The Importance of the Darkroom In Photographic Education

By: Michelle Bates

Simplicity generates Creativity

When dealing with the creative process, I've often found that when working within a format that provides boundaries, the mind is freed to create outside of boundaries. When given a particular subject to shoot, or format to work in, or timeline, the artist starts to problem-solve, explore where the edges of the boundaries are, and how to create new visions within them. When given unlimited parameters within which to create, though, creativity can be stifled by the sheer volume of choices that need to be made before the creating can even begin. This also goes for the process of acquiring and becoming familiar with equipment and tools needed to make art. When working with a simple and consistent tool, whose mechanics are easily mastered, the mind is free to explore vision and subject.

I am a champion of the Holga and other simple, plastic or toy cameras. I believe that working with something that isn't complex frees photographers in many ways. They can spend more time hunting for subjects, and not reading manuals and pushing buttons. People are more intrigued by and comfortable being photographed with a toy than with something that oozes a big price tag. The photographer can also be freer in not worrying about damage to gear or batteries dying. Once film is exposed, the darkroom process may be wet and smelly and messy, but it is consistent over time, and allows for exploration of the image. Digital photography has many advantages, but the photographer is forced to play a constant game of learning new equipment and software, and must find a way to earn the money to keep up with these. All this takes away from a deepening of photographic vision, and a mastery of the art of photography. Only by learning both darkroom and digital can a budding photographer truly be taught the art and craft of photography, to make their own choices about their tools down the road.

Michelle Bates
Michelle Bates is one of the country's best known Holga photographers. She loves sharing her knowledge through workshops and lectures, and has done so at Maine Media Workshops, International Center of Photography, Julia Dean Workshops, SF Camerawork, Photographic Center Northwest, and many others. Her book, "Plastic Cameras: Toying with Creativity," was published in 2006 by Focal Press.