Preserving the Benefits of Traditional Photography
I've been thinking about the decline of film and photographic paper. There's still a lot of photographers using traditional products, but the trend is clearly down. The problem is that, now that traditional film has left the mainstream in most photographic disciplines (although still being used), new people coming into the profession don't get exposed to, or trained in these methods. This only accelerates the effects of attrition.
For example, I considered purchasing a weaving retail supply store earlier this year. But, I went to a local weavers' guild and found that the average age of weavers in my area is 55 and above. (The 55 year olds were the youngsters!) Good bye retail weaving! As another example, I've heard the average age of bridge players is somewhere in the range of 55-60. Do we want this for traditional photography? I think not.
A few months ago, I allowed myself to be pulled into a local, small-school photography project. The administrator put this thing together. I did a preliminary presentation showing some of my photographs, my LF camera, and some of Ansel Adam's special edition prints. Then, she set up the boy's bathroom as a darkroom. We put the enlargers on a table in front of the urinals and used the washing area for developer, stop, fixer, and rinse. It was perfect! Everyone from the fifth through the eigth grade was involved, and we all had a lot of fun. Afterwards, we had a gallery show for parents. Thanks to this particular administrator's creative thinking, it was a big success.
This got me thinking about the importance of involving young people in the photographic arts. Traditional photography is ideal for this. It's fun, it involves mixing things, there're no expensive computers or printers involved, and it's definitely hands-on. Plus, one can teach lessons of working with chemicals, safety, etc. There are lots of inexpensive film cameras around, and chemicals can still be purchased off-the-shelf. It would also be excellent as a science project.
If we want to preserve our passion, traditional photographers and their stakeholders should join forces and figure out different ways of introducing the photographic arts to new people. I can think of a few ideas.
>> Put together kits that science teachers could use in their classes.
>> Individual photographers could work with schools to do projects similar to that of the school I mentioned.
>> Create an idea or source book of different projects that have been tried and are known to work.
>> Consider different ways to communicate the potential of photographic projects to different organizations that might be interested.
>> It doesn't have to be for kids, either. There's a growing community of photographers who've never developed a roll of film. (Either by themselves or by sending film to a lab.)
>> I would think that Ilford, or other companies still providing supplies for traditional photography, might be willing to provide funding for some sort of effort in this direction.
These are only a few of the obvious possibilities. Given some thought, I'm sure many others exist.
I know that the weaving community is aware of the dynamic I've described. But, they're attacking the same issues late in the game.
But, this isn't the case for traditional photography. Any ideas? I suspect it could make a big difference in the future of our media.
Good ideas...a fine example of thinking globally and acting locally.
...or products at a reduced rate, or even free. The trick, as always, when trying to solicit anything from companies is in choosing words carefully in the proposal. What's in it for the participants, for the company, and how will the experience benefit both in the future, etc.
Originally Posted by Neil Poulsen
Hopefully you'll find some like-minded photographers in your area to help out. Good luck
Note to self: Turn your negatives into positives.
Excellent thoughts, Neil. I've thought about trying to set up some classes for school kids in my area, but haven't had time to get beyond the thinking stage.
[COLOR=SlateGray]"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus." -Mark Twain[/COLOR]
Rio Rancho, NM
Ilford actually offer Masterclasses in traditional methods.
One of the main problems is the absence of any real advertising, outside of specialist magazines, letting people know that tradtional materials are still available and are still being used.
Anáil nathrach, ortha bháis is beatha, do chéal déanaimh.
Great stuff Neil! It goes the same for all arts today. If they are not taught to children, in a few years, no one alive will have ever heard of Beethoven either! It's important to let children know that all modern techniques and tools evolved from something. There are artistic roots and they need to be studied.
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Neil, the average age for emulsion makers and coaters (photo engineers) at EK, Fuji, Ilford and etc must be getting up there too. When they are gone, where will we get photo products when they retire or die off?
I'm trying to pass on what I know, but few are really interested as they expect that analog films and papers will be available forever. Hmmmm. Good luck.
Knowledge of weaving is being passed on hand-to-hand, in small communities, and in rabid publications. The loss of traditional culture by most western society has been going on for a long time, and the seeming frantic pace of today's deaccessioning of culture and craft are nothing new.
Unless we are aware of the tide, we wonder as the water comes over our toes.
The parallel of weaving and traditional photography is interesting, except it has been generations since handweaving had any commercial existence. All should not be gloomy for weaving, however. The Knitting addiction is spreading among today's young ones, and it is a well known gateway drug that leads to the loom and wheel.
It is a tough time to move into a boutique store for a handcraft when there is more production capacity available for weaving hardware than is being used, at the same time Fiber Arts programs are throwing out fine looms that are too large for most beginner's to manage.
Kinda like Durst 8x10 enlargers going into dumpsters because folks are too cheap to have them shipped cross country.
The advantage to being a weaver today is that it IS possible to acquire simple tools and materials, and to join small communities where the craft can be passed on. Photography is much harder, for we are so much farther from 'homemade capability'. Turn the clock back a hundred and more years to collodion and platinum prints and that is the level of technological sophistication that is almost self sustainable. If boutique manufacturers can continue to manufacture current emulsion films and papers, fine. If not... well, back to 1890.
For what it's worth, Neil, this household has 3 Deardorffs and a 170 Glimåkra. Both my wife and I mentor other craftspeople, and are in turn sustained by our peers. It is far easier to create interest in weaving than in photography, because most accomplished weavers understand a simple table loom is the limit for beginners.
The biggest problem large format photography faces is it's neurotic overcomplication of image making. To make photography appealing to normal people again, it must first become simple. And that demands that WE grow into image makers and outgrow ideology, and the obsession with gear instead of pictures.
I'm pretty sure photography has to die a little more before we learn THAT lesson.
Last edited by df cardwell; 03-28-2006 at 10:15 PM. Click to view previous post history.
"One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid,
and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision"
Wish I was in a position to be an apprentice...
Originally Posted by Photo Engineer
To all interested, there is an apprentice type of program sponsored by George Eastman House in Rochester NY, with a grant from Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh. They cover all methods of photography. Last week was glass plates using silver gelatin emulsions. I had lunch with the instructor today and saw some of the results. They were superb.
No, I am not part of that, so this isn't an 'ad'. I'm just putting up an additional alternative to you all. At present, there are about 8 student apprentices in the course from all over the world.
OTOH, I could probably use an apprentice. But, every time I think that, I see a minds eye picture of Mickey carrying those buckets followed by the brooms carying buckets and I kind of give up on the idea.
Traditional photography (film-camera shooting and darkroom printing) has been threatened in Japan: It is determined to die by the law that's set by ignorant lawmakers over here. Although the situation has gotten slightly better, there still is a lot of work that needs to be done to prevent it from happening.
I ran the thread above for a little while because I wanted to warn as many photographers as I could regardless of where they live around the globe. Meanwhile I contacted some places locally to give information out and take action, but I found out in the end, in the Japanese photographic community almost no photographers would give a damn about the death of the traditonal photography as a culture. And they don't care for other people, which I've felt in so many other ways when it comes down to the idea of sharing resources.
I kind of expected some well-known photographers with rational thoughts to take leadership and make a statement like the musicians involving Ryuichi Sakamoto did in public, but they didn't and I was wrong. I held a bit of hope because they are the ones who help out schools and dicover young talents, etc, but they remained so silent for this particular issue. So, I've been pretty disappointed after all, and that tells me I have to keep clinging to my way, not their way.