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The Importance of the Darkroom In Photographic Education

By: Gil Garcetti

Though I have been taking photographs as long as I can remember, it was 35 years ago that I really got serious about it. The occasion was the birth of my daughter, Dana. I enrolled in an adult night high school photo class. While the in class critiques for 4 ½ years were invaluable, where I really first learned to take informed photographs was in the darkroom. There I learned the nuances of light - both natural and artificial. There is magic in the darkroom that cannot be replicated on the computer screen. There are also lessons about light and tone that can only be found in the darkroom. When you see your negative exposed on paper and you know what you wanted, but didn't quite get, you learn. We can learn from both disciplines. I view the world of digital photography as complementary to film photography, not a replacement. We can use the best of both. I believe the learning process of taking photography and understanding light begins in the darkroom. There you learn to better understand what light can and cannot do. You become a better photographer with this experience. Melding the two disciplines is what I often do. Each of my photographs in my book, FROZEN MUSIC (Balcony Press) begins with film. The darkroom work that follows permits me to view and adjust my tone scales both in later photographs but also in the darkroom. The silver gelatin prints that come out of the darkroom are special and people seem to appreciate the hand work that goes into those prints. Yet, for oversize prints (3' to 9') I embrace the digital world. The photograph is scanned at a very high resolution and tone is adjusted on the computer. What is produced is a razor sharp image emphasizing the blacks and grays that I want punched out. I can do this on the computer, but it only with the knowledge I have gained from the darkroom and applied to the digital print that makes the final print as appealing as it is.