It’s Time to Accept That Your Darkroom is Dead

A certain romanticism comes with our memories of working in the darkroom. We have a nostalgia for chemical processes, developing film, and the dull red glow that informed so much of what we did with our photography. We may miss the excitement of agitating photo paper in developer, loading a roll of film, or making a contact sheet.

But it’s over. We need to face the fact that the darkroom is dead.

old cameras

Ever since Kodak stopped making 35mm cameras in 2004, and probably even before, the analog process started its inexorable march toward obscurity. Film photography has already taken its place among the vintage processes of bookbinding, woodworking, and making your own clothes. Admirable, for sure, but completely out of touch with modern life . . . and therefore irrelevant to our students.

Ask yourself this: why do we want to teach our students about a dying artistic process, when it has been replaced so cleanly and so completely by something easier, cheaper, and better?

Yes, there is something to be said for learning the basics, knowing the origination of the processes. But what skills does the darkroom teach that can’t be learned elsewhere? The fact is this: in six months of dedicated digital work, my students can learn what it took me a decade to pick up using film. When you consider the immediacy, the lack of expense, and the ease of shooting digitally, there are few barriers to becoming a quality photographer in a short amount of time. Technology is the great equalizer.

All the while, analog film is getting more and more expensive, difficult to purchase, and to use properly and safely.

Why do you want to fight through all of these issues?

It’s Difficult to Budget and Find Supplies

Film, paper, and chemicals are all becoming increasingly more difficult to find and increasingly more expensive. The chemicals in the back of your closet have probably expired. And if it’s this difficult to access now, how much more difficult will it be in five years? Or ten? Once your enlarger breaks down, which it inevitably will, it is difficult and expensive to repair–and prohibitively expensive to replace.


The Chemicals are Dangerous

There’s no other way to say it: photo chemicals can do some nasty things. On their own, almost every chemical is dangerous enough it shouldn’t be poured down the drain. Developer can induce allergies and inflame the skin. Fixer can turn into a toxic gas if it’s mixed with an acid. Even when fixer is just sitting in the tub, it slowly releases sulfur dioxide. Read the OSHA guidelines for a darkroom, and ask yourself if you’re really following all the rules. And if you are, is it worth it?

printed photos

The Process is Outdated

More than anything, it takes so long to do everything via film. Think about the process: I load film onto my roll, shoot 24 photos, I load the film into the tank, develop it, hang it to dry. Come back the next day, print a contact sheet, review it, do test strips, make a couple prints, process them, wait for them to dry. In that time, how many digital photos could I have taken? Hundreds? Thousands? I could have also edited, published, and gotten feedback on any of them I wanted almost immediately. In that case, who is learning more, and who is learning faster? You’re slowing down learning every second you’re in the darkroom.

The darkroom experience is unique, and it’s one that I miss personally. But my own nostalgia doesn’t change the fact that it’s an outdated method of working that is perilously close to becoming irrelevant. There are easier, better, faster, and cheaper ways to teach all of these skills. We, in fact, do our students a disservice by holding them back with analog processes. Your darkroom is dead, and it’s time to let your students move on.

Do you agree the darkroom is dead? Why or why not? 

How do you approach photography in your art room?

Timothy Bogatz

Learning Team

Tim is a high school teacher from Omaha, NE. His teaching and writing focus on the development of creativity, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking skills.


  • Brenda Jalaie

    I was taught BEFORE there was digital. I got into alternative processes, and working with large negatives. While Photoshop can replicate some of this (the “look” of a gum-bichromate print), it is not as beautiful as a true print.
    I am a strong believer in learning HOW media evolves. How did artist MAKE paint? How is charcoal processed? Pinhole cameras help students understand lens, and more. Sure, contact prints aren’t doing anything for anyone, but think of the applications you could work with IN a darkroom. Upper level photo kids (think a second year kid) could use the darkroom to explore alternative processes printing large negatives on transparency film. We’ve had a few who DO want to explore the darkroom “real” film processes. Why not let those students give it a whirl? I also feel like I am seeing a resurgence in Film from new-comer artists. (Hipster trend?? maybe)
    The horse isn’t dead yet, he is just lame. Put him in the pasture and let a little kid fall in love and take him home.

    • Tim Bogatz

      Brenda, I also learned and worked early–when digital was just a blip on the radar. And looking back, it took me FOREVER to learn those things. Seeing my students learn so quickly is what sold me on teaching digital. All the basics–composition, lighting, shadow, and all the technical issues–come so fast when you aren’t bogged down by the darkroom process. I definitely agree that the darkroom can be worth exploring for your upper level kids . . . but for most, especially beginners, I think digital is the way to go.

  • Kyla Jenkins

    Darkroom and film photography are NOT dead-there is a huge “analogue” photography movement! Many film suppliers just make smaller batches of film, while there are some companies making new film! (
    I still shoot b&w personally!
    Highschoolers love the magic in the dark room. My district offered a Semester Long Darkroom and Digital class…I have been so successful with it, I was allowed to turn it into a year long class. it is one of the most popular fine art classes-and the students tell me its because of the dark room component.
    There is no reason students can’t learn both. Its so valuable for students to see exactly how much effort went into making a photograph before everything was point and click.
    As long as there is proper protocol in place, the chemicals (which yes, are not great, but learning responsibility/safety is important to!) can be safely dealt with and managed.
    As art teachers we need to show our students all the tools available and let them fly!

