiphany, or creation of some new crisis to be resolved. No one would confuse mere production with art under those terms, right?
    None of that is a poke at those who produce work for hire. I am simply drawing a thick line in the sand here.
  59. Drawing also has a very tangible benefit for a photographer.​
    I used to have beginning photo students make a sketch of the scene before shooting the photo. They were not too happy with the idea, but they humored me. I always stressed the importance of manual sketching in all my computer graphics teaching too. It was THE medium of communication in an office/client interaction. I don't know if it still is. I'd think a quick sketch on a smart pad would be even more useuful today.
  60. A scientist engaged in basic research is usually an employee of some organisation, so I guess you can say he is working for hire. Basic science research on the other hand is often without any application in mind, with the scientist following his self created needs and activities. It is often no less whimsical than the creations of artists. Like the research engineer or other practicing engineer, whose responsibility is ultimately to the public in regard to the compatability of his designs for the public good and safety, the scientist is paid by someone or some corporation to create.
    For many artists, their "for hire" is like market futures, it is in most cases ultimately with a buyer in mind, and the buyer, directly or not, often influences the art he is engaged in. Not always, of course, just as Einstein was not worried about buyers for his scientific "products", except for the possibility that they would be absorbed by and important to the public at some point. Most artists see someone or a group of persons somewhere who will eventually see their products of creation. Even if it is just a public museum that purchases their work. Did the engineer Edison think of his work as "for hire"? He was driven by creative impulses, slept in his laboratory and then only for 4 hours a day. I don't really think it is very relevant whether he considered his work for hire or not, but the important thing is that his fertile mind created material things (don't forget that art is not just some inter-cerebral transfer, but usually has a "product" ofcreation at its outcome).
    M. Stephens, I believe you are drawing a too distinct and idealised line in the sand that doesn't recognize that there is considerable overlap between the creativity, namely between the motivations, approaches and actions of engineers and artists. Instead of a line there are intermingling areas. I believe the "for hire" designation is a "false piste" (or a wrong direction) as it ignores the fact that creation often ignores the financial dependence or independence of the doer; he or she is often engaged in what he or she is doing for personal fulfillment but also for ultimate appreciation by other humans.
    Creation in its more global sense takes many forms. Can it be denied that Steve Jobs, the brilliant entrepreneur, exhibited no personal creativity in his creation of articles important to the life of humans. Were the great Renaissance artists lacking artistic creativity because they were unquestionably "for hire", that is, they were financed by Princes or church contracts?
  61. Arthur Plumpton,
    Your last sentence is crucial. Things which are creative or artistic are not always works of art. Artistic only implies characteristics of art - e.g. artiness. And creating is a broad term covering too much here to be useful fro describing how art comes into being. Yes, it is created, but it is much more than that.
    I would not consider Edison or Einstein an artist. Why bother at all with separate words like scientist, physicist, or inventor if every instance is an really an artist? I think here you are attempting the case of making artist the broadest possible term, and I am making it the narrowest, right?
    The essential difference in work for hire from making art is the purpose. I'd say that is a fairly profound difference. "Excuse me boss, but I am working out some demons this morning. So no, I am not going to finish that design for a radio that we've been working on, I am changing it to high powered frangilator, because that's how I feel right now." That's the work for hire problem in a nutshell. It may look like artiness, and it surely can involve creating, but since there is no self-motivated purpose of the soul, it's not art. Again to be clear, I am not saying engineers and scientists aren't creative.
    Analogies are always dangerous, but I will attempt one anyway here. Porn stars have sex, lovers make love. The actions look awfully similar, right? It would be tempting to make a huge generalization and declare they are all making love based on action alone. But I think there is an important and fundamental distinction between lovers and porn stars. Whatever overlap may exists at the margins is not all that interesting to me. Yes - there are exceptions to all such claims of precision about the language. Some engineers really are making art somewhere. But I think it is clearly the exception and not the general case.
  62. Porn stars have sex, lovers make love.​
    And yet more romanticism abounds. You know what, good lovers have sex, too! It's OK. It's even OK for it to be down and dirty.
