Where oh where do the students go?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by noseoil, Jan 11, 2006.

  1. noseoil

    noseoil Member

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    This is aimed primarily at the students enrolled in photography courses. After reading some of the posts in Karen's intro, I started thinking about comments I had heard from Ryan, who is studying photography here at the U of A. At out last informal large format gathering, he had expressed his concerns about the direction taken at a university level degree in photography. Equipment was being poorly maintained, mistreated and the general state of image making was rather poor with respect to quality. "Conceptual photography" was emphasized, not photographic skill.

    I'm wondering about the technical skills of the instructors at this level. Are they proficient in their ability to make a fine print in a wet darkroom? Is the mastery of materials an aid to a degree, or is it just something mentioned in passing? Are people being pushed to improve their skills, or just herded along to get a grade and then turned loose in the world?

    With the advent of digital, I continue to hear that a wet darkroom is a thing of the past. Were is the emphasis now and what feelings are out there about this medium? I know this is a rather large question with too many answers, but I'm curious where the students in photographic studies see things headed. I'm sure a lot of the answers will be based on the individual instructor's abilities and whims, but what is going on? Thanks, tim
     
  2. Curt

    Curt Subscriber

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    Just the words "Conceptual Photography" makes me want to vomit.

    It was back in the late '70 when I finished my first University degree, a multi major one. Graphic Design, Photography, Printing and Publishing. I applied and was accepted to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA which was the best Art school in the World at the time. I had two degrees when I went there and was a combat veteran of the Vietnam war. What I experienced was "Conceptual Photography". Don't buy any equipment until you have a specific use for it. Don't buy any film until you know what you will shoot with it. Don't go out and shoot until you have a complete idea of what you will be imaging. Don't print until the negative has been inspected and checked off by a lab assistant. Don't wash the print until it has been checked off. Don't just take your print out of the wash, you must take all of the ones there at the same time, you name it you claim it. If someone beats you to it and your print is damaged, too bad start over and next time be there to take the print out first. Don't mount it until the print is approved to be mounted. Take it to class, on time or it's trash. The instructor then flips the board to see if the print pops off. If it does, your screwed. If it doesn't you may get a chance to be graded. This is not a joke either. Check the tuition and take a visit and you will see.

    Then I when to Brooks Institute of Photography, what a fresh breath of air. It was great to be in the darkroom making a few mistakes and having some fun trying new things. Going out and just shooting without restraints. One assignment was to take an assigned block in town and go there and photograph what happened in a week. Then make a series of those images.

    You have to have a great deal of Art History, History, Photo History, Real life - go to the galleries and see real photographs, along with travel and human interaction. This creates the drive to learn darkroom techniques.

    My experience and my opinions.
    Curt
     
  3. Dave Wooten

    Dave Wooten Subscriber

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    Well said Curt,

    I believe in the very near future the only students doing wet processes will be art students...many "commercial programs" are now totally digital....silver is now also alternative.
     
  4. markbb

    markbb Member

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    I'm not surprised that many photography degrees (or degrees that major in it) have moved rapidly to embrace digital. There are very few students who can afford to pursue a degree as a hobby - for most it's a means to and end: get a job in a field they are interested in. And what skills are in demand? It's no good us gnashing our teeth and wailing on here - we live in a commercial world where quality is readily sacrificed on the altar of profit. So it's digital that's in demand.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 11, 2006
  5. reellis67

    reellis67 Subscriber

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    I can only speak to my own experiences working at a College. Here, we have one darkroom left, from a total of four originally. As digital becomes more prevalent, the administration sees the costs and the low enrollment and removes programs that do no lead directly to graduates. Classes that are for personal gain are frowned upon, which is certainly unfortunate, but appears to be the way this particular college is going.

    The other schools in the area are also moving to a digital world. Local high schools here still have wet darkrooms, but more and more they are being replaced with digital computer labs and fewer students come here with experience, or desire, to learn the wet darkroom. It is very disheartening to see.

