The Importance of the Darkroom In Photographic Education

By: Kirk Gittings

In my 36 years in photography much has changed in terms of both technique and aesthetics. I "grew up" photographically in academia, when I started seriously studying photography at the University of New Mexico in 1970. UNM at that time was a center for the emerging genre of fine art photography and its faculty included such luminaries as Van Deuron Coke and Beumont Newhall. Enlarged black and white silver gelatin prints were virtually all anyone did. Beaumont Newhall's history of photography classes were virtually a history of the straight black and white photographic print. Everything else was a mere curiosity. "Alternative non-silver processes", were a radical new idea (even though some of the processes were already over a century old). Color was neither accepted as archival or as art and did not come into its own as a fine art medium for a few more years.

The following four decades have witnessed an explosion of new and resurrected historic processes and the relegation in academia of "straight" black and white silver photography to the dusty category of "traditional work". But traditional silver printing has not and will not go away as it is the heart and soul of the history and technological understanding of the medium.

At the leading School of the Art Institute of Chicago (where I am teaching in the summers these days) introductory classes expose new students to digital, silver and color processes on equal footing. From there students can move to specific beginning classes in the different processes. As my fellow professor Alan Labb says "photographers don't get rid of old processes, they just add new ones." Silver will remain at the core of the teaching of photography.