  • Joy

    Darkroom photography IS an art form that cannot be forgotten, or put in
    the past in the dark. While digital photography has advanced the
    photography process it has not completely wiped out the art form. There
    is something magical and exploratory about alternative processes. As an
    arts advocates, we need to honor these art forms, and make sure they
    don’t disappear completely.

  • Christy

    Faster, better, cheaper is not the answer. It is actually more of the problem. How can anyone appreciate anything when they don’t realize the process? Knowing how to bind a book, make your own shelves, sew your own clothes, and develop your own film helps put a perspective on life. Even waiting tables once in your life is a lesson everyone should have. It is not about hurrying up to get to the next thing. You just exist then and are impatient. We need to be teaching our students how to appreciate the world around us, not get lost on their phone or whatever flashy screen is in front of them.

  • Sawyer Beth Swindell

    NOPE NOPE NOPE. Disappointed seeing this article on a site that is normally forward thinking. So much potential can happen in a dark room. College level photography still expects you to use experimental processes – which can only go so far with a digital camera and Photoshop. Film photography is sometimes the only thing keeping photography relevant and interesting to the viewer in galleries full of the same old digital photos manipulated by the same proccesses and photoshop effects.

    • Tammy

      I agree. This article is so off the mark. I would hope that as an art teacher the whole idea of creating something would from scratch would be valued. I am SO DISAPPOINTED to see this article. As art teachers we should be sharing techniques and art process with students, especially in this digital heavy day.

  • Madeline Wright

    Doing more does not mean students are learning more. SMH about this article. Don’t even get me started on why analog is an important process to learn.

    • Tim Bogatz

      I would actually be interested in your thoughts on teaching analog processes, Madeline.

      In most cases, I agree with you; more does not always mean better. But for me, with photography, more does equal better. It’s an art you learn by doing. You learn to have an eye for composition, for example, by shooting lots and lots and lots of photographs. There’s no substitute for experience–you get better at taking photos by taking more photos. If I want my kids to shoot a thousand photos, and gain that experience, how long would that take with analog processes? How expensive would that be? Digital processes allow students to navigate that learning curve incredibly quickly, and I think that’s the better route to go in this case.

      • Madeline Wright

        I learned photography on analog and then continued studying digital and analog in art school. I am the photographer I am today because of analog Yes, the more you shoot the more you learn. However, when you are limited with only 24 or 36 exposures, it forces you to slow down and be methodical about exactly what and why you are about to shoot. Rather than just pressing the shutter 1,000 times and hoping you get one good shot, knowing you only have 24 makes you think about the composition, it makes you think about your exposure, it makes you think if the picture is really worth taking. You can’t afford to just guess or hope. I understand your point in wanting your students to get the most experience by shooting the most. However, slowing down and really thinking about what you are shooting, why you are shooting it and what settings you are using, in my opinion is an important lesson to learn. Kids today are fast paced, used to immediate responses, reactions and outcomes. Allowing them to learn about something that isn’t immediate gratification may just teach them more than about photography as well.

        • Michelle Sheppard

          I have to agree- starting with film makes you think before pressing the shutter in ways that digital doesn’t. I find students don’t even engage in that level of thought without the limitation that they have 30 images, and that the time invested in developing and printing makes them consider more and think deeper about what they’re doing.

          • Joe Hoksbergen

            I absolutely see your point and have experienced this. However, these sorts of attitudes can be taught even in the context of a digital photography course. I like to tell my students about the professor taught economy (saying a lot with only a little) by making us pay a dime for every single brush stroke we did on a painting.

      • Rafael Bitran

        That is not necesarily true, nowadays people with digital cameras are not careful at all, they have an infinite amount of photos they can take, instead with analog photography, the limited amounts of pictures you can take makes the person taking the photos be more careful which leads him or herto think more about the image they are making and start to put more effort into composition. When it comes to the economical aspect it is true that analog photography is expensive but one could make the same case for digital, a basic good digital camera will cost you at least 300$ then you have to buy a lense which is also expensive, plus if you need computer and a card reader and most people will need an editing program, for example lightroom which charges you a subscription. For analog photography you can find an exscelent camera and lense for about 80$ it is true tho that the film is expensive, but when it comes to dark room you can find many places that charge moderate prices to let one use them.

  • Dawn Kruger

    I decommissioned the dark room five years ago. There were many factors at play in the decision, including growing enrollment, budget cuts, and a 1:1 iPad rollout. I kept enough equipment to demonstrate print processing during a history of photography unit and in case a student or two express interest.
    The issue of relevance is related to whether you teach photography as a fine art medium or an aspect of commercial art, or both. Fine art has always embraced tradition, the hand-crafted, the unique, while commercial art pursues the novel, the immediate, the mass-produced. Great fine art is timeless. Great commercial art is timely.
    There is something beautiful and deliberate in slow processes, and there is no denying if often shows in the results. Students need to know this, but photography is not the only avenue through which to teach it. We each need to evaluate our resources and the trajectory of our curriculum to determine what meets our students needs.