    As for instructors, we have high turnover due to low pay and adjunct-only positions. Without the possibility of tenure, most people who teach here are just passing through and have little motivation to fight the trends and save the darkroom. They seem to be more general arts and less photography-specific people.

    On the up side, we do have one school locally that is very photographically oriented and does seem to make a very positive impact on its' students. One out of a dozen may not seem outstanding, but it sure beats none out of a dozen...

    - Randy
     
  6. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    I think it's best for you to make connections with the outside world while you're in school and try to see what the benefits are that you're having right now. And then decide what you want to do when you get out.

    Schools are nothing more than being institutions of providing materials. If you want to be a shooter, you go out or stay in your studio and shoot what you want to shoot. If you want to be a good printer, you need a lab/darkroom you have total control of.

    There can be many choices, but it's up to you to decide which one you want and how you start to live with it. And ultimately you will be teaching yourself. :wink:
     
  7. CraigK

    CraigK Member

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    In my town, there are a couple of photography schools available to those so inclined. I own one of them. PrairieView School of Photography is a private vocational institution with 16 full time students and about 650 part time evening/weekend registrants (mainly hobby type courses). Our full time program is geared towards those that intend to enter the photographic industry in some capacity or other. Traditional darkroom techniques are a core part of the program and will be as long as the buck stops with me.

    Like Ilford, I have thrown down the "last man standing" guantlet with regards to black and white and traditional photo techniques. Of course our students are trained on the latest greatest (obsolete next week) digital gear for which we pay dearly each time we "upgrade' (our enlargers are due for an upgrade in the summer of 2086). They shoot a lot of digital and do a lot of photoshop work since, as a vocational institution, our goal is to train them to work in the industry...and as the industry goes, so does our curriculum. However, it is my belief that the traditional techniques, taught by experts (all of my teachers are working professional photographers/artists/computer geeks) represent the best foundation upon which to build a photography skill set. So our students are in the darkroom at least twice a week for classes and have access to it for most of the other days to complete assignements. All of our students shoot film for many of the assignements, all will have some training on medium and large format cameras. We even offer optional units on alt photo techniques.

    It is great to observe that the (mostly) youngish people in the class truly love the darkroom and tradtional techniques. Computers to them are everyday objects....things they have grown up with. There is no real razzle dazzle involved in digital imaging for them. Oh, they like it alright...it is cool, fun etc, etc. but it is no mystery. Nor is it the evil beast. It just is. They take to it like a duck to water and produce good work (the teachers really like the instant feedback). The darkroom and vintage cameras however are cool with a capital C for many of them (and for most of our teachers too). It warms my heart to see a 20 something student walking around with an Olympus Trip 35mm rangefinder he picked up at for a few bucks, loaded with HP5 shooting whatever floats his boat.

    There is a "fine art" program available at a local university. From what I understand, and from the work I have seen produced by graduates, the program is similar to other university fine art programs. The school tends to produce some fairly good artists with so-so technical skills. Like many (most) other university programs they have a large (40 inch?) colour processor, so naturally 90% of what students produce is super huge colour prints no matter what the subject. Dick Arentz once told me that in many universities the mantra for a good photo was "make it BIG and make it RED"! I am not sure how a tradtional black and white print would go over in the program.

    Like much of the work I have seen of young fine art students in recent years, the subject matter usually involves:

    1. Urban decay/sprawl and other assorted evils of mankind or

    2. The student's own tortured life/sexual indentity and other assorted evils of mankind.

    But it looks like traditional (colour) printing is alive and well at the university for now...they have a really big machine to pay off I guess. I am not sure of the status of their digital program at this point but I am would not be surprised to find out that they are working on ways of getting really big, red prints about the various evils of mankind out of an inkjet printer of somesort.

    (tongue firmly in cheek folks....some of the teachers in the univeristy program are absolutely top-knotch...and they really have produced some excellent artists.)
     
