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Re: [teacherartexchange] New Photography Teacher


From: Patterson Beckwith (pbeckwith_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Fri Mar 21 2008 - 08:39:51 PDT

This is a long post but if you don't want to read it, it basically
says: "Digital Schmigital!"
I am a photography teacher, at the college level now, but I have
taught elementary and secondary courses as well.
 I agree with Richard's entire post. Your conventional darkroom is a
very valuable teaching resource which should be retained. If not
rabidly protected. Perennial (and always great) beginning photo
exercises like photograms and pinhole cameras cannot be duplicated
using computers, and nothing equals the near-magical experience of
seeing your first image come up in the developer. Unless your
school is willing to invest in a lot of really expensive equipment
(and as you already said they are not), any darkroom you have now will
be BY FAR superior, strictly in terms of the quality of the prints you
can produce. This will continue to be true well into the foreseeable
future, as consumer imaging technology, and ink-jet printers, while
adequate to the task most consumers put to them, remain miles from any
fine art process. This is what the black and white darkroom is, a
bona-fide fine art studio. The decisions that are being made by the
'bean counters' in so many community college and school districts, to
abandon conventional photography in favor of yet another computer lab,
are misguided for the most part. Whatever you say about digital is
true, and that's fine. The academy is definitely the last bastion of
conventional photo materials, and as many 35mm film cameras are being
discontinued as well as film and paper stocks - the 'wet' (excuse me
Richard) lab is facing some new challenges. There are still many
teachers and photographers hanging on to the old ways, (myself among
them) and it is by no means impossible (if a little contrarian) to
continue doing so. There are a lot of great hybrid practices as well,
like scanning film, and as Richard suggests, one of the great
advantages of the immediacy of digital in pedagogy is in teaching
technical concepts. It's important in taking the position that film
is viable, to recognize the positive attributes of digital and use it
for what it's good for, like it's immediacy. In my studio the digital
camera has replaced Polaroid as a cost-free proofing material. I love
Polaroid too and I am ashamed to have played my small part in putting
them out of business.
 Pat, what it sounds like you need, is a rationale for teaching
conventional photography. I think passing on your knowledge and skill
in that area is important and that your students will appreciate the
craft. That's what teaching is about! You may be surprised as well,
by students wanting to use film (I have, and it seems to be a more and
more common attitude among young people who want to learn what they
will sometimes call 'real' photography). Joe mentions this as well,
and the students will likely come to appreciate that a hand-crafted
black and white silver print is still superior to any ink jet print
they can make at home.
 Finally , I think this is a tempest in a teapot, it's just our
generation's. Photography has gone through constant change as the
techniques materials and equipment have changed...To me the real
history of photography is written in these changes - Forty years ago
when color processes became more affordable, this engendered a bigger
change in photography as an art form than digital ever will, in my
opinion. It took another 25 years for color to really gain traction
as the preferred mode for art photography, and it's still up for
Or go back 80 years and imagine the difference between using a giant
cranky wooden view camera on a tripod and a hand-held rangefinder
camera will roll film - (this being the difference between Atget and
Cartier-Bresson) - it really makes today's 'revolution' seem
 Pat, good luck and best wishes in your new endeavor - I'm sure you
will have a great time!

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