Why darkrooms matter

I was out wandering about my neighbourhood with a camera this weeked, as I often do. I really appreciated the fact that it was overcast as my old tlr only has a maximum 1/500th shutter speed, so for my shallow depth of field work, this is an ideal condition. And as well, just after the rain, there were lots of things covered in masses of rain drops, always a guarantee of something to photograph.

It had been a little while since I shot with film. While I use both digital and film cameras, I really love shooting film and working in the darkroom the best. Many people I know, who still shoot some film, don’t do any darkroom work at all. I think this is really a shame.

I know there are many people out there who feel a darkroom is a thing of the past and has no relevance anymore. Others feel they are free, no longer having to spend time in one. Others have only ever and will only ever shoot digital. I think the point these people are missing is that learning to print in a darkroom does still matter.

When I speak with people about photography, they often ask about a place to take courses or their cameras and what they would like to do with their photography. I always suggest that they consider giving a film and darkroom course a try. Luckily we have an excellent school here, Langara College, that has a fantastic darkroom and still runs basic photography courses with film. I really believe that this is valuable, even if you only ever shoot digitally afterwards.

Shooting film has so many benefits, especially for someone who is just learning. Learning to shoot manually, where you can’t see what you did right away teaches you to master your camera fully, because if you don’t, you won’t have successful results. It slows things down, and since you only have a limited number of shots, you learn to make them count. You tend to become more selective of what you shoot, and I think end up paying more attention to what is in front of the camera.

And then there is the darkroom. No matter how many times I watch it, it is still a magical thing, seeing that image form from nothing in front of my eyes. But beyond that, unlike sitting in front of a computer screen, being in the darkroom really makes you part of the creative process, in the physical sense of things. There’s a satisfaction that I don’t find is there when sitting in front of a computer, of having made something with your own hands, where you are physically creating this image, not just pressing a mouse and watching the computer do everything.

I think there’s a disconnect, when it comes to technology, that disappears when you physically create and process an image. There is also the ability to experiment hands on, see what happens when you do ……..It is a chance to play, to become part of the process. And there is nothing like the satisfaction of being able to say I made this.

That’s why I always suggest to people to take a chance and get their hands on an old film camera, which is cheap these days, and go take a film photography/darkroom course. You may decide this isn’t for you in the long run, but you have had the experience to fully make that decision from an educated position and you might even have had fun anyways.

But don’t just take my word for it. Freestyle Photographic Supplies is not only an excellent place to purchase supplies, but is committed to traditional black and white photography. They have published on their site opinions from many photographic educators that they work with on why darkrooms do still matter.
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