. . .personal skills are being inexorably replaced by the endless mechanical opportunities of the computer which provide for an infinity of attempts and failures (monkeys, typewriters and William S. come to mind). I thought myself a pretty hot printer in my day; now, I realise that what I did with my eye and moving fingers has been replaced by a mechanoical process with no soul or imagination, just the ability to go on endlesly until that moment of perfectly sterile perfection of not a lot. Hell, even the joy in the picture at the end is vanishing, lost to that sense of depleted personal input.
Rob, It sounds as if you're saying a good photograph can only come from hard work in the darkroom. To me, a photograph either succeeds or fails at the moment the shutter trips. Everything after that is grunt work, and the computer cuts down on both the difficulty and the tedium of the grunt work.
But I'll confess there was tactile satisfaction in working with wet paper in my hands and watching a print come up under gentle agitation. I think the loss of that satisfaction is mainly what people who are unsatisfied with computer processing are mourning. I miss it too, but I wouldn't go back to it on a bet.
I know that you and Walter both believe it's not possible to produce a print on a digital printer that's the equal of a good gelatin-silver print, but if both kinds of print are equally well done I just can't see any difference. In B&W I don't think a digital print can beat a gelatin-silver print, but I do think it can equal it. In color, to me at least, there's no comparison. Today's advanced printers and inks can beat gelatin-silver-dye color prints hands down, and of course their longevity is an order of magnitude greater.
I certainly agree that "perfectly sterile perfection of "not a lot" is overtaking every branch of art -- not just photography, but I don't blame digital techniques. I blame the people who are producing "not a lot." Were we still depending on gelatin-silver the same people who are using digital would be producing "not a lot." It's a problem with the culture, not the tools.