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The Importance of the Darkroom In Photographic Education

By: Huntington Witherill

The importance of continuing education in traditional black and white, conventional darkroom based photography processes can not be overemphasized. The advent of digital approaches to the medium should not be considered as a replacement for what is acknowledged to be the historically important and conceptually vital basis of a well-rounded photographic education.

As a working photographer approaching nearly forty years experience, and who now uses predominantly digital methods, I can not overemphasize the importance of my initial training in the more conventional approaches to black and white photography. There is simply no substitute for what I refer to as my "classical" training in the art and craft of photography.

By way of explanation I offer a comparative axiom which is both well understood and accepted within the related (but distinctly different) field of fine art music. It is widely understood and acknowledged that the greatest jazz musicians throughout the history of the medium (to include those working today) remain those individuals who had received extensive training in classical music prior to having adopted a more contemporary approach to the medium.

To stick with the analogy, it is my firm belief that I would not have been able to achieve success with my contemporary approach to photography (the digital approach) without having previously had the benefit of a well-rounded education in the classical approach to the medium.

Of course, education based upon digital approaches to photography can be of great value and importance to any photographer in today's high-tech world. And I do recommend that anyone aspiring to become a working professional photographer will need to have at least a modicum of training and education in the digital approach. Yet, absent a well-rounded classical training which precedes the implementation of the more contemporary approach, the idea of replacing conventional training with digital training would be akin to putting the cart before the horse. Or worse yet, eliminating the horse entirely!

Huntington Witherill
Mr. Huntington Witherill, of Monterey, California, is a fine art photographer/printer who in recent years has forged important links between chemical based and digital photography. He has studied under such notables as Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock, Steve Crouch and Al Weber. He was the recipient of the Artist of the Year award, presented by the Center for Photographic Art. Mr. Witherill has continued to teach photography for a variety of institutions and workshop programs throughout the US, including the University of California, The Friends of Photography, and The Ansel Adams Gallery.