Film may not be dead, but I am worried about the darkroom.

I’ve heard comments from several serious (and some well-known) photographers who’ve finally given up film, even after holding on for years past the digital transition.  Coupled with this is the admission by others that they are shooting less and less film and foresee the day not too far off when they will give it up altogether.

The times, they are a-changin’.

In early 2018, a well-known blog presented a collection of 13 black and white photos selected from hundreds (or thousands) that had been submitted.  Thirteen.  All outstanding photographs worthy of inclusion.  Only one was shot on film and printed in the darkroom!  1 of 13!

Yet, film sales are growing.  Perhaps not among seasoned photographers – those of us that “did” film for decades because that was simply the way photography worked.  There is a whole new generation of “new” film shooters.  I know several of them, as there is an active and growing community in my area.  The Ilford dealer in Dallas has reported sales increases for a few years now.

While film sales numbers are up, new darkrooms may not be.  It’s a paradox.  This community of newer film shooters I know of are generally not printers (in either medium).  They scan, if anything.  And even if they scan their negatives, few are printed.  They get shown electronically, same as most digital images.

I teach darkroom at the Dallas Center for Photography.  We have a hard time filling up the classes.  In spite of the “interest” always expressed online when classes are mentioned, very few people will offer up the money to actually pay for instruction.

I’m not saying I don’t get it entirely.  And I understand as well as anyone that having a darkroom is a matter more of real estate than equipment or skill.  In the film-only days, one would be much more likely to dedicate space to a darkroom because there was little choice other than sending work out to be printed by a lab.  Now, fewer will make that investment in space.

I have no answers, only questions.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe my sample is skewed.  Sadly, maybe I’m right.

If you are contemplating a darkroom build, see the next essay, “Do you need a darkroom?”