The lights go out for the last time in the photo lab

(Courtney Zupanski)

Katie Widner

Starting fall semester 2009, the lights will forever go out on the Saddleback College darkroom.

The college has decided to terminate its analog photography class, and over the summer plans to demolish the Special Annex building where the photography lab is currently located. The decision was made in a combined response to the building’s age and the medium’s growing transition to digital devices.

“I don’t want to see it end; it’s a sad thing,” said Senior Photography Lab Technician Ken Kinder. “The building is old. They will be knocking it down and removing it.”

Film photography became known as analog photography when digital cameras were introduced to consumers. The difference between digital photography and analog photography is instant gratification. Analog film requires you to go through the process of developing the film before seeing the final product. Digital photography requires you to press the display button. It’s instant.

Kinder said he plans to build his own darkroom. In his view, both digital and analog photography coincide rather than replace each other.

This point is echoed by enrollment statistics. Close to half of the 840 Saddleback students who enroll in photography courses every year are interested in the traditional film and chemical process said Ron Leighton, communication arts and photography instructor.

“I have mixed feelings about this change,” said Leighton. “The traditional darkroom has been the standard for so long, and is revered by everyone who has set foot in it.”

The idea of copying a visual image to something tangible called a photograph was conceptualized in the late 1800s. The task of creating a picture out of film was nonetheless painstaking.

“In the very near future, all colleges will switch to mainly digital photographic labs,” said Leighton.

As digital cameras become progressively smaller, clearer, and hassle-free, students are able to depend more and more on their computer skills rather than their photography skills. Programs like Adobe Photoshop help to modify pictures the way you would in darkroom, as well as modify them in a new and extreme way.

“Digital photography is also more precise, flexible, and user friendly than the wet lab,” said Photography Instructor Bill Agee. “It is so much easier to be creative and productive with the digital tools compared to the chemical lab.”

Agee started teaching photography at Saddleback in the 1980s when there was a small but growing photography program. He gave up analog photography professionally five years ago, and is personally happy to see the change in the curriculum.

Budding photographers who wish to pursue the analog method of developing film with the use of a darkroom can still attend and use the Irvine Valley College wet lab or look to specialized trades schools like The Art Institute in Santa Monica and the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara.

Ken Kinder, the technician, works with students and maintains the lab. (Courtney Zupanski)

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