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Thread: Traditional Darkroom, A Dying Art?

  1. #1

    Traditional Darkroom, A Dying Art?

    Does anyone have any insight on the fact of the matter that digital is steadily becoming the choice of creating prints. I will be investing in an enlarger and l ens for personal use. I would like to stay with the traditional darkroom, and be sides, the digital equipment is very expensive. John Sexton says he does traditi onal because its the best quality, but as he also says, and I agree, its only a matter of time till that changes. My question really is, will there be a supply and demand for the chemistry/paper? Enough to keep this art going? I work in the commercial photography field, and I see the change. Many business's are ditchin g the wet darkroom for digital. Also using digital backs in the studio instead o f film, hence Polariod going bankrupt. The business I work for is having a tough time getting paper and chemistry. This is either because supply and demand is d own or because of Sept. 11. I don't know. Opinions appreciated. Thank You.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Nov 1999
    San Clemente, California

    Traditional Darkroom, A Dying Art?

    As John Sexton is also reported to have said, we'll vote with our dollars. If enough folks keep buying paper and chemistry, it'll continue to be available, albeit in a narrower range of product choices. If they don't, those diehards who want to stay "in the dark" will be buying raw materials to coat their own. Get out and vote!

  3. #3

    Traditional Darkroom, A Dying Art?

    After spending five years in college studying photography, and after a career as a successful advertising photographer and editorial photographer, with an room full of awards, I'll be damned if some chick in a mini-skirt and high-heels, who happens to be a whiz at photoshop is going to lessen the value of my wet-darkroom work. Oh, yes, she can take a electronic stock photo off the internet, and whiz it up, but she neither has the discipline or the talent to create art. She (or he) only has the technology to play with images. Coming out of a very nice early retirement to re-enter the world of photography, some things have become quite clear to me. 1. Digital imagery may be the technique of the future, but right now it is only affordable by large studios and corporations who deal in great volume. It is not close to being the common technique of the week end photographic warrior, or even the small shop professional. 2. As digital imagery becomes more commonplace, there will be a time not too far off, where gallery images, on display will display a seal that affirms, "This image is original silver process imagery produced by the artist, and has not been digitally any form by the author/artist." If you are a serious artist/photographer....your slaving in the wet darkroom must be valued for what it is....the labor of love, with considerable skill, dedication and substantial artistic merit. These qualities given and exercised in the production of your imagery have considerable value, and that value will only increase over time.

    True, digital imagery may become more the rule than the exception over time, as the wold changes. But like the quality craftsmanship of wood working in antique furniture of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century....original process photography will only increase in value over time, and an image produced by some damned computer will never eclipse the quality of an original silver print, lovingly produced by the original artist, a wet darkroom, an artist whos hands smell of hypo and acetic acid....and who has made something of value with his/her hands and talents, for society to enjoy and treasure. Photography is at a division point in the road. There is a fork in the road ahead. Some commercial operations will take the digital road for commercial expediancy, and rightly so as we live in a commercial, cost conscious economy. Others, like me, will take the other fork, to reclaim and forever establish the art and value of an original silver image that is very collectable, beautiful and valuable. Just because it's new, dose'nt mean it is of more value. For me,....I'll take the artistry and craftsmanship and the smell of hypo on my hands...not the worn out finger tips, on some damned computer keyboard. When I started out in photography, it was a prestige profession involving knowledge of chemistry, optical physics and the many disciplines of the world of art and visual communications. I'm be damned if some chick in high-heels and a mini skirt, who knows going to rain on my parade. I think our photographic audience and clients will come to realize this...if they don't know already! Richard Boulware - Denver

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Jun 2000

    Traditional Darkroom, A Dying Art?

    I believe there will always be demand for products used in the wet darkroom. The problem is the choice of chemistry and paper will decline dramatically over time. The good news is that as more people move into digital, enlargers, light sources, lenses, and all the other gear required is going to become available at less and less cost. Also, most formulas for developers, toners, fixes etc can be made from bulk chemicals. The problem will be with the availability of papers and film. I forsee a day when Kodak will get out of B&W entirely except for a couple of films. Ilford seems more commited but I think one can expect their product line to be trimmed as demand for products declines in the US. From other posts on the net I get the impression that they are phasing out graded papers.