  • Beth Sztekel

    Our dark rooms were dismantled last year after eight years of disuse. I’m sad.
    I have started showing students how to develop pinhole camera images using Caffenol just so they can see a new (less hazardous) twist on an old technology that they have missed out on. The rest is digital.
    Sawyer Beth Swindell, yes, colleges and universities still have photography but if you are learning it with a view to teach in a school, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Wet photography is only going to exist in home-made dark rooms in the future. As far as secondary education goes, wet photography is few and far between in schools in Australia.

  • Rachael Hulme

    Woah, what?! So sad to see this article – I completely disagree. The title seems a little aggressively-deceptive and I’m sad to think about new photo teachers coming across this article and being deceived/discouraged by it. Nearly every high school in our tri-county area has an active darkroom with various course offerings. As an active practicing, exhibiting image-maker and a full-time photo teacher myself, I feel confident in saying that film darkroom-based processes are very, very much alive in the contemporary photographic world. Students from our school who go on to study art/photo in college frequently come back to say thank you for the experience with the darkroom that some of their college peers haven’t had. Chemistry, film, and paper can all be easily ordered online from multiple sources. Photo jobs and internships in our area prefer (and sometimes require!) experience with processing, printing, scanning, etc. Why not equip our students with analog and digital knowledge and then give them the choice? What is “easier” is not always better!

  • Jacob Cecil

    So many points I disagree with – I am a sculptor, bookbinder, and photographer so not the right audience. First, if you think equipping, maintaining, and updating digital SLRs, a computer, software licenses, digital printers, paper, and ink for the 150 photo students my program teaches is cheaper I beg to differ. My biggest point to make and the most important reason I still teach film is that students come to me already knowing how to take a digital photo but rarely think about it as art – photography is a snapshot for them, a way to record a moment. It takes an analog approach to break that thinking – a different way of approaching image making where the previsualization and slower process of film is so important. Do we then abandon drawing, painting, sculpting for iPads and CNC routers? Film and photography is such a young medium – it is not dying, it is evolving. Let’s not be so quick to abandon things we wish to recover after its too late. I already have 20 enlargers (2 brand new in boxes just received this summer) and I’m going to use them as long as I can.

  • Kelly Moncure

    I am really ambivalent about this post, since it’s so black and white. I taught film before and now only teach digital, but I miss the days of the darkroom when I could teach about pinhole cameras and the kids RAN into the darkroom to work, they were so self motivated. Not to mention the magic of seeing their eyes when they see something develop for the first time! I don’t miss dealing with the chemicals, but I appreciate the fact that the art that I was taught 20 some odd years ago is the same as today. Should we say that painting is dead too?

  • Tim

    I will preface by saying that I am not a photographer, but as a patron of what some may consider “outdated” arts, I would strongly disagree with the sentiments in this article. I, personally, am a blacksmith, and my brother is a woodworker specializing in Victorian era furniture. I hope that the author of this article realizes that no art form or endeavor is truly obsolete as long as there are practitioners of those arts. The lessons to be learned in these cases is not the rapidity with which you can press the shutter button hoping for the right exposure, but in the patience and care that is implicit with film photography. You really only get one shot at getting the right lighting and the proper feel to the photograph in film. So you really want to do it right. I would argue that this is a more valuable lesson to be learned by someone who is passionate about photography, because when they move to digital media for a profession or a project, they will have a greater understanding and appreciation of the photographs they are taking. Also, the statement that “Film photography has already taken its place among the vintage processes of bookbinding, woodworking, and making your own clothes. Admirable, for sure, but completely out of touch with modern life” is preposterous. I’m sure the next time you buy a piece of furniture or clothing the human being who made the original would love to hear the opinion.

  • Taylor Boren

    Short-sighted thinking like this is what holds art and art students back rather than drive them forward. When photography was first introduced via the Daguerreotype many people thought it would be the death of painting. But rather it pushed painting in new directions like romanticism and impressionism in which artists tried to depict the world in ways the camera could not. In turn, this gave rise to pictorialism, a style of photography that utilizes soft focus and visible brush strokes in the developing process. My point being that art mediums do not die, they influence and propel each other forward.

    Saying that film is dead because digital is easier is a cop out. Moreover, this article does a great disservice to the inherently innovative and interconnected history and future of art making. There is so much value in teaching students where their materials come from and why they exist in the form they do today.