    No, sex is great and it's part of love. It's not relegated to porn stars.
    Sexphobia is one of the most rampant phobias.
    [See, analogies are dangerous. LOL.]
  63. I knew better than to attempt such an analogy. Thanks Fred G. for the reminder.
  64. "since there is no self-motivated purpose of the soul, it's not art."​
    That criterion really breaks down, as a unique descriptor of what is art, simply because many of us are conscious of that criterion as a principle of our living itself, in the highest terms we can imagine and feel, and that ecompasses many things that are not just what you might call art.
    Another point: Staying afloat in the Mddle Ages and Renaissance times was a challenge for all but the few wealthy. One's life was in question each day and where the food was to come from was also unsure. Without delving into the lives of the great sculptors and painters (in some cases difficult enough) their early craft and art work allowed them to survive, and if their talent allowed an eventual high expression in artistic terms they were nonetheless for hire and didn't make all the decisions themselves until they had reached a certain level. I prefer to look at art as creativity and exceptional and unique personal expression, rather than some special case of "something else", and there the distinct line in the sand becomes somewhat diffuse in separating human creative activity and therby meaningless. The scientist that thought of monkeys chasing their tails and proposed a new theory of the heretofore unknown cyclical structure of the benzene family of organic compounds, was in my mind both an artist and a scientist. At one time in our history, the distinction of doctor of philosophy did not distinguish between the arts and science. We love to compartmentalize human activity today, which is nowhere more apparent than in the university divisions of education.
  65. Arthur Plumpton,
    Good points for sure. However, where we diverge is the very basic use of language. Yes, we could call every person an artist, and every artifact art, if we so choose. We can use a gigantic brush here, and accommodate all with just a few basic words. It's just not my preference or style to do that. I would call that a watering down process. Doesn't it devalue all art, if everything is art?
    Don't get me wrong. I am not applying any precious nature to art. I am not trying to restrict it in some elitist fashion. I am saying art has two primary components. First is the manifested form - the painting, drawing, photograph, and so on. Second is the transform which occurs in the artist. If there is no transformation in the artist, how can art have been created? In crude slices, that is what differentiates craft from art - - the transformation of the artist. Once again, a person can declare that every action creates transformation, but that's using that big brush again.
    Art is a method then, whereby the artist transforms his self, his life, his understanding and place in the Universe. If I want to know my understanding of good and evil (let's say), would I get a job as a chemist, engineer or underwear catalog photographer? - or do I strike out with my camera and my process to seek those truths on my own behalf?
    If there is a blurry line in the sand here, it would happen when a work for hire is co-incident with a personal transformation of the soul. Not saying that doesn't happen, but it's not the usual result of employment.
  66. m, I don't think we disagree very profoundly (I acknowledge that as a research engineer and a photographer, the creativity "hat" I put on in each case is somewhat different), just about the width of the brush (that you mention in your first paragraph).
  67. If I want to know my understanding of good and evil . . .​
    . . . I might become a nurse and get a job in a state prison.
    Art is at least in part something that's down to Earth. The transcendence (transformation) takes place from a ground. The practical is not by its nature un-artistic. The practical can very much be the raw materials. Ask the FSA photographers.
    Speaking of the FSA photographers, some knowledge of history is good in most disciplines. And whatever hands-on knowledge is available can be worthwhile. Can exposure to film and a darkroom, which could provide both a historical perspective and an understanding of a lot of the technique one will see in photos made before the last couple of decades help a photographer?
    Does every photographer want or need this kind of experience and is it practical to expect it will long be available?
    Perhaps not.
  68. Is film & Darkroom experience still useful to the beginner?​
    Andrew Ratzsch, depending on how in depth the photographer is going to get it is absolutely useful. As others have pointed out it is not mandatory. Do this. Ask some people that have studied photography sometime in the last 10 years whether they regret the fact they were forced to do dark room work prior to taking digital photography classes... as is often the case at certain schools. I've only met one or two that thought it was a pointless unnecessary step. Most of the young people today that have shot with DSLRs for years who are made to take a dark room class actually find it an enjoyable educational experience. They are amazed at what they didn't know.