  5. #5

    Traditional Darkroom, A Dying Art?

    There will certainly be a supply of, and demand for, paper and chemistry for the forseeable future. Even if the big names went under, there are various small manufacturers that will keep going. Look at places like Photographers Formulary- you can get any developer you want to mix up. For paying jobs, film is in the decline. Certainly not gone, but that day is coming. The company I used to work for spent thousands of dollars for studio shots of their products until a couple years ago. Time-to-market pressures, and lower cost, convinced them to skip the studio work, and even the product itself! They went right from CAD renderings to advertising, and I have to admit that the results were quite good. Most non- photographers wouldn't have noticed that the shots weren't real, and the customers didn't seem to care at all. They used Photoshop, but with a highly skilled and trained graphic artist- no amateur. Today I was in the local surplus store and they had a giant Durst enlarger. Looked almost brand new- 8x10, I think, and taller than I am. On its back on a wooden pallet. Motorized and with a vacuum easel for up to 20 x 24 or larger paper. Turret with several large El-Nikkors. The thing will probably go for a few hundred bucks to $1K, because not many labs or individuals need that kind of capacity. (if anyone wants the phone number, email me- they also have a couple D series Omegas) It got me to thinking about time in general. Back in the '70s, you would have been laughed to the door for bringing '40s equipment to a job (Speed Graphic?), and 30 year old equipment was considered old. It's now 2001, yet 20-30 year old equipment isn't uncommon. We're overdue for a big change, and digital is it. IMHO, photography will head down two paths. Commercial and consumer imaging will be digital. Fine art will be traditional materials, as I don't think inkjet or even dye sub prints will be considered valuable or collectable in the near future. But I could be completely wrong. Or a complete idiot. Or both!

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Jun 2000

    Traditional Darkroom, A Dying Art?


    To complete my previous post...

    The bottom line is eventually their may be only a few papers available and only a limited selection of off the shelf chemistry. Maybe the selection will be greater but the cost for a 100 sheet box of a particular paper will become cost prohibitive for many of us. But you make due with what you have got. People who want to make beautiful images with silver based materials will will learn how to use the available materials to their fullest potential.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Sep 1999

    Traditional Darkroom, A Dying Art?

    Sour grapes,you old farts! It's coming, it's here already for rich folks. You can fight it, or join it. There are still some fools who use glass plates, and some who fume Mercury onto Degarreotype plates, and in 10 years anybody still printing on silver gelatin in a stinking darkroom at 3AM will just as backwards. The seven stop gray scale, and burned out highlights and styglian shadows of silver prints will look like charcoal drawings compared to the subtleties of digital printing. Lord, it's gonna be great!

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Jun 2000
    Redondo Beach

    Traditional Darkroom, A Dying Art?

    Being a woodworker as well as a photographer, I can see many parallels between woodworking and photography and the changes that have affected both disciplines over the years. Mortise and tenon, two inch hand dovetails, rabbeting, classic joinery which must be mastered before one can call himself a furniture maker, in many instances is replaced with staples and screws in the even supposedly 'high end' furniture that is made and sold nowadays for speed, volume, and increased profit margins.

    I've seen kitchen cabinets for a small sized kitchen for sale at different venues for $10,000 that were made primarily w/staples, screws, and particle board. I've watched with sadness, people filling out loan apps. to purchase these cabinets even though the total value of the materials used in the cabinets came to about $200.00. Particle board slowly falls apart after a certain amount of time, use, heat, humidity, and cannot be repaired once damaged. These cabinets will begin to fall apart with regular use in three or four years, and are in fact temporary, since parts of them cannot be repaired as you can repair furniture made w/classic joinery and good materials.