  8. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    Schools have to make money like any business. Running a department requires a minimum of students. Most technical or local colleges have photo programs to give someone a career as a professional photographer. The reality is that 99% of professional jobs now require digital in some form or another. If schools want to have the program and draw students they have to go digital. Budgets usually do not allow for both analog and digital. Here locally at one of the community colleges the big impetus to go digital was when the realized they could use the same computer lab for digital photography and tear out the wet darkroom space for other uses. You can still shoot film for classes, but it has to be 35mm and is scanned after being commercially processed for printing on inkjets.

    You may have a handfull of art or graphic design colleges that will have a wet darkroom in the future, but I bet by the end of the decade you will not find any analog facilites in any local or state funded college or university. It just does not make economic sense for them. A sad state of affairs, but reality all the same.

    If analog can survive the loss of this base of support for products is yet to be determined. As schools eliminate programs, that removes a huge source of gauranteed sales for someone like Ilford. Even if a student never bought another roll of film after the class, there was always the "next" class to buy a semesters worth of film and paper.

    As far as "where do the students go"?, if you mean where will they learn traditional methods if that is there choice, it will not be at the college level, unless they go to a specific art and design school that still offers analog.
    The only other route will be to seek the help of a local practioner of analog or join a club or co-operative that has a similar interest. There are workshops of course but they are not geared towards beginners needing to learn fundamentals. Locally it would be great to have a space somewhere with a 2 or three enlarger darkroom and a room for a small gallery where I could offer courses. This may be one of the few models that provide learning opportunites.
     
  9. battra92

    battra92 Member

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    Now to start with, I'm not enrolled in a school of Photography, nor am I a Photography major. I'm actually a business major at a liberal arts school. With that said being the vice president and equipment manager of the college photography club, I think I have some experience with the topic at hand.

    Our photography club is about 20 to 25 students with about 7 or so that are really active with the group. We have a fairly good darkroom in terms of basic equipment and we can process black and white 110, 35mm, 127 and 120. While I have processed every one of those formats with varieties of emulsions, about 90% of the club deals with one film and one developer (TriX 400 and HC-110) There is one other student that I know of who uses 120 in his Mamiya TLR but most members of the club have 35mm SLRs.

    In terms of printing, we have stocks of Ilford Multigrade in 5x7 format. Unfortunately due to the rising costs of paper and the way the kids went through it, we've had to abandon 8x10 printing altogether and leave that up to the individual to purchase.

    Our budget is nearly nil at the moment. I have suggested over the last year that we explore more into trying new films and new developers but the answer always comes down to a lack of money. I am exploring them on my own and hopefully when I graduate next year I'll be able to have my own darkroom, at least for processing film. Printing I can always take to the lab or do it the other way.

    The other sad thing is when some of the new students come in and they have their new P&S digicam and kind of scoff at traditional darkroom as too borring. While I admit I hate making prints (our safelight makes the darkroom at least 90 degrees) I do love processing my own film and going through negatives on a light box.

    Digital is unfortunately becoming a part of the club. When I first joined it was sort of shunned upon and now we actively make it more a part of the club. Unfortunately to me Photoshop and digital snapshotting is not really what the club is about.

    Of course what I'd really like to have the club do is make pinhole cameras, maybe even work with a view camera, some alternate process stuff and basically more chemistry. I'm sure that might attract some Chem students. Actually the head Chem professor and I have talked quite a bit on various films, developers, etc.

    As far as the black and white photography class we have on campus, it's fair to good I'd say. Composition is stressed above all, obviously, but general darkroom skills are what is taught. Filters on the enlargers are barely mentioned, using different emulsions/developers/papers etc. is never even touched.
     
  10. gr82bart

    gr82bart Subscriber

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    There is a thread related to this on LL on this just very recently. It was started by a student who wanted to know what film camera he should buy for his basic photography class in his college. He said his prof insisted everyone get a film camera to learn photography.

    As you can imagine, instead of anyone giving him advice on what camera to get, everyone instead told him he should write a letter demanding that the school 'get out of the dark ages', that the teacher was probably not worth being a teacher if he didn't know digital, that the school in question should be avoided and blacklisted because it didn't teach digital, etc....

    We're dealing with this kind of world people. Sad.

