Am I headed for eco-hell for past sins? Do my photography students suffer as a result of my digital rebirth?

I’ve been teaching a college photography class for the past 10 years. The irony is that I rarely take pictures. I learned how to use a manual 35mm camera during some on-the-job training 20 years ago, and evidently that has been enough experience to make my employers deem me qualified to teach introductory photography.

I don’t miss the old routine of the film photography instructor, which was an endless cycle of mixing darkroom chemicals so that students could dump them down the drain, which we later learned was not exactly eco-friendly. I occasionally worry that my spot in hell is already reserved because of my past sins against the environment. But is it actually an eco-sin if you weren’t aware the act was sinful at the time you committed it?

I do think that today’s digital point/shoot and SLR cameras hinder student learning. The auto setting usually takes OK pictures, so students become less motivated to internalize the concepts of aperture, shutter speed and ISO so that they can take really great pictures.

But that’s enough geezer whining from me. Were we better off in the days of wet darkrooms? I say no. In the old days, it was too easy (and common) to ruin a roll of film because of improper settings or botched developing. Digital photography provides instant feedback so that even the worst photographer has no excuse for taking a big batch of bad pictures. Film photography seems to headed for the same fate as the 33 1/3 album (which is still better than the fate of the 8-track tape).

Katie Hafner recently wrote about some of the belligerent minority still sticking with film photography, but the benefits and advantages of digital photography should overwhelm any sense of nostalgia for the wet darkoom.

One of my best friends in college journalism and a splendid photographer, Stacy Sparks at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kan., admits that she’s finally seen the digital light.

I miss the smell of chemicals in the darkroom. And I miss the anticipation of seeing an image appear in a tray of developer hunched over the faint orange glow from the safe light. But I no longer deal with students suffering through trauma if they didn’t load the film into the camera correctly or if they exposed the film while loading it onto the reel or if they wound the film too tightly on the reel or if they put the chemicals into the tank in the wrong order or if they didn’t agitate properly. I could go on for pages about all the mistakes that create a barrier to learning photography.

Having said that. If students have the opportunity to shoot, process and print film while learning photography, it would be an ideal world. But chemistry is expensive and toxic. I am a former dinosaur who understands that like daguerreotypes, the wet darkroom is becoming history.

Digital provides instantaneous results and provides extensive information which allows students and teachers immediate feedback about images.

Consider me converted.

THE VERDICT: PLUG IN for convenience, and as an added benefit you may avoid going to eco-hell for sins against the environment.

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~ by bakerumedia on September 11, 2008.

One Response to “Am I headed for eco-hell for past sins? Do my photography students suffer as a result of my digital rebirth?”

  1. You’re a funny man, Bostwick. Eco-hell indeed. Although now I see what drew you into the field of photography in the first place, what with all the smell of chemicals and such.

    Seriously speaking though, I think the thing people miss most about the old days is how they felt they physically created something, while the camera itself was just a means for taking the photo in the first place. Nowadays with technology we are given even MORE control over our photos, but the digital aspect makes us feel as though we’ve lost a piece of our physical self at the expense of a digital aesthetic.

    However, recent software has started to become even more interactive and its easy to forget yourself as you play around with photos, so I think people have become almost fuly comfortable with technology. Our next generation will be natural-born cyborgs. =)

    To be fair though, I still haven’t gotten used to drawing things digitally. I bought a WACOM tablet, and it’s good for working in Photoshop, but when it comes to illustrating with it, I fail miserably. Therefore, I am still leaving an ever so small environmental footprint every time I scratch that pencil lead against the paper…. ah well, I guess it’s no coincidence my initals are CO2 =/

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