Intro to Digital Studio
January 18, 2018
Darkroom to Digital
The most obvious difference between darkroom photography and digital process is that one is strictly physical and one is strictly digital. In Philip Gefter’s essay “Icons as Fact, Fiction, and Metaphor,” the implication is that photography is widely regarded as truth, as it’s the closest we can get to actually being in a place or time without, in fact, being in that place or time. However, Gefter’s entire essay goes on to debate the importance of truth in photography, an argument that relates to the divide between darkroom photography. Just as Gefter wonders if a photo being arranged or set up somehow dilutes its truthfulness, many often view the digital process as a more diluted, and more untruthful, version of the darkroom.
People are often fascinated by being fooled, and they go to Ripley’s Believe It or Not museums and magic shows to prove it. However, most would not appreciate the idea that we like to be fooled by photographs, too. Rather, we want the full truth from them. The connotation with the digital process is that manipulation and alteration are made that much easier by simple technology, from Photoshop to Instagram filters. What people fail to realize is that as they edit their photos, just slightly, to put the best version of it they possibly can forward, they are using the digital process, the same one that so many think of as less authentic.
The common misconception is that people did not edit their photos in the darkroom, and that they were the purest form of a moment that it could be. However, darkrooms were for more than just developing photos. People cut, arranged, and manipulated photos there, just as they do now. This shows that the assumptions regarding the drastic differences in the truthfulness of photos are entirely incorrect, as photography has always been about making a good composition. On the other hand, do we want a good composition, or do we want unadulterated and unfiltered truth in our photographs?
The actual changes between the darkroom and the digital process is simply in the execution. The darkroom took expansive amounts of time for developing and editing; digital processes can take seconds to do simple tasks. The digital process also offers much more flexibility and ability to be edited within a single photo, accessing technology that simply did not exist in the era of the darkrooms. With the touch of a button, the click of a mouse, there are an unlimited amount of combinations that we can use to edit our photos to match our vision, and to portray what we want them to.
The darkroom and the digital process are different, yes, but the two are undoubtedly intertwined as separate means of giving us the same outcome: a photograph that we enjoy and appreciate. The debate over truthfulness is a separate one than that of the difference between the darkroom and the digital process. There is no doubt that the two were, and are, both used to edit a photo, and people like Gefter will always wonder whether that detracts from the authenticity of a photo or not.