    Art.
     
  11. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    In the UK we still have many colleges who maintain wet darkrooms alongside the digital suite. Because of limited finance through successive government cutbacks colleges cannot afford to permanently employ specialist printers to teach and those tutors who are employed are, in some colleges, having to deal with more students. Fortunately for people like me colleges employ us to do occasional master classes in wet printing so I benefit while students lose out by not having full time tutors in the art and craft of making silver prints.

    Having said all that I see some excellent work both in ideas and execution in many of the colleges that I visit to teach. Interestingly I sometimes do silver and digital masterclasses back to back and almost always the digital class begins to break up shortly after lunch whereas the darkroom tutorial is met with great enthusiasm by most of the students. Sometimes I have to tell them to go home as I usually have a long drive at the end of the day.

    Another thing that has just started to happen in the UK is that Ilford are now committed to helping a umber of colleges in the UK by sponsoring masterclasses in darkroom work.
     
  12. celluloidpropaganda

    celluloidpropaganda Subscriber

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    I don't get it. What on Earth does a (rather screwed-up) darkroom and teaching situation have to do with conceptual photography? There's nothing conceptual about washing processes and not buying film.

    Conceptual refers to work that is about the artist and the idea rather than the final product - not whatever you're talking about.

    I've never been a full-time photo major (yet), but I've taken classes in my university's department and know it fairly well. Students start out with traditional B&W, printing on RC paper in the gang darkroom, with a professor there to help them along with printing. Intermediate and upper students have access to a 24-hour gang darkroom and a dozen or so small individual darkrooms (primarily used for color), they're encouraged to print on FB paper and follow archival steps (though most students cheated a bit on them).

    There are also alt. processes, digital imaging and studio/portraiture classes that I have yet to take.

    There's very little technical instruction on different developers and films. You pretty much follow the recommended box times using D76 1:1, and the paper developer is Dektol. That works out OK, better to have students concentrating on doing the work rather than futzing around and screwing up their negatives. The problem is when a little more technical inventiveness is needed. My intermediate class had a Holga project to be put on exhibition in one of the galleries - the only problem was that about half the class barely got a usable neg, because they didn't know anything about different films or developing times, and being students were too lazy to start early. I ended up having to handhold many of them through re-shoots, as I had some idea about how to get around the quirks of the Holga.

    By and large, I think I prefer the approach that values concept slightly over technical skill. It is a BFA program, and prospective artists are expected to enter the contemporary art world (of which the technical bravado of Ansel Adams isn't much of a selling point). Learn enough to keep getting better technically as the ideas progress.
     
  13. JamesG

    JamesG Member

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    I am a full time educator and part time professional photographer. Until three years ago, I was primarily self taught. One of my benefits as an educator in the district I work for is that I can take one college course a semester and the district will cover tuition and fees. Well, I figured I might as well get some formal training, some legitimacy, if I am eventually going to do photography full time. I looked to the local community college.

    I enrolled in my first course, Photo I, taught by a wonderful lady who is an active photographer. Although very basic for me, it was a very good experience. I lived in the darkroom for four months. I then took two courses with the only full time instructor. She showed us her equipment; a Nikon F-1 and a very old Olympus digital. Both were past their prime, although I understand why a Nikon F-1 would still be a favorite. The thing was, she did not use these cameras! She was not an active photographer.

    Then, last semester, I took Commercial Photography. I should have taught the course. In fact, I kinda did. I met with some students several Saturdays at my studio and went over the things that the instructor should have taught. he tried to do a lighting demonstration. He set up three lights, three reflectors, and a diffuser and told us this was the standard setup for photographing one person. What a disaster! It would never work and no one who knew lighting would ever use that setup. Then... are you ready for this?... he took out his Nikon D70 to show us how wonderful the lighting was. he was going to take a few photos to show us. He didn't know how to operate his D70. (BTW, he had a MFA from RIT). Can you believe this?

    Next class he was going to do a demonstration on setting up and shooting a 4x5. I don't have to tell you what happened here...