    Is experience with a slide rule relevant for an engineer? Is horsemanship relevant for a cavalry officer?​
    Ron Andrews, anyone that compares the utility of a 8x10 large format film camera to a slide rule or horse vs air cavalry is trolling... or if one were to be charitable someone who obviously has never done dark room work. I have everything in my camera bag except large format film and medium format digital. I would never trade my Efke 25 medium format negatives for a Photoshopped image from an APS sensor. I also would not deprive a budding photographer of the experience of working with those types of negatives. As I've said before the vast majority of people when exposed to both really get a lot out of working with film in the dark room.
    A lot of modern photography like many things is poorly understood by the consumer. I can't believe people buy cloths at Walmart. You look at the craftsmanship of the materials and any savvy individual realizes if you wait for a good sale you can actually do better in the long run at a higher end name brand retailer. Most people just assume all digital is superior in every aspect. They whip out 14 megapixal point and shoots with tiny noisy sensors and sneer at my big metal medium format camera. The sneers melt away when they see the prints.
    I love watching people huddle around a computer monitor to see vacation pictures. Or better yet look at them stretched across a 55" television that is only 1080p. I pull out the slide projector and watch the jaws drop when the Velvia slides cast a gigantic image on a huge screen or across half the wall. People simply don't understand how a 30 year old FILM camera can do that. I personally wouldn't have realized the utility of film had no one ever made me take a dark room class. I don't care what field you work in. If you want to take your game to the next level and be well rounded and knowledgeable you have to know all the common aspects of your industry. If you choose to use digital for a particular project it's kind of nice to be able to give a client or another professional an informed reason as to why you did that.
  69. James Smith,
    If you are going to call someone out by name for giving their opinion, linking to their photo net page, at least take the time to read their bio.
    Ron Andrews, anyone that compares the utility of a 8x10 large format film camera to a slide rule or horse vs air cavalry is trolling... or if one were to be charitable someone who obviously has never done dark room work.​
    Otherwise you look like a n00b.
  70. Marc Bergman,
    Regardless of experience I don't see how someone can compare producing an Ansel Adams 8x10 contact print in the darkroom to horse vs air cavalry.
    If some non pro asks me what's better film vs digital my answer is it depends. The pure digital workflow has its pros and cons and the pure "analog" workflow has its pros and cons. And if you start mixing the two there is another whole boatload of pros and cons. What I can say with a high degree of certainty is taking a landscape picture with an 8x10 camera, developing the negative, and producing a print in the dark room is NOT horse vs air cavalry. I'm not even sure how to respond to that analogy particularly when someone is asking advice for a beginning photographer.
    My personal experience is that the majority of people that were forced to do dark room say they are glad they did it. And these were people that thought it was an annoying hurdle in their education before they were actually made to do it. I am NOT saying it is 100% necessary. But I believe it has some utility.
  71. With modern digital ink jet printers available, why on earth would anyone study, let alone practice, intaglio, monotype, lithography, woodcut, linocut, or heaven forbid - serigraphy? What fools. It would be like going back to the horse and buggy!
  72. If an artist wanted to be in touch with what a horse and buggy ride felt like, let's say he was writing a play about it or a poem about it, he damn well might want to go back to it or experience it. Artists don't close their minds, they open them. Historicity is one among many ways to do that.
  73. Fred G.,
    You got that I was being facetious there, right?
  74. Oops, no, sorry, although I admit I was a little surprised by what I thought was out of character for you. Darn Internet. Where's that tone of voice gone to? I'll have to design a "facetious" emoticon for people like me who are too lame to pick up on it in writing.
  75. Fred G.,
    No, it was my fault. Even as I hit the submit button I was thinking, "Gee, maybe I better add an emoticon?" But, since I generally eschew them, I decided to go without a net.
  76. An emoticon for you Stephens :)
    The really good thing is that the plugin's that emulate those "horse-and-buggy" methods keep them alive. I get a guilty pleasure wantonly using them. As time goes on and I succumb to a more decorative style of working they are great fun. They allow for a lot of personal expression that goes beyond the original method.