  • Lara Dowling

    I am a photographer, and lover of the darkroom. I spent my entire college career in the darkroom. However, I have been slowly dismantling the darkroom I inherited in my art classroom. For many reasons; 1. My school was formerly a high school; it is now a K-8. Darkroom photography is not really appropriate with middle school-ers. Yes, you could teach it to small groups of 7th-8th graders, but that is not my reality. 2. I agree with everything the author stated above. Sadly, why would they give up their Snapchat filters? Do you know how hard it is to superimpose flowers on your head in the darkroom? 3. I need the space! I plan to someday (when budgets allow) to convert the old darkroom to a computer lab, with printing capabilities, digital editing, etc. All that being said, what I would love to find is a good quality video that illustrates the film photography and darkroom process to show my students. I have looked for such a video without success… Could be fun for one of you still doing it to produce!!
    I have to say, reading the comments, that my darkroom-loving soul is happy that so many of you are still passionate about it! I am jealous of your students having that opportunity! I assume all of you teach High School?
    Let me know if anyone plans to undertake the video tutorial idea!

  • Eliz Townsend

    I remember standing in the dark many times, as my Dad developed pictures in his own darkroom in the basement of the house where I grew up. I loved watching the pictures magically materialize on the white paper at the bottom of a pan of liquid! I still remember the smells of the chemicals. If my Dad didn’t hang the damp pictures on a “clothesline” to dry, they’d be rotating around in his photo dryer. As a child, I loved watching the whole process, but as an adult, I never developed a desire to learn how to work through the process myself. As a semi-professional photographer who took skads of pictures, my Dad eventually told me it was much cheaper to just take all his photos to a photo shop and have them developed and printed. Maybe that’s when I lost interest in the whole process of the darkroom. Later, when we cleaned out my Dad’s house, we found tons of photography stuff–huge machines, etc.–that we had no idea what to do with. We gave some stuff to a photo club. I still have a collection of dryer lenses, which didn’t appear to have much value when I check in to them. (Personally, i get along much better with the current digital rage.)

  • erica

    I’m an art teacher and a photographer. I spend my summer’s photographing weddings to pay for this thing I love to do called teaching. The thing is. . . film isn’t dead. There has most recently been a huge resurgence and brides/families willing to spend a ton of money for just a few rolls of film shot at their event. I think there is value in teaching a few classes of darkroom. It certainly gave me a deep understanding of my camera even though I only shoot digital now. I shoot with people who have NEVER developed film etc. and I can tell by their understanding of their camera the triangle etc. I think that film is very much alive and there is a HUGE market (and a really lucrative one) for the film photographer in California. Like all good things it will slowly creep it’s way back east again and eventually/maybe south.

  • Hannah Brown

    Absolutely not dead! There is NO substitute for learning how to shoot and print film and these methods enhance skills for all further photography technologies. We still teach paint even though you can paint on a computer. Would anyone argue students learn better painting digitally than traditionally? It is the same concept but there is no equivalent substitute.

  • Lane Berg

    Huge no! This is the first ever aoe article I can’t love in some way.

  • Cindy Phillippi

    Digital has many benefits, and many uses, no doubt, but the unabashed real processes involved in analog photography are distinctly genuine, valuable, desirable, authentic, and open-ended for the creative process. Love the fact that students can see this for themselves if given the opportunity to step back from the slick digital world.

  • Becca

    I disagree! The world is quickly changing and information is at our fingertips, but there is something intimate about working in the darkroom. Darkroom teaches persistence and patience with a piece of work that a student can be proud to say “I did that.” With digital, anyone can do what you do. Film takes planning and care. That article’s thinking could also say that drawing and painting are dead because it can all be done digitally for cheaper and less mess. I’m sure paint fumes aren’t good for you either!

  • Adam Coulson

    None of this article seems insightful from someone that teaches photography from a high school perspective. Consider these:
    1. Students still enjoy it greatly!
    2. Film forces students to truly embrace control on light/exposure inorder to CREATE a successful print
    3. SLR cameras are still essential to utilize when learning a creative and technical career in photography
    4. Acquiring SLR 35mm film cameras is much cheaper than DSLR cameras
    5. Realize the film is part of the journey not the destination
    6. We still must embrace digital photography as it IS the present and future but this does not mean FILM IS DEAD!!

  • Anne Aganon

    I teach both black/white (darkroom) photography and digital. Yes, there is an immediacy to digital, but even my most diehard digital student fell in love with the magic of the darkroom last year. My black and white class is actually more popular than my digital classes. Students who have worked both digitally and with film really enjoy seeing how many of the elements of digital come from what happened in the darkroom. In addition, when I show them what Jerry Uelsmann did in the darkroom they are blown away. In my own photography, I still shoot film and use the darkroom, although I do use Photoshop for some things. I think that there’s a place for both in art rooms and teaching art.

    • Michelle Sheppard

      The awe in Uselmann’s work is just about unmatchable! Are they really awestruck by digital works?

  • Brittany

    I would have to say I both agree and disagree with points in this article. I understand where most people are coming from with regards to comparing film and other “outdated” art forms. Which in my opinion can’t compare. Film is very different from these other art forms, bookmaking, fiber arts, blacksmithing, glass blowing… etc, because of it’s demands on specific supplies and processes. Most of these other art forms utilize raw materials and have been around for ages. Unlike the other art forms, film is not as easily accessible or raw material. Film has to be made and produced, and it’s a rare gem who decides to figure it out how to make all their own supplies if they can even access them, and when companies find they can’t make it any more I’m not sure what people will do then. Because in the end these companies have to run a business.