    The rest of the story is... I got an e-mail from him last week asking if I would come in and do a LF demonstration for his current class. I did that last night. No problems; just some good instruction. He admitted I was the right person for the job; better than he would have done. Unfortunately, I do not have an MFA.

    Anyhow, that's a sampling from the current state of affairs on photography education.
     
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  15. ErinHilburn

    ErinHilburn Member

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    I know nothing of where things are going, but my professor requires that all students first learn in b&w film and perform darkroom work. Then you move to colorslide film. If you pass the first two photo courses then you move to digital. He doesn't teach conceptual photography. If you want to learn that you have to take art courses. I of course have done so, but conceptual photography does not rule my work. It certianly is not done poorly and then passed off as conceptual my collabrative teacher would never allow that. I plan to go on and get my MFA and I know that when I teach my students will be required to learn on film. So that is where the future of photography is headed for me, as a student. However I will not withhold teaching them about the digital medium. I will not let my personal bias influence my teaching ability in so far as to limit the education I will be giving my students. I think that we as photograhers will decide where the future of photography will go. People still paint in acrylics or oils sometimes both. There is no reason two branches of photography couldn't exist. There are plenty who still tintype even though there is film.
     
  16. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Here I am in Rochester, with experience teaching in the local school system and also having done work with some of the RIT staff over the last 30+ years.

    I find that today you cannot sell an analog course to either the public or private schools, and an analog course in the colleges is just a minor event rating a few days mention in the classroom in most cases. Only one local college has an analog photo course, and even that is rather abbreviated and watered down.

    For those who would argue that it is the EK influence, I guarantee you that it is not. These decisions are being made (against analog) based on perception, not influence.

    There will be a generation out there that knows little about the 'real' photography. I'm also interested in the comments here about B&W but the lack of comments about color. On APUG there seems to be a mindset that relegates color to the back seat, and this is just as bad an attitude as the one dividing analog from digital.

    BTW, see the thread on glossy FB prints lacking 'snap'. I don't know if the problem is related to any of the solutions offered, but I did learn that ferrotyping a glossy FB print is pretty much a lost art already. Many of the people here didn't seem to know what it was. They expected FB glossy paper to be glossy when dried, not knowing that it requires a ferrotype treatment to achieve full gloss. So, already, as an old timer, I'm seeing many techniques vanish from the repertoire of the photographer.

    PE
     
  17. blow

    blow Member

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    I think digital was invented for us to realize the greatness of film
     
  18. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I think that photography schools have to teach students marketable skills. Therefore digital is the way to go since it is the way of the future and virtually every commercial photography business is digital.

    Someone training to be a truck driver today does not learn how to drive a mule team.

    I also think that analog should be taught as well and that courses should be available for everyone to learn these techniques. But when one goes to school for a degree, they should come out with marketable skills and fortunately or unfortunately digital is where the future is going.

    Right now we are on the cusp of the changeover from traditional to digital. In ten years analog may be just a fine art or hobbiests pursuit.

    An architectural student should learn how to use a slide rule and make drawings but his focus should be using the computer to learn and make his drawings on.

    I think the US Navy has a program where sailors spend a certain amount of time learning to sail on large sailboats.

    So my point is, the schools need to make people marketable but teaching the tradition is also an asset.


    Michael
     
  19. Kino

    Kino Member

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    I have worked at two major Universities, both tied into photography labs in one way or the other, and the common thread I found was that there will always be about 1 to 3% that "get it", utilize the equipment to fulfill the course work, but then also expand their own horizons in areas that diverge from the "official" course load.

    Either they come to learn (i.e., really to teach themselves) or they come demanding to be taught (never happen beyond a shallow understanding).

    As for photochemical, last time I checked, the Ohio State University's Art Department still had a strong faculty, with Tony Mendoza and Ardine Nelson to name two, well versed in traditional photochemcial techniques.

    I'm not worried; I was before I found APUG, but I am not now...

