I teach a black & white high school photography course. My students use SLR cameras and develop their film and prints in a darkroom. I have been told by my colleagues that b & w film photography will always be studied at the University level; however, a number of colleges are closing down their b&w film classes and switching to digital. I have a lot of time and money invested in a darkroom using enlargers and chemicals. How practical is it to still invest in a black & white film curriculum? Will I be able to continue to buy film and chemicals for my traditional darkroom?
Speaking as a digital photographer, I have no doubt you'll be able to buy film and processing chemicals for a very long time. However, you may find that you'll have to make your purchases by mail order or the like as fewer and fewer "brick 'n mortar" stores will carry film and processing chemicals due to the declining demand.
Although you've made a considerable investment in film and processing equipment, I suspect you need to be prepared to make cogent arguments for its continued use in your course. Black & white photography isn't about shooting film, processing it, and producing paper prints. It's about the art of seeing a multi-chromatic world in monotones and reducing it to printed images. Film, processing, and paper enlarging are merely means to that end, and digital photography has offered a cleaner, less expensive, and in some respects more convenient means to teaching and practicing that art.
Change is always uncomfortable, and the older we get, the less tolerant most of us are of change. Nonetheless, if you haven't already done so, you owe it to yourself to make a personal effort to explore the digital approach to black & white photography. If you don't, you risk becoming irrelevant by something you haven't even tried to understand. You risk letting new technology pass you by.
Indeed it was!
Alas, as a film photographer I am gradually leaning more toward digital b&w. I think wet darkroom knowledge will be pretty much left to the advanced amateur photographer within a few years (it's almost there now). Digital conversion of a colour image to b&w has improved dramatically in the past few years. Digital capture has improved so much that most DSLRs are approaching the useable photographic latitude of b&w film. Blended exposure techniques are available and improving to increase the photographic range of digital capture.
LS is partially correct about the heart of of the art b&w photography as being able to see a world of colour in various shades of grey. The other side of b&w photography; however, is the actual processing of the film and the different looks that can be achieved with different developers, different dilutions, different agitation, etc. Same goes for printing. The paper choices, the print developer choices, the dodging/burning choices, etc. change the way a print looks. All of those things can be done in the digital darkroom; however, and they can be done more quickly and more easily than in the wet darkroom once the user gets a handle on the tools and techniques. Given that, there's really no reason to continue teaching wet darkroom techniques in a course that's designed to prepare students for work in the photography field; at least in my view.
I agree with BobF's comments. I know there are those who say that having knowledge of film and print processing is useful, but the real question is just HOW useful is it, really?
For example, I don't know a darn thing about making my own collodion glass plates, and I daresay no one else in this forum does, either. I don't believe I'm diminished by the lack of that skill, and I doubt anyone feels they are, either. Yet, at one time, that was an essential skill for anyone who wanted to be a serious photographer. Nonetheless, photographic technology advanced, and its advancement was embraced.
Digital photography is nothing more or less than the latest advancement in photographic technology. It is being embraced at an ever-increasing pace. Much as it may pain some "filmosaurs" to read or hear this, film and chemical photography is dying and will, at some time in the future, be dead for all practical purposes. No one can say precisely when that will be, but my guess is it will be sooner than most of us think.
I agree and disagree. I think it's important for photographers to learn something of chemical methods. Those who think film and darkrooms will completely go away may be sorta right, but keep in mind that computer graphics hasn't made oil painting disappear. Nor did watercolors or any other method. No, it may not be mandatory for a pro to know darkroom work, but it doesn't hurt to learn more things than you need. I never have needed to know how to derive an equation while working as a forensic chemist, but that doesn't mean that learning that in college was a bad thing or that it's been outdated by the use of computers for nearly everything.
It's still a magical thing to watch the image come up in developer - that'll get kids hooked more than printing something on an inkjet.
Landscaper wrote:"Digital photography is nothing more or less than the latest advancement in photographic technology. It is being embraced at an ever-increasing pace. Much as it may pain some "filmosaurs" to read or hear this, film and chemical photography is dying and will, at some time in the future, be dead for all practical purposes. No one can say precisely when that will be, but my guess is it will be sooner than most of us think."I think that day will come sooner rather than later and I am one of those "filmasaurs". Most online vendors won't ship certain chemicals like C-41 developer.Also in response to Winger's post, I think B&W film photography class should be treated as an advanced and optional class rather than a beginning class like it has been in the past.
Message Edited by ChanTran on 08-29-2007 04:26 PM
That's a terrific idea Chan. Make it an elective for those who want to learn about it but for the rest, they can concentrate on the digital side.
"I think it's important for photographers to learn something of chemical methods."
I agree that Chan Tran's idea is right on.
Message Edited by DrJalapeno on 08-29-2007 05:29 PM