    I do agree that darkroom offers students an opportunity to take part in making photography feel and be more of an art form considering how much process and thought is involved. However, I don’t think that teaching digitally can’t also force student to rise to higher levels of pushing beyond the filters, easy editing, and point and click mentality. It’s all about perspective. Digital doesn’t have to be a “cop out.” It only becomes such when you treat it that way. You need to push students to consider their editing and processing options as well as getting them to the point where their photo needs as little editing as possible. In a digital world time is money, and in classroom time is a limited commodity. For instance, in AP Studio Art, students are required to submit 24 pieces of work in a portfolio. In such cases, there really isn’t enough time for students to effectively utilize the analog process unless they have access to the darkroom and resources on a regular basis. With digital, most students at this level either already have their own cameras and computers that they can continue their work more independently. Another downside of the analog process is that it doesn’t always pay off. No one has yet to mention that these students who are still learning often don’t produce strong work or find themselves disappointed by their photos due to errors that occurred at some point in the lengthy process. I had so many students who didn’t understand the “amazing shot” that they thought they took failed to develop due to error at one of the many points in the process. Then there just wasn’t time or resources for them to complete their work again.

    Personally, I faced to decision to close my darkroom after using it for two years in a brand new school and here are my reasons. For starters, the initial headache was setting it up. There were set backs on lighting, finding all the supplies, especially enlarger parts, and the way the room was constructed (terrible design). Once the room was mostly functional, I then faced the issue of purchasing the consumable supplies, which were expensive and ate up quite a chunk of my budget. Then I faced the issue of how to pace and manage students to develop their film and print their photos with only four enlargers in my small darkroom, and a class size of 30. I think we may have only finished two darkroom projects during the course of the whole year because of these limitations. In the end the darkroom became less valuable and took away precious time from actually teaching them and seeing them grow in their understanding and skill building. I now teach strictly digital since I was blessed with computers and SLR cameras.

    In summary, as Kodak, Fuji, etc… phase out production of film, we’ll see prices continue to rise causing the market to price itself outside the budgets of standard education systems. Then at the same time with school systems requiring more data driven evaluative procedures the analog process will no longer be able to keep up with the ever increasing demands put on teachers and students. The situation will not be so straightforward for every classroom, but in the end it’s likely to end in the same result just not in the same timeframe.

  • Kay Hess Grogg

    Boo Hiss! I totally disagree with your idea that the darkroom is dead. I am a high school art and photography teacher in a rural school and the photography class is one of the most sought after classes. My students love the film process as a way to better understand how the camera works. I have more photo students go on to college and major in photo than from my art classes. They love doing the experimental processes that we explore. After film, we transition to digital and they enjoy it as much. I get bored looking at digital prints because I know that anyone with a camera phone can create interesting work, plus you never know if what you are seeing is real or” photoshopped”. With film, what you see is what you get.

  • Marcia Goss

    When painting is taught there are several mediums covered, some requiring more protocol and understanding of chemistry than others. How is photography, recording with light, different? And especially for programs where STEM is philosophically in place, analog is a great medium to connect art and science. Sure it’s a boutique process, but ultimately penny for penny it’s still cheaper than maintaining digital equipment and printers. And in a culture that uses cameras to collect data rather than create images the art of analog has become even more important. It ultimately depends on your program and how much time you are willing to dedicate to instruction. We, along with the other top schools in our region, teach analog to digital. Now is a perfect time to acquire equipment and stock up on supplies as people are generously donating expensive cameras and enlargers to educational programs. Freestyle Photogrpahic, B&H Photo, and the Scociety for Photographic Education all have great resources and tips for maintaining and growing a photo program.

    • Michaela Bakondy

      Beautiful response!

  • Dawn

    Can’t wait to come back and review the comments when I have more time, because one of the things I am teaching this year is some of the arts that have been lost and darkroom photography is one of them. I just recently learned about an alternative method that doesn’t use some of the traditional chemicals. Using coffee, vitamin C as developers are two that I plan to explore. The goal of my class is to provide time away from the screen. While it will be challenging to eliminate that completely, using alternative darkroom methods may keep some of the mystery and intrigue that motivates kids to want to know more.

  • Keith Bowen

    Not dead, but on life support. I don’t have the funding for digital or analog. However, if I did, i would choose digital. Once your student understands composition and lighting it can easily be translated to an analog format. When I make “movie shorts”, I use both.
    The general public has no idea what is digital or traditional.So if you are teaching the process to save the art of developing film …good for you.I majored in Photography in the 80’s…Don’t really miss the chemicals or time involved. To each their own.

  • Fernando Lichtschein


    I am not an art teacher but I teach technical subjects which do tend to change a lot over time, and I once was a professional photographer (that means I took photographs for money).

    Since my professional days with my Nikkormat and my Rolleicord I did not have a camera until last year when I met with some prize money and I decided to buy an entry level DSLR.