    Frank W.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 30, 2006
  20. digiconvert

    digiconvert Member

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    My evening course is partially funded by the UK's Learning and Skills Council (we pay about 20% of the real fees) which is common practice in the UK. In order to get that funding it has to show a strong vocational bias so digital and film work are required. However the film side is becoming less prevelant as it is not a commercial/vocational option. I am rhe only one of 15 students still using film (half used film at the start of the course) but one digi die hard is asking me about film because he says I seem to enjoy my photography more !
     
  21. medform-norm

    medform-norm Member

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    I dunno, sounds like a rigourous training program to me. As a formar military, you must have been accustomed to discipline, no? - Perhaps the most serious objection I would have, is against the 'don't buy equipment until you have a specific use for it' - I would have failed miserably on that account - lemme count, over 50 cameras....and still trying to figure out what specific use to put them too... :D
     
  22. sunnyroller

    sunnyroller Member

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    I took 2 classes from my local university. Photo 1 was pretty standard stuff, but when I got to Photo 2 it was all digital darkroom. I was really disappointed. On one hand it was great to learn photoshop and gain some skills, but I was really bummed about not getting to make real prints. It was also frustrating because there were only about 3 of us who were really into photography not just trying to skate by.

    Last week I started a Photo 3 The Expressive Print class offered by the Museum School at the Arkansas Arts Center. Wow! I really should have gone back and taken the Photo 2 the Museum offered. There are 4 of us in the class and two of them are focusing on printing for shows they have coming up. The irony is that the Museum School is working with older, donated equipment on a shoestring budget but totally committed to traditional photography while the University with its two roomy darkrooms has 8 brand new Beseler 45MXT's and 8 fairly new Omegas, but most of the classes spend their time in the computer lab. Even the Large Format class is digital darkroom--crazy!

    I am just excited to have access to a darkroom again and be around people that I can learn from and who care about traditional photography. I am 34 and the rest of the class is 45 and older. There may be some young whippersnappers in the other classes though. I am hoping to recruit some of these folks to APUG so they can share the joy.

    Sunny
     
  23. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    In the Detroit Area there are three undergrad programs you can attend; Wayne State, CCS and U of M. Wayne has an emphasis on traditional methods, but is not well regarded, the other two are fairly well regarded, and lean toward digital. There is a Photography graduate program at Cranbrook (as well as the the other 3) that is considered very good. At a recent pro lab auction (Color Detroit for those familiar) the place was crawling with people from Cranbrook looking to buy enlarger's lenses and other trad equipment.

    The community college just outside of Detroit, OCC, has a very good 2 year program that is split between traditional and digital -- slightly more trad than digital.

    I don't believe any program worth its salt ignores craft -- be it grammar in an english program or presentation in an art program.

    IMO, at the college level it is really dependent upon the department heads and money. Cranbrook, CCS, OCC have good heads and deep pockets.
     
  24. donbga

    donbga Member

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    Slide rules are no longer manufacturered in the U.S. and possibly the world.
     
  25. lkorell

    lkorell Member

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    What's good for the mind is not always what's good for business. While I agree that learning any craft is enhanced by studying and even mastering traditional approaches, our world today doesn't offer much promise economically for a person to take their time and be well rounded and versatile.

    The original concept of the technology revolution, as well as the now over a century old industrial revolution, was to provide us with convenience so we could spend our time pursuing more leisurely lives, and using our already cluttered minds for more cereberal processes. Unfortunately what really happened was that we created our lifestyles around the technology. (who says the human race has evolved anyway?)

    So, now our lives are not only dependant on the technology, but we spend most of our time trying to keep up with it. It rules us.

    For those rare folks who realize the need to slow down and be more careful and methodical about what they create, few will jump to reward them, but the reward for that approach is more introspective and personal. All aspects of society today function in the digital mode - either on or off.
    When you take the time to see the tonal shades of gray, you more easily understand the path of getting from nothing to something.

    It is not horrible to function in the all digital techno world of today, but in the long run, a bit less fullfilling. (BTW, I'm not just referring to photography)

    Lou
     
  26. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Try reading "The Singularity is Near" by Ray Kurzweil.

    PE