Back to the darkroom

“Digital images are inherently less interesting just because everyone does it,” said the 22-year-old photography student. He brushed some of the liquid on the wood, one step in developing photos using platinum, a technique that was last widely used before World War I.

“When someone sees something like this, it’ll hold their attention longer because it catches them off-guard,” Willie Wenzlau said.

Wenzlau is voicing an interest growing in recent years from students wanting to learn traditional analogue photography techniques. Wenzlau is part of the Southern California’s Art Center’s efforts to plan a potential graduate photography degree, in part by taking a step back to the future, as the LA Times discusses:

“The Pasadena school began offering elective courses in these old-fashioned techniques about two years ago, hoping that students would get a better grasp of photography history while also mastering methods that will help them stand out in a field where everyone with a phone can be a photographer. Students are using boxy Ansel Adams-style cameras mounted on tripods, developing photos with antique processes and spending more time in the film darkroom.

“Earlier this year, the school received a $75,000 grant from the Annenberg Foundation to study the ways that the photography and imaging department could change to fit the digital age. Administrators looked backward instead, and found that learning the basics will only help the new photographers. The course electives have been so successful that they plan to incorporate more traditional methods into their graduate courses, which could begin in several years.

“We want to build a graduate program on top of firm foundations,” said Dennis Keeley, the department’s chair.

“The Art Center, located near the Rose Bowl, has produced alumni such as film director Zack Snyder and one of the advertisers behind the “Got Milk?” ad campaign, but the majority of undergraduates major in illustration. The four-year school costs undergraduate students about $18,000 per term in tuition, school officials said.

“It’s not unusual for art schools to offer classes in antique processes. The Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore has long had classes in Van Dyke printing, a process that involves ferric ammonium citrate and tartaric acid, among other old-fashioned methods, said Lynn Silverman, a professor.”


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