Thursday, June 16, 2005

Digital photography

Digital has happened so much faster than I thought it would and although I was seeing it happen, Kodak's announcement yesterday that they were going to stop making photographic papers was like a whack on the side of the head.

For those of you who are not photographers, especially those who do not use black and white film and do your own darkroom work to create your art, this announcement may not mean much at all. But those of us who work in the darkroom spend countless hours and money on testing papers and finding the paper that best expresses our images, the announcement comes as a shock. Especially if we had settled on one of Kodak's fine art papers for our work. In Kodak's announcement they said that the demand for black and white photography papers is declining 25% a year. In a Business Week article someone who owns a photography shop was quoted as saying that he still sells a fair amount of photography papers to students and hobbyist but that the professional photographers have moved to digital.

When we were designing and building our house in Houston, one of the main criteria was that I have room for a good darkroom and a workspace. That was just six years ago. At that point I couldn't imagine life with out my darkroom. I haven't used that darkroom in over a year. The last set of black-and-white images for a gallery show that I printed in the darkroom was 3-1/2 years ago. Wow, I can barely believe that myself. My friend and fellow photographer, Ellie, was just a year or so later buying a new house. She had the room to build out her darkroom, but she was already testing the digital world. She kept debating about building it, until she finally realized that she was able to make fine art prints via inkjet processes. If I had built a house a little later, I think I would have done the same thing.

When I look back at the last 6 years what has happened that pushed me to make the switch.

  • Six years ago you could not get a good neutral archival black and white print from an inkjet printer. A lot of methods and techniques were used by photographers and some methods could do the job fairly well but were complicated with technical issues and dedicated printers. For a non-techie like me they seemed overwhelming. Now between software and technical advances in inks and printers, it is possible to make beautiful archival black and white prints as well as outstanding color prints.
  • Six years ago digital cameras were least the ones with enough megapixels to make gallery size prints. Another deterient was that the digital capture just wasn't as good as film. Not the case anymore. Today even the Canon Rebel XT can get you in the ballpark .
  • Six years ago the inkjet papers were few and far between. Everyone was experimenting to find papers with greater DMax. Now there are some amazing papers. There are still some issues with semi-gloss and glossy papers "feeling" like plastic but now I'm a believer and think that new papers will be in our hands soon.
  • Six years ago if you wanted to continue to use film, scan it and output via an inkjet printer, you either had to purchase a very pricey drum scanner or send your negatives out to be scanned at a service..again pricey. Now, especially if you have medium or large format film, you can buy a scanner in the $400-700 range and make very useable scans.
  • Six years ago we were not living most of the time in Mexico away from access to the darkroom.

Although I was always facinated with photographs and liked taking "pictures," it was making prints in a darkroom that opened my eyes to creative possibilities. I still remember the first time I saw a print come up in the developer. I cherish the times I spent in the dark, rocking trays and watching. Since Kokak's announcement, I guess in a sense I'm grieving for losing that experience. But you know what? I still have a darkroom, there are still photographic papers available and I could go into my darkroom and print..........but I don't.

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