Hours in the darkroom are absolutely therapeutic, the author writes.
Darkroom photography may seem like one of the most archaic classes in the world — loading film, mixing chemicals and (God forbid) waiting for images to appear — but think twice before you roll your eyes, because its very real benefits are drawn from exactly this look back in time.
I first explored the darkroom in high school, then through two courses in college, and though many campuses are cutting back on their facilities, I think the value of learning the basic components of photography is applicable in life beyond college.
Everyone has a camera nowadays, but how many people understand what’s going on behind the click of a shutter?
When you’re stuck on top of a mountain, faced with the most breathtaking view of your life, don’t you want to understand why the snow is throwing off the image (and be able to fix that)? The mechanics of a film camera are a great conceptual tool that can help you understand your DSLR or your point-and-shoot, in case of running into trouble with your equipment or a tricky lighting situation. Having greater control will enable you to take the photographs you want when they’re right in front of you.
There is no doubt digital photography is convenient (essentially free after an initial investment, fast and clean to process), and it often makes sense to transition to digital. That said, the lack of selectivity that often accompanies a memory stick makes it hard to come to grips with your photographic eye initially.
“Photographic eye” refers to your ability to seek out photographs that are unique — that only you would see — and highlight their important aspects through the use of an unusual angle, interesting lines and light.
Being restricted to a set of 24 or 36 photographs means you are less likely to click mindlessly when you look through the viewfinder. Choosing every image that will be burned into the film, with the full awareness that you’ll have to process it, will push you to make sure it’s somewhat valuable.
Taking the time to pay attention to what makes up a good photograph pays off in the long run. Cameras are everywhere now, and could be argued we record, and share, our lives in greater visual detail than any generation before us.
All the more reason to make sure your photographs stand out and mean something to you. We are also surrounded by imagery, and being able to distinguish what makes a photograph work, or look professional, is a useful skill. It will help you to appreciate time in an art gallery.
Last but not least, hours in the darkroom are absolutely therapeutic.
Getting lost in the dark, in the company of the chemicals, and passing little strips of paper from tray to tray, allows me to slow down in the middle of a busy day. There aren’t many processes around nowadays that put you in that sort of headspace.
It can be hard to find a darkroom outside of the educational environment nowadays, so take advantage and step into the dark ages while you still can.
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