On my ride home from the Maine Media workshops, where I was teaching a class in street photography, I reflected on everything that happened during the workshop. It was a great group of photographers, who grew as individuals AND supported each other as they went through the sometimes-difficult process of growing and changing. Many things that were said and/or done are potential seeds of blog entries. One difficult question that I heard from two different photographers is what I am writing about this week.
At the end of all of the one-week classes that I teach, I try to spend 15 minutes with each student, hoping to answer any last questions they have. Leading up to that point, I usually push the students to ask as many questions as they can in the classroom, in front of the group, because most of their questions touch on issues that everyone in the class would like to hear about. Still a few questions remain, that are usually specific to the individual photographers. I call those “meaning-of-life” questions because they usually address bigger issues, often something like what direction should the individual photographer take in their work or life?
During two of these so called “meaning-of-life” chats, two photographers asked me almost the same question, which went something like: “I love photography and I want to pursue it seriously, but I do not want to learn Photo-shop.” In separate conversations, they both said they had encountered peers, schools and teachers who insisted they had to learn and use Photo-shop to move forward as photographers.
I was surprised to hear this, then I started thinking about the question they raised and how it related to the class we had just finished. At the end of my pondering, I realized (and have since told them) that there was good news and bad news.
One photographer had been taking family photos for decades, but was only pursuing photography seriously for about a year. In that year he had come a long way, I should add. He was working digitally, using Lightroom for organizing and editing his work. He was proficient in Lightroom and was improving his software skills regularly. Still he emphatically had NO interest in learning Photo-shop. Lightroom served his needs perfectly. Since most of what he loved to do was street photography, he wanted a digital imaging technology that easily allowed him to make his RAW files into final TFFs or JPGs for printing, sharing, etc. The localized changes capability of Lightroom was all he needed.
With that in mind, I told him that he certainly did not need to learn Photo-shop. He could already make good prints via Lightroom. He would only get better as a printer if he studied printing as carefully as he had studied Lightroom. I told him to go back to the workshop staff that had insisted he learn Photo-shop in order to take advanced classes and ask EXACTLY why did he need to know Photo-shop? I hope that what they meant was he needed to be able to make TFFs or JPGs from his RAW files, which he already can do.
One irony is that Lightroom was built as a tool for professionals who want to edit and process many images with little or no manipulation. It is becoming more and more popular among aspiring photographers. If photographic educators insist that all students learn Photo-shop, a vast array of photographers will be marginalized for no good reason. Clearly, students coming out of college photography programs will improve their career prospects by learning Photo-shop. But other photographers are primarily interested in making unaltered images based on what is in front of their cameras. They are an important part of the world of photography and should not be neglected. Lightroom seems to me to be the good news for people like that.
The bad news came out of a conversation with the other student, who wanted to only work with film-based photography. While conventional film and the camera to use that are still being manufactured, the film and camera manufacturers are no longer bringing out new and improved products. In fact most of the technology involving film-based capture was in essence “parked” a few years ago and is unlikely to move forward ever again.
The photographer I was speaking with has a fairly new film camera. He has been photographing for quite a while, making interesting and aesthetically “quiet” images. He used film during the class and in some ways he had the most relaxed week of anyone. Yes, he was paying someone else to process his film. Still, he would drop his film off and then relax while the other students had to put in long nights editing, after long days of photographing.
With digital imaging we are now essentially the photo-finishing lab that does the processing, which is a good and bad thing. The good side is the control we now have and the reduced costs. The bad side is the extra hours spent downloading, editing and organizing the digital images.
He asked me about workshops that were solely for film based photographers and I had to admit the options are few. There are some workshops focusing on film-based capture, but I suspect those are mostly for photographers using large format cameras and sheet film. I understood and respected his choices, but I had to tell him that I fear his choices are limited. He may be slowly “frozen out” of photography, which is very unfortunate and not just for him.
The collective universe of photography is an enormous, swirling cauldron of images, ideas, personalities and technologies. The scale of it can sometime be daunting. But we should not exclude people like the two photographers who want to work outside of the Photo-shop centered mainstream. If we do exclude them, we will be narrowing the diversity of ideas and images that make the entire milieu of contemporary photography so interesting.