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Thread: Defending the Darkroom in Education

  1. #1
    Mark Sawyer's Avatar
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    Defending the Darkroom in Education

    By way of introduction, I teach high school photography at a rural public high school in Arizona...

    Our principal told me today that the darkroom will be shut down immediately, and only digital photography will be taught. (I was also told in writing that teaching analog photography had "no industrial value" and that teaching it was "unacceptable and lacked professionalism".)

    My students are quite upset about it; several were in tears over it. (Hey, what's high school without a little drama?) I have several who are planning on attending college photo programs, and the four closest colleges that have photo programs have analog as a major part of the program. I asked whether I wasn't supposed to prepare students for college, and was told no, I was to prepare them for a trade right out of school.

    (BTW, I teach about 80% digital, 20% analog/hybrid.)

    I'm trying to come up with some "vocational/trade" reasons to keep the darkroom around as a small part of the program. Any ideas or resources?
    "I love my Verito lens, but I always have to sharpen everything in Photoshop..."

  2. #2
    lenser's Avatar
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    Re: Defending the Darkroom in Education

    Is this short sighted jerk also going to halt the teaching of Gregor Mendel in biology, Shakespeare in literature, Newton in math and physics, Rembrandt in fine arts and Beethovan in music . Drop some names and the foundations they established for their fields and maybe he could have an insight into the fact that the foundations and what offer are the platform for the transitions into the levels of the current world.
    "One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude." Carl Sandburg

  3. #3
    retrogrouchy
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    Re: Defending the Darkroom in Education

    How about "shutting down a critical resource mid-course is unacceptable, lacking professionalism and has no educational value"? And besides, art classes are all about "industrial value" - wtf?

    The real question is who has power over the principal? Is there a school board you can go to and explain exactly how this is a poor decision for the students and the reputation of the school?

    The only justifications provided are based on shortsightedness so there's no point arguing with them, you need to make it clear to the people who matter exactly why this is a bad decision and not allow the principal to frame the debate in terms of trades and poverty-grade expectations for the students' careers. In other words, you need to make "industrial value" irrelevant because frankly, photography as a craft has basically none any more.

  4. #4
    Analog Photographer Kimberly Anderson's Avatar
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    Re: Defending the Darkroom in Education

    Ask him to shut down the football program. None of those kids will go on to play football 'as a vocation' immediately out of High School.

    The pendulum is swinging back and before long there will be photographers getting work if only because they can shoot film. I had a conversation about this very thing today with a commercial photographer here in Utah.

  5. #5
    Mark Sawyer's Avatar
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    Re: Defending the Darkroom in Education

    I appreciate and agree with the sentiments. The students want to learn it, and I want to teach it. The students buy a few supplies, and the rest I fund out of my pocket, so it doesn't cost the school a dime. It doesn't take anything away from the digital side, and the hybrid work (scanning negatives or old family photos for digital printing) adds a twist the wouldn't learn otherwise.

    But it comes down to whether the darkroom offers immediate employment skills after high school. It was sad to hear a principal tell a teacher "your job isn't to prepare students for college." (Direct quote, btw.)

    Soooo... are there any job prospects out there that could be improved with a little extra knowledge of the darkroom?
    "I love my Verito lens, but I always have to sharpen everything in Photoshop..."

  6. #6
    Analog Photographer Kimberly Anderson's Avatar
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    Re: Defending the Darkroom in Education

    Yes, they can come be my assistants in my own darkroom.

    I have taught both HS and University level photography courses. Your principal's intentions are misguided and unfortunately predictable.

    IMO the digital workflow and understanding of both exposure and printing is greatly enhanced when one understands the origins and mechanics of traditional silver-based photography.

    A good digital print strives to mimic the finest gelatin silver prints. Without an understanding of how to make a fine gelatin silver print most ink-jet printers don't know what they are attempting to make.

    These sentiments not only come from me as a photographer and an instructor, but also from many...MANY of the students I have taught in the past. There is a difference between the photographer who has only known the pixel and one who knows the smell of fixer.

    Also it's cheaper. Tell him that. It might sway the argument in your direction.

  7. #7
    Richard M. Coda
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    Re: Defending the Darkroom in Education

    This really pisses me off... and I agree with Michael about the stupid sports...

    My daughter is an artist (pastels, watercolors, sculpture) and is a senior at a private school here in the Phoenix area. We are very lucky to have an amazing art facility. Every year we take her to the National Portfolio Days... where art school recruiters travel around the country as a group and HS students can bring their work and get feedback. If you are a senior the schools can make you an offer. We first brought her as a sophomore... comments included "how old are you?" "if you were a senior showing me this portfolio we'd offer you a full scholarship right now"... Anyway, last year, since we already knew what they were going to say I "mingled" a little and listened in on what the schools were saying to other students and in other disciplines. In particular I remember this kid showing his digital photographs. They were OK, what you typically see coming out of the art schools these days, but what the recruiter said is etched in my brain... "Have you ever been in a darkroom?" "No." "You will need to have that experience to be considered for our program." "We don't have a darkroom at our school." "You might try looking up some local pros and see if you could apprentice." "Have you ever used a large format camera?" "What's that?" ... The poor kid looked like he wanted to cry. Made me sad. Also made me thankful that I grew up when I did...
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  8. #8
    Kirk Gittings's Avatar
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    Re: Defending the Darkroom in Education

    This guy is probably (maybe) not just a narrow minded ahole. This is major debate in most schools and the tsunami of pressure is against traditional. After canning analoge many schools put it back at some level as interest surged and now the pressure is on again to dump it for good.
    Thanks,
    Kirk

    at age 67
    "The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep"

  9. #9

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    Re: Defending the Darkroom in Education

    Does the high school teach chemistry? Perhaps you could present the darkroom work as applied chemistry.
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  10. #10

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    Re: Defending the Darkroom in Education

    Doesn't HABS/HAER/HALS still require large format film based images? Requiring traditional darkroom techniques and experience...

    Might be an angle...

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