    I know my lab days help a lot, but photography is not about the film or the process, it is about art. The composition, the shooting, the subject, the lighting, the contrast. None of that has changed. The optical principles are the same. The only thing that changes is the image making process, and it is DIFFERENT.

    With film we were concerned with latitude and grain, now it is noise and shifting the histogram to the right. It is easier (and almost free) to take as many shots as you wish.

    I think the old must leave room for the new. If you keep piling up old techniques like pinhole cameras and film, you will never have time left for the important things.

  • Anne Dirilgen

    Do we stop teaching Shakespeare because the language has changed? No. Darkroom is not dead. It is an art that should be taught to some. Yes digital is faster but this article just made me mad.

  • Michelle Sheppard

    Agreed, on the disappointment. If our main goal is career prep, as it may be in a technical school, perhaps the darkroom isn’t a great investment of time. But the very rationale that justifies arts ed at all- teaching creative thinking, empathy, understanding, even higher order thinking- justifies the darkroom’s value. Students have so little in their lives that is truly hands-on, in which the cause-and-effect is undeniable, such as a print turning purple when the fix was skipped. In the darkroom, they become more self-aware, they face each other, they share space and work out problems, and they understand their own actions have an effect. They do the process again and again until it’s right, like sanding a board until it’s smooth. Most importantly? it’s engaging. My photo enrollments have increased while my digital photo enrollments have decreased, because students don’t work as hard using Photoshop as they do using multi-contrast filters on silver paper.
    If it’s not your thing, if you can’t inspire love for the darkroom, you shouldn’t feel you have to use it out of loyalty or tradition. But man, this hurts from one of my favorite voices in arts ed, Tim Bogatz, like heartburn after Thanksgiving Dinner. Open invitation to my classroom, should you find yourself in MA.

  • Joe Hoksbergen

    I agree completely. And while my former photography professor is probably rolling in his grave, I personally cut the dark room from the curriculum at my high school a few years ago. I replaced dark room photography course with a much more relevant Graphic Design/Digital photography course. I have more students in Graphic Design than there ever were in the old photography course, which means more students are discovering the joy of design. Further, these students are motivated and want to learn these digital tools that are so ubiquitous. Digital design is a major universal language of our day and I want my students to know it.

    Secondly, I acknowledge that there is much room for exploration and experimentation in the dark room but digital design offers so much more efficient and intuitive routes to accomplish design goals. I miss the hands-on nature of the dark room process but the turn-around time on a project from start to finish is so much quicker when we work digitally.

    This is not a new dynamic. Think about all the changes throughout art history that encountered resistance. I’m sure there was resistance to the printing press from those who preferred the craftsmanship of hand-scribed work but look at the benefits outweighed the cost.

  • Kris S.

    It would be a a sad state of affairs if film were truly dead. I wish I had been able to learn how to process film in a darkroom myself. When I was going to school, there digital age had hit and no where close offered film photography. My daughter has her BFA in photography and I always preferred her film work to her digital. She is now looking to teach in high school, I hope she is able to give her students the opportunity to shoot and process film

  • AGM

    No, film is not dead. As a photographer, I love old processes. I learned more about timing, patience, control and just understanding the equipment. For me i even love the alternative processes like cyanoprints and van-dykes; however, my favorite is gumbichromates. I did gumbis for my senior thesis and loved it some much. Film is just so much better than digital because theres just more interaction with materials and equipment. I’m in the process of getting together a photography club and hope to build interest in film photography

  • Antonia Wynn

    All the previous comments make very valid points for and against the death of darkrooms. Therefore, it would be redundant for me to continue to argue my points against the death of darkrooms, and instead I am just going post this link:

  • Kimberly Irene Kowzun

    Seriously. This is on an ART site? Is painting dead? Because it too is completely outdated and has been replaced with safer, cleaner, easier alternatives. You just sound ignorant.

  • Daniel

    I just came across this and obviously a bit late to the discussion. I understand both sides here and agree with both sides, but greatly lean towards the traditional wet darkroom. I am a corporate photographer and would never try to do analog work for my daily duties again. But I am a 100% analog for my personal work. That is what I learned and fell in love with. I have no interest in doing digital for myself. One reason being that the look and feel is not the same (from start to end). I am sure we all get tons of questions about photography by strangers and I always say two things to them. Learn the history and learn to shoot b&W film. Teaching students the darkroom opens up opportunities in the field of photography that digital misses. They should be given the chance to learn and choose their path. For me the darkroom and the history of photography opened the doors to alternative processes and now I work with wet plates. My friends all work with several alternative processes and by far enjoy the hand made processes. Your students should have the same opportunities that we had, not less. Besides, it takes a life time of photographing and evolving/experiencing life to become a great photographer. Not a semester 10,000 frames.
    This is like telling a cooking student to never walk onto a small farm and to never learn about farming and ripe/matured ingredients.
    Teach them everything from A to Z and let them make up their own minds with the tools given.

  • Michaela Bakondy

    I 1000% disagree. The darkroom is alive and well! Sad to see such an opinion

  • Caroline Epp

    I have both a BFA and an MFA in photography. I have taught high school photography for 15 years, both film and digital.

