It makes me extremely uncomfortable to admit that the Darkroom -–that is the classic orange safe light, enlarger, chemical bath, vinegar smelling, black walled, light proof room-– that we grew up with (or at least witnessed on a detective show), is not the standard way we create photographs anymore. This has been the case for years now, the digital era is upon us, and digital photography has supplanted the analog process. Darkrooms have been replaced with computer laboratories. Bookshelves of photo albums and storage boxes have been replaced by hard drives that I keep losing the power supplies for.
There are allot of advantages to this transition to digital photography; it is cheaper, easier, quicker and instantaneous. But these are disadvantages as well. Time and time again I witness the students who are seasoned in analog processes, and have spent time in the darkroom, understanding and enjoying photography in a far more profound manner. There are a myriad of reasons for this:
1. The Darkroom is MAGIC.
Really, it is. To project light through a negative onto light sensitive material, and then have an image appear in a tray of chemicals is a magical experience the helps students understand photography in a phenomenal way.
2. Photoshop imitates the Darkroom.
All of the basic image editing we do in photoshop (the real stuff you need to create a elegant looking photograph) simply imitates analog processes in the darkroom. Adjusting levels, burning and dodging, adding contrast and masking are all processes used in the darkroom. There is no better way to learn what these methods do, and why they work, than using them in the darkroom.
3. No Screens!
In a time when the average child spend an immense amount of time basking in the rays of an illuminated screen, I find it important to give students an opportunity to explore the tactile experience of analog photography. Basking in the faint glow of the orange safelights, while moving photo sensitive paper through the various processes required, becomes a social situation where students interact with each other, often forming a cohesive community.
Creating an image in the darkroom, and using analog film cameras to take pictures forces us to slow down and truly learn to control light, which is an excellent exercise in patience, and tends to produce quality over quantity.
JEREMY BOLEN is an artist and educator living in Chicago. He received his MFA from UIC in 2012. Bolen was included in GROUND FLOOR at the Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, in 2012 and exhibited at the UNITLED art fair in Miami, December 2012, with the Andrew Rafacz Gallery. He currently has a solo exhibition at Andrew Rafacz, Chicago. Bolen teaches at Marwen, University of Illinois at Chicago, and the School of the Art Institute Chicago.