DOES IT MAKE SENSE to award college credit for the learning of 20th century job skills? Or should third level colleges challenge the market imperative of high-level finishing skills enshrined by their syllabi? I often consider this question when I flick through college courses that hone darkroom processing skills involving chemical baths. You might know these from a half dozen Irish third level institutions that have photo darkrooms on campus. In my mind, those rooms and their related courses merely award academic credit for dipping skills. Students learn to dip film and paper through chemicals and water to make a photographic image. This has quickly become more of an artistic process than a commercial process.
During the Industrial Revolution, photographers learned dipping skills in a guild-like fashion. As the profession evolved, the industry enjoyed industry support from big names like Eastman Kodak and Agfa. Today, Kodak no longer makes the black-and-white printing paper needed by those learning their dipping skills.
Tom Ang¹ explains the turbulence in the industry. "The restructing of the profession is more subtle, profound, and distressing: experienced photographers are finding themselves marginalised, their darkroom skills discounted with a rapidity that makes the destruction of craft traditions by the industrial revolution appear snail-paced in comparison". College graduates are discovering less of a premium on their darkroom dipping skills and more respect for their computer finishing techniques. The ultimate responsibility for image quality rests with photographers but a working understanding of computer-enhanced image processing means commercial success.
So the most alert students I know perfect their Photoshop finishing skills instead of waiting for results from yet another run through the exposure bath. Time to check the chemicals in the dipping room, erm darkroom.
¹Tom Ang -- "Seeing the big picture" in the Technology Guardian, November 24, 2005.
Bonus Link: Tom Ang -- Photography: Eyewitness Companions ISBN 0756613256