Change in Digital Technology Brings End for Color Processor

Like many institutions, Light Work has been debating the next steps for our darkrooms and digital labs. As a creative space for artists working in photography and related media, we have always listened to the need of our artists. We have made our best decisions by paying close attention to the ever changing needs of the photographers working in our public access facilities. Back in the early Eighties, Light Work decided to set up its first computer lab (with Amiga computers), when artists started coming to our Artist-in-Residence Program with projects that they were hand-programming into computers. Then, it was the artists, who showed us what all could be done with this emerging technology. By now much has changed. Gone are the days when computer art was a fringe art— raw and experimental. But we are also past the second wave of artists, who would come to us full of questions on how to get started with their first digital prints. Now we work mostly with artists who may or may not still be shooting with film, but all of whom want to print digitally. Some of them are still printing edition prints on Lambda printers using the color process, but almost none still hand-print color prints. In fact, the last pool of over 250 applications for the Light Work AIR Program not a single photographer requested to work on the color printer. So clearly it is time to rethink.

In the past we were decided to hold on to the color processor as long as possible. Enter “photography artist residency” and “color processor” in just about any search engine, and the search results lead directly to Light Work’s AIR program. But those days are coming to an end. Based on input by many different artists and the changing trend in artists needs, we have decided that the time is drawing near to say good-bye to our color processor. We have seen stunning prints roll off our Hope processor, and the technology served us well for decades. But the future clearly lies with the digital processes. Light Work’s digital lab, under the knowledgeable leadership of Digital Lab Manager John Mannion, is bursting at the seams in its section of Community Darkrooms. Meanwhile the color processor is only infrequently in use and most individual color darkrooms are collecting dust.

For those of you still printing black-and-white, rest assure that we will keep those wet labs going. The artist interest for black-and-white has held steady. For those of you working in digital or wanting to work in digital, keep an eye on our programs. We plan to expand workstation environments with Imacon film scanners, top-of-the-line computers, and viewing stations to our facilities. Printing exhibition-ready digital prints with Community Darkrooms will be easier than ever once we have reworked our space. Are we sad about the impending loss of our processor? A little. But the future for artists is brighter than ever. We keep seeing work like the photographs by Ben Gest that reinvent what is now possible through digital processes.

A few years ago, Christopher Secor curated the exhibition Digital Transitions from photographs in the Light Work Collection. The exhibition examined the changes in digital photography by looking at the work completed by Light Work’s Artists-in-Residence between 1990 and 2005. Secor describes, “The exhibition provides an enticing glimpse at digital photography’s young history as we look at these works and consider the digital transition taking place, with new technologies redefining what photography may become in the near and distant future.” As more and more artist work spaces are having to make similar decisions as Light Work has, we are already standing firmly in tthis time of change. We are ready, and we are looking forward to what is ahead.

(images: (left) Terry Gips, In the Forest, 1990,  (right) Ben Gest, Jessica and her Jewelry, 2005)

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