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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Future Perfect - The Lab In The Digital Age

Once thought to be on the verge of a dodo-like extinction, labs have made a strong comeback as they gear up to serve photographers' digital needs

Future PerfectCommunity Cooperation

There's a movement to bring humanity back into the photography field. “After digital photographers shoot, the photographers go home, stick their head in a computer and don't talk to anybody for two days,” laments DigitalFusion. “It has really taken the community out of it.”

The building that DigitalFusion is in the process of furnishing has 2,000 feet dedicated to an open floor design. This central area can be utilized as a promotional space, an educational forum, a lecture hall, a gallery and a meeting space.

Baldev Duggal's behemoth 4,500-square-foot gallery is aimed at fostering a similar sort of community for the artist, dedicating all profits directly to the photographer or funding benefits such as the Breast Cancer Research Foundation or the American Red Cross. Says Duggal, “My job is not to just make prints. I changed the name of the company from Duggal Color Projects to Duggal Visual Solutions because that's what we're about. We want to understand what the client is trying to do and then come up with an idea that the client may not have thought about. To me, a work of art isn't just a client walking in; it's something you create with them. It's a partnership with the artist.”

What these companies are trying to do, really, is bring back the open exchange of ideas that has been lost to the intimacy of computer work. And where better to have the people and the cameras and the computers come together than in the place where the finished project is born.

The Future Of The Future, Or Back To The Future?

Duggal finds himself at a period of introspection for his own life and his company's. “I've been fortunate enough,” he says. “It's time to give something back.

He's currently developing a new division of his company, a whole arm dedicated to environmental progress and energy conservation in the lab. “I have some fantastic products coming up that will save energy and create more impact. Creating more with less—that's my mantra going into the future.”

Future Perfect DigitalFusion has its own concerns for the future—the “black hole” of photography looming in the distance. Because of extreme format variance, many of the images we capture today may not be easily readable later. The RAW file of today may be the Beta tapes of tomorrow. And the nascent shots of the digital age, taken during an era of experimentation, are even now beginning to show signs of image corruption.

It's rare for the future to happen in the lightning-quick manner that people expect. Rather, the future is a gradual shuffle, and once you're there, you can turn around, look back and see all the advancement you've actually made.

Looking back, there's no question that digital is the future. Yet nothing is really new. The tools used are all digital, and the possibilities are so much more than ever could have been imagined, but the workflow of the photographer remains the same.

Duggal says it best: “We combine the technology of tomorrow with the craftsmanship of yesterday to create a balance between art and science.”

DigitalFusion sums it up like this: “The lab is transitioning into something that's new, a new kind of lab that has to arise out of this, because it's new equipment, new people, new management, new everything. That being said, we want to circle back to what we know was profitable and what was valuable in the lab business throughout the last century.”




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