    Furniture crafted together by a supremely gifted artisan nowadays can cost a fortune. The cheapest way to get well made furniture is to learn how to do it yourself.

    My cameras, tripods, lenses, and even my filters, if treated with respect, can be kept and used for a lifetime. Whenever I call Mamiya, or some other manufacturer of photographic equipment I get a human voice in about five minutes maximum, which is almost always polite and ready to help. I get the same attitude from most labs. I've even called some of these folks about problems I've had w/equipment that had gone off warranty, and these folks many times to their credit said, 'to hell with it, send it in, there'll be no charge'.

    This attitude to a large degree doesn't carry over to digital. Waiting on hold for a half hour to 45 minutes to talk to someone about my computer, software, scanner, cd burner, and printer is the norm.

    I recently sold a printer which the manufacturer(who also makes film), flatout told me they don't bother to service anymore. Digital is expensive although some of the equipment is essentially THROWAWAY after a certain period of time. Digital equipment and software purchased three or four years years ago sometimes won't even communicate with equipment you buy today. Repairs for digital off warranty can be a 'black hole'. The people behind digital with a few exceptions tend to be arrogant, obnoxious, or what's even worse, unconcerned when it comes to standing behind their equipment.

    There are some incredibly gifted digital artists, but there seems to be just a few who have taken the time to pay their dues. Even though it takes time to master Photoshop, these same folks who've mastered Photoshop, don't seem to have bothered studying composition, color, spacial relationships, and so forth. Learning Photoshop is not and can never be a subsitute for imagination, creativity, and discipline. I see imagination and creativity in both 'straight Photograhy and digital, but there's a lot less discipline in the digital work I've seen, excepting the work of very skilled photographers who also happen to do digital.

    I've seen digital work by folks who it seems to me figured that if no one could figure out what is was, then it would have to be considered 'good', or considered 'Art'. You can dial up Photoshop on your computer, and get a monkey to sit down and play with the keys, and he might come up with something interesting, IN SPITE of not having studied Art and/or photography, and it can never be anything else but an accident. You could show the monkeys work to someone else who might consider the work 'Art', anything can be rationalized.

    When I decided to go into LF, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that LF doesn't cost more than 35/MF. My Toyo 810MII cost $3300, my 360 Docter Optics cost $737.00, the Wollensak $280.00, the Ries head $327, and a bigger Gitzo to hold the 810, $400.00. I might add that the workmanship that went into this LF equipment astounds me.

    Add up what've I just mentioned, and it is only a small fraction of what I've spent on digital equipment and software, and I don't have a lot. Digital is expensive when it comes to first tooling up, time consuming, hard to do, hard to maintain, stressful when dealing with the high strung egos on the other end of the phone, and much of the equipment worthless after too short a time. I might add that it's going to take most of at least a year to become skilled at photoshop.

    I laugh to myself when I see these articles which praise the merits of a printer and all it does, and then I get to the end of the article and read....'all these features for $25,000, and for $400.00 per month, on site service(the printer's a little tempermental you see).

    If you want to be 'up and running', and fairly quick, and for a lot less money, then digital is not the answer, and it is only a 'pipedream' to think it so. Get into digital, but do it with your eyes wide open.

    Having said all this, I enjoy doing digital work, but getting to this point was only after an incredibly long learning curve, after spending a lot more money than I should have, and only after a lot of heartaches that I wish I had not had to go through.

    A high degree of skill is easily spotted in a well executed photograph, same goes for digital work. If the skill isn't there, going digital isn't going to disguise that fact. At least not for long.
    Jonathan Brewer

  9. #9
    Beverly Hills, California
    Join Date
    Feb 2000
    Beverly Hills, CA

    Traditional Darkroom, A Dying Art?

    Conrad, I could have sworn that the photographer taking my elementary class picture back in the 70's was using an olden days Speed Graphic! Bless his heart! :>)

  10. #10

    Traditional Darkroom, A Dying Art?

    I only hope they keep producing velvia and ilfochrome classic, that'll do me.....

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