    I COMPLETELY agree that digital is the way to go. Putting aide the expensive and hazards of teaching darkroom photography (often in spaces not design for it and without proper ventilation), teaching fully digital lets me cram in a million times more information and experience as a photographer into each semester.

    What used to be my film photo 1/2/3 curriculum now fits in to my digital photo 1 semester class. I am now able to reach the level of teaching college ,and even graduate school, concepts into my upper level photography classes.

    Most of what it is to be a photographer goes on in your head before you even press a button. it doesn’t matter if that button is on a film camera or a digital camera. The students still need to master shutter speed and aperture, focusing, shooting manual, etc. There are film cameras with automatic controls now. So you still need to make sure your students have a firm grounding of the basics. And all of the conceptual work is the same with either type of camera.

    We have so much more time in class now to talk about photography ethics, history, aesthetics, and criticism. And for hands on activities, there is a wealth of information out there about digital printmaking and manipulation processes using digital grounds and other means.

    So yes, if you are a teacher who is teaching digital and let your kids use things like Instagram filters and automatic controls, that is just plain wrong. But besides taking pieces of paper, putting it under an enlarger and then into trays of chemicals, there should be NO difference in teaching digital or film, except the speed of learning.

  • Billy Willy

    With modern day technologies who should know how to change a flat tire, ride a bike, swim, use a sewing needle, hammer a nail, do long division, mail a letter, cook a meal, build a fire, or know how to grow your own food right????

  • MW

    I too, disagree. Everything I have read recently in fact, is making the argument that film is not dead. Fashion photographers and Commercial photographers are actually RETURNING to the dark room. Recently, I spoke with a gentleman from The Kodak Company (I’m in upstate NY) and they are seeing a large resurgence of interest in film.

  • E Gibbons

    So with 3D printers, no need to weave, or handwork clay, or sculpt.
    With digital printers, no need to paint, draw, or sketch.

    So Art Education should be about opening the right app and pressing a button?

    It’s already bad enough that kids have a hard time cutting with scissors, using a ruler, or tieing a knot.

    Sad and shortsighted “Art of Ed.”

  • Pablo

    This is just plan b*****sh***.

  • Harmony

    This article is a huge letdown as a website that art educators can source from. The darkroom is not dead and there are AMPLE skills and techniques that can ONLY be learned in the darkroom that translate not only to all other artmaking techniques, but life in general. Some of these are – attention to detail, organization, cleanliness, patience, persistence, responsibility for one’s materials and space, knowledge of the material leading into eco-friendly awareness, etc. These aren’t even art related – these are just life skills and knowledge! The art skills come into play in terms of working with a gorgeous, delicate process that is essentially ephemeral depending on how you approach it. The delicacy of the light on the paper and a half second too far means starting over. The process of dodging and burning and manipulating one corner just so to bring enough contrast and visual balance to your composition. The knowledge of the working camera mechanism and waiting for the right shot. The appreciation of that right shot when it develops in the tray.

    This article is completely bogus and has truly lowered my expectations and respect for I can’t believe something like this would be able to be posted and it even comes up as a top search when Google searching “teaching darkroom photography” two years later. Why is this not removed yet with all of the disappointed responses in comments? What’s even more unfortunate is one of my students stumbled across it and told me to look at it. What a way to reduce students’ respect for a material and process before they even get to learn what it is about. Seriously disappointed.

  • Harmony

    This article is a huge letdown as a website that art educators can source from. The darkroom is not dead and there are AMPLE skills and techniques that can TRULY be learned in the darkroom that translate not only to all other artmaking techniques, but life in general. Some of these are – attention to detail, organization, cleanliness, patience, persistence, responsibility for one’s materials and space, knowledge of the material leading into eco-friendly awareness, etc. These aren’t even art related – these are just life skills and knowledge! The art skills come into play in terms of working with a gorgeous, delicate process that is essentially ephemeral depending on how you approach it. The delicacy of the light on the paper and a half second too far means starting over. The process of dodging and burning and manipulating one corner just so to bring enough contrast and visual balance to your composition. The knowledge of the working camera mechanism and waiting for the right shot. The appreciation of that right shot when it develops in the tray.

    This article is completely bogus and has truly lowered my expectations and respect for I can’t believe something like this would be able to be posted and it even comes up as a top search when Google searching “teaching darkroom photography”. What’s even more unfortunate is one of my students stumbled across it and told me to look at it. What a way to reduce students’ respect for a material and process before they even get to learn what it is about. Seriously disappointed.

  • lost arts

    Take a drive through North Philadelphia, and you will find some of the most beautiful examples of late 19th and early 20th century architecture in various states of disrepair. Some homes are falling down, because contractors have forgotten the chemistry of mortar, and simply buy pre mixed bags from home depot which are incompatible with the old bricks- literally causing failure of the structure.

    One of the most iconic features of Philadelphia’s architecture is the half hexagonal window box. Originally these were clad with ornate works of tin, completed by tinsmiths. There are no tinsmiths left. Today, when the tin fails, it is replaced by lap vinyl siding. Vinyl siding is much cheaper, faster and more efficient than working with tin.

