With the School of Art and Design’s
recent decision to phase out analog photography, it would appear
that the school’s administration has once again taken it upon
itself to delineate “valuable” art from allegedly
outdated forms.

Janna Hutz

The school’s primary argument for the phase-out of
darkrooms is the proliferation and superiority of digital
photography. The ubiquitous digital camera can be seen anywhere on
campus and its high-tech features give the impression it can do
everything analog (standard) cameras can do, and much more. With
the new wave of digital cameras imitating almost all the features
of top quality 35 mm SLR cameras, digital technology seems poised
to completely replace film-based photography.

Despite the arguments for this modernization, the new policy has
rightfully invoked concern among photography students and
professors alike.

One of the unique attributes of the University’s various
colleges — not just the School of Art and Design — is
the firm grounding students receive in history and basic technical
theory before beginning to specialize in a given field. Students
are taught the basics, then the specifics, which on the whole
creates a better, more well-rounded degree. By eliminating film
photography, the art school appears to be reversing the trend
toward theory and away from vocational training it commenced with
its last curriculum change in 2002.

Yet should the school really forsake the bedrock teaching
philosophy it has relied on for years simply because better
technology exists? Although it is possible to simply purchase a
calculator and never have to do basic arithmetic again, our schools
spend countless years teaching students the “obsolete”
method of addition, subtraction, multiplication and long division.
With the advent of integration tables and advanced math software,
the tedious pencil-and-paper elements of calculus may rapidly
become “obsolete” as well.

However, there is value in hands-on learning: Processing film in
a darkroom provides a more in-depth experience than downloading and
editing a JPEG file. The darkroom is a place where students can
almost literally “get their feet wet” in the realm of
photography, an experience that most professional photographers
still enjoy today.

The School of Art and Design recently made a wise decision to
institute a more theoretical, less vocational art education. The
University sees itself as an institute for intellectual
development, not job training, and a theoretical education exposes
Art and Design students to a richer educational experience. The
school should not abandon darkroom photography simply because it is
no longer commercially used. From an artistic and educational
viewpoint, exposure to traditional photographic techniques is
clearly enriching. While maintaining darkroom facilities may not
directly help students looking to learn marketable skills, it will
allow curious students to fully explore an important artistic

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *