Darkrooms fade to black at King's, Dal

University darkrooms closing in the face of digital photography

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Michael Creagen, a professional photographer and photojournalism instructor, uses his digital camera for work, but still loves taking classic Polaroid instant pictures at home. (Photo: Heather McGuire)

The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Dalhousie University and the University of King's College have darkroom facilities. Each has a different purpose - NSCAD's for classes and workshops, Dalhousie's for its architecture program and King's for its visual art society.

Digital cameras have changed the face of photography. Few people develop their own photographs anymore. Darkroom time has now been replaced with computer time. This switch has closed many darkrooms.

The darkroom at Dalhousie was operational until last year. Ken Kam, who works as a photographer for Dalhousie, tried to hang on to the facilities as long as he could. He did not want it to close.

The darkroom at King's is still functional but not in operation. Students must create a society and apply for ratification in order to run it and teach others how to use the equipment and chemicals. Until then, the doors remain closed to students.

NSCAD, on the other hand, will continue to offer well-maintained facilities to its students.

"As an art institution NSCAD provides an opportunity to explore many technologies and techniques relating to the experience of capturing and creating an image," says Chris Nielson, head of photographic services.

Film a dying medium

Michael Creagen, who teaches photojournalism at King's, has been taking photos for 30 years and made the switch from film to digital in 2002. Since he earns most of his living as a freelance photographer, adapting to the new technology was the only way he could survive in the business. Peoplewanted their pictures hours after they were taken, and this has changed the face of hard news.

"To be able to transmit photographs from any place in the world where there is Internet or mobile access is simply irreplaceable," says Fred Lum, staff photojournalist for the Globe and Mail.

Creagen says film is a dying medium.

"The only people who are really doing it now are art photographers. Eventually there will be no support system for the chemicals and paper; they are just going to disappear from a lack of market," says Creagen. "Giant corporations aren't going to produce these things if they aren't making money. That is what happened to Polaroid. So I think film is something that will eventually just disappear."

Polaroid bounces back

According to its financial records, Polaroid filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001. It has since made a comeback by selling a new instant camera with new instant film.

Creagen loves taking Polaroid pictures with his children. He also believes it takes a lot more technical skill to shoot on film, using proper shutter speeds and aperture settings.

"That was the main reason people needed photographers decades ago, because they were not able to do the technical things themselves," says Creagen.

"A lot of people these days think they can take pictures, but getting an image on film is not the same as getting a good photo," he explains. The qualities of the photographs are different.

Deciding between film or digital comes down to the photographer and the client. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Darkrooms and film will stay alive as long as the tradition and skills are taught.

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