  77. Alan Zinn,
    Right. I see one of the popular crazes now is to run pictures through the palette knife filter and print them out on canvas which gets wrapped into a box shape to look just like a painting. Gosh, there's just no end to the creative ways of using computers!
    Place appropriate emoticon here.
  78. I love digital photography and find it liberating. However, my years with film and in the darkroom developing both film and printing have certainly enriched my photographic experience as well as given me a better appreciation for what I want out of an image. to the extent that Photoshop and similar software program emulate the darkroom process, understanding that process is very helpful. Can you have full understanding without ever being in a darkroom? Sure. I don't know if darkroom experience is important today, or not. However, I think it is still beneficial to obtaining a full understanding of the print -- in particular.
  79. I've taught a beginners' darkroom course at an artists' co-op. Response was slow at first, then picked up, and the society's darkroom is now booked to capacity. It seems that artists who want to use photography seriously like to learn the techniques that have been basic to the art for a century. Many of the students were also interested in learning to operate a manual camera and finding out what f-stops, shutter speeds and depth of field are all about.
  80. WOW! I am really impressed and even a bit overwhelmed by the great responses that have been posted to my question. It may take me another week to synthesize this into the article but, increasingly, I am thinking of simply distilling your own remarks.
    I'll let you all know when the post goes up.
    Thanks Again!
    [Link removed - Sorry, gratuitous/blog/personal links are not permitted on See]
  81. film is dead, buried, and forgotten. in 25, 50 years no one will have even seen a roll of film no more. Darkroom? aha, as relevant as how to use a typewriter, or a rotary phone, or a turntable. stay with the future, forget the past.
  82. Rom,
    I agree that darkroom and film experience is no longer relevant for new students of photography. I compared it to a typewriter and a slide rule. There is a long way between that and a dead medium. People are still making Daguerreotypes after 173 years. The Callotype, Ambrotype, tintype, dry plate, celluloid film, and digital sensors have cut into the market for Daguerreotypes, but they haven't killed the format. I have an Western Electric farm telephone made in 1880 that was connected to the phone lines and working until we moved 4 years ago. (It would still work, I just haven't hooked it up again.) My BSR turntable still works with my vinyl records. The local grade school still uses chalk on slate blackboards. I like my iPad, but I always carry a pencil. I can still buy cornmeal ground by stone on a water powered mill. There are even a few people who still buy buggy whips. Film will never be what it used to be, but I don't envision the death of all film in my lifetime.
  83. I'm still mystified by the comparison of art techniques to typewriters and buggy whips. How about oil painting? Is that about to die too? Drawing? When exactly were typewriters, crank phones, turntables, and buggy whips used as art techniques?
    I think such comparisons reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of what constitutes art. Art is not contained in the brush, the raw canvas, the microprocessor of a computer camera, or the machined parts of a film camera. Art is the outcome of applied technique and inspiration. Techniques may come and go in fad-like procession, but they don't die because a new tool is invented.
    Inspiration partly comes from the process itself. Each process has its own demands, peculiarities and need for mastery. From that comes part of the inspiration to create. Why would film and darkroom suddenly fail to provide inspiration? What about a computerized camera would make the dark room process irrelevant? I see superb photographs in exhibitions all the time, and not one thing about those photographs is inherently attached to using a computer-driven camera. What on earth are people thinking? That because computer cameras are cheaper to operate they will replace all previous art techniques? Utterly silly. Inkjet printers are cheaper than oil painting - right? Is oil painting dead?
  84. M, I'm with you. I don't see a viable analogy between the relationship of a typewriter to writing and the relationship of a camera to a photograph. One of the most intimate connections between tool and art is how much, for example, the sound of a particular violin influences the sound we hear when we listen to the music made by that violin. A camera probably has less directly perceptible influence on a photograph than a violin does on music, but clearly the camera can distinctly influence the look and feel of the photo. The particular typewriter has much less influence on the sound or feel of the poem written with its use. We understand these are all tools that are used in the making of art. But we hopefully all also understand that the type of influence and impact of each tool in each different medium varies a great deal. Though art is not contained in the brush, violin, or camera, the effect of each is a factor, though not to the same degree.

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