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Delights of the darkroom

Delights of the darkroom - In today's fast paced society which has broadband internet, instant messaging, fast food and digital photography you would think that darkrooms would be seen as part of our slow paced and patient past. But colleges around the country are starting to prove that digital, new and instant may not always be the best and are breathing life back into this old fashioned art.

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bradford college logo Trevor Griffiths, photography lecturer at Bradford College said they have always had a darkroom but this was nearly taken away from them when they moved to a new site.

"We had to fight to keep the darkroom, we moved to a new building so a new darkroom was also needed. It cost £100,000 to bring it up to date," said Trevor.

There are approximately only 180 colleges and universities in the UK who still have darkroom facilities as many have closed down their darkrooms in favour of modern, digital ways but Trevor thinks is this the wrong thing to do.

"It's sad so many darkrooms in colleges are closing down. I teach 150 full-time students and the joy and satisfaction they get from watching prints appear hasn't changed in all the time I've been teaching. We are one of few colleges left using conventional processes. Students are very keen to use these and it is good for those who don't just want to learn purely digital photography."

As well as becoming knowledgeable in a technique you cannot learn on a computer, darkrooms can also help students complete tasks and understand techniques a lot easier then they would if they could only sit at a computer.

"Darkrooms allow me to teach the students about tonal ranges in away that is just not possible on a computer," said Trevor. "Keeping the darkroom was a fairly controversial move but if photography is going to be taught to degree level then we need conventional processes in place."

Like Trevor, HARMAN Technology also believe that students need to learn and understand analogue photography to improve their digital work and are running a campaign in support of the use of darkrooms in schools.

"The Defend the Darkroom idea came about after a group of college lecturers came for an onsite visit. They wanted Ilford to help them ‘defend their darkrooms' against the financial directors at colleges who were converting many darkrooms into digital suite," said HARMAN's Marketing Manager, Judy Wong. "There has now been a realisation that students enjoy darkroom photography and teachers believe that the only way to teach photography is to go back to the analogue cameras where the basics of photography can be taught."

Keyphoto, a dealer who sell darkroom products to schools and colleges said they are seeing good levels of sales.

"People are beginning to understand that the basics of photography can assist in the creation of better digital images especially recreating digital b&w images, where shadow, light and tone is key," said Judy.

Even though Bradford college has a darkroom and supports the notion that students need to learn this analogue technique, this does not mean they have totally given up on the delights of digital photography. Trevor believes that the old should be able to exist alongside the new and students should understand that both formats can produce excellent results.

"One demonstration I do every year is take an image with a £20,000 digital camera and a £100 film camera and the results produced by the film camera are always just as good. What people forget sometimes is that digital photography wouldn't be around if it wasn't for analogue photography and I think it's important to remember that."


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I do wonder how much you need to spend to get digital images with as much detail as you can scan from even aps sized film?

I realise that any such comparison has to make various assumptions, but I bet most film cameras can more than hold their own.

Digital cameras I have used always seem to have a shutter lag like an ox dragging a log, while an EOS RT is like a humming bird in its instant response!

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