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  • Tony Zinnanti

    Comment into the ether …. let’s take Sally Mann’s 8×10 away and hand her a copy of this article and the latest Nikon digital SLR. I’m sure she will immediately immerse herself in the Canon versus Nikon debate as the final stop on the intellectual processes of image making.

    But seriously, this article shows an unfortunate lack of experience between the subject and the image maker. Photography has been deafened by the ease with which an image can be produced and the ultimate expendability of the plethora of frames contemporary photographers shoot in hopes of nailing the perfect image.

    If you have ever done large format photography, you know that the relationship with the subject is entirely different. There is nothing – nothing in this world – like looking through the back of a large format camera.

    Some serious image makers are okay with handing off their work to be printed by others. Some, like myself, are not. My creative vision demands that I have control throughout the entirety of the process.

    Digital photography has its place. However, it has also made photography quite a bore; and a misguided bore at that. We Americans have a unique talent for taking the joy and mystery out of our arts by preoccupation with conditioned consumerism and petty debates.

    I wish you the best in your artistic pursuits and encourage you to remember the amazement you had when you saw your first image coming up in the tray.

  • milly

    I don’t think the darkroom is dead film is becoming really popular

    • John Robb

      Damn right it is!

  • James

    Easier, Cheaper and Better?
    Sure its easier, but this removes all the elements of the process that may force the individual to really think about the outcome they’re producing. On digital you can shoot infinite photos and mindlessly choose the best, film forces you to be more in the moment with your shots and really think about what will make it great. When printing you get to feel the importance of each individual shot rather than simply applying a Lightroom preset and forget about it. Because you experience it in in its physical form, each decision you make about how it will turn out: contrast, framing, exposure, editing, grain, pushing and pulling, intentional mistakes and experimentation are all decisions that can be considered on a much deeper level. Sure affordability is a problem and the inaccessibility it may produce is a shame, but do you hear artists complaining about the price of canvases? No.

    Difficult to Budget and Find Supplies?
    In terms of fundamental equipment, it is indeed expensive, and that is a shame for those who cant afford it it is indeed a shame. But still, where there is a will there is a way. the set of equipment for film development I use was acquired for free (with some luck), through a service where those who don’t want old stuff can give it away. Otherwise there are numerous guides which detail what equipment is needed and all that is required is to google and find said equipment
    once this equipment has been acquired, it may be used for a really long time (my own was used by someone before me, and will likely last me decades). ultimately as well, it depends how one may access equipment, communal darkrooms for example may provide the opportunity for individuals to access all the equipment they need at minimal cost or perhaps one may access equipment through an institution such as your own.

    The Chemicals are Dangerous?
    So is spray paint, resin casting and so on… perhaps this is a hazard that one must be aware of and consciously accept as a part of the process? Still, darkroom chemicals in well ventilated dark dooms likely pose negligible health risks, far less than many household cleaning products such as bleach. Individuals using them simply need to be made aware of the necessary safety procedures

    It Takes Too Long to Carry Out The Process
    In this long process the individual is forced to stop and think far more about the worth of the photos they are taking, at every step they have to make crucial decisions on how they turn out
    this allows the photographer to develop a strong bond with their photographs and produce something which holds far more value than 100 half baked digital photographs may.
    what’s more important quality or quantity?

    Film photography and the darkroom process has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years and I would argue this is due to how engaging the process is and how great the results can be.
    Grain, bordering, experimental printing techniques and choices of film type all create a beautiful outcome which could only be recreated by a master of digital processing and serious amounts of time.
    why would one want to spend time which could be used sat on a computer when they could be engages in such a magical process.

    Why take the soul out of photography?

  • Bill Smith

    Mr. Bogatz I think you want to revisit your assertion that the darkroom and by exension film photography being dead. Kodak has re introduced two films Tmax P3200 and Ektachrome 100, Fuji even announced they are bringing Neopan Acros back from the dead. I know at least one college, one art school and universtiy that are keeping their darkroom programs going strong in my neck of the woods.Young people, and older folks are taking up film photography as a rebellian against the ephemeralness of digital culture.

  • Ola from Sweden

    I hear you. It must be hard to understand the basis of Zen buddhism if you never opened a book about ancient philosophy. If you don’t know how brief our quickly changing habitual lifestyle today is compared to the 4.000.000+ years of hominid crafting, it can be overwhelming. But ok just look at all the mobile zombies in our cast away world where very few seems to know that a bike needs lubrication even. It’s a satisfying sight! Just sit back and enjoy the wonders.

  • Boris Panov

    Anyone saying this clearly hasn’t been to Japan where the products for darkrooms are still widely available. In addition, companies like Cinestill have released amazing new films that can be processed at many labs that still exist using standard c41 method. People used to say that Vinyl was dead when casette tapes came out. Then they claimed it was really dead when CD’s came out. Now that everything is digital on Spotify and iTunes, Vinyls are still alive. Something can’t die if the alternative is a worse quality product. Compressed MP3’s are worse than Vinyl just like digital photos are worse than film.