Talking with a teenager about to enter high school, I was excited to hear he was signed up for his first photography class. His face lit up as he described the digital possibilities, then it clouded over suddenly. "But we have to spend the first part of the year learning to use film." He viewed this as an impediment to his progress. "No,no!" I replied a bit too enthusiastically. "This is fabulous! You can't really understand photography without having the hands-on experience of using a camera with film and producing your own prints." He remained skeptical but listened politely, and I thought a lot about our conversation afterwards. So many people now—and not only younger people—rely on their heads and their screens to process everything from friendship to art. In a world that is so virtual, I worry about the loss of the actual, and especially the loss of knowledge gained through the hands. The brain is wired to respond to the hand, to make connections that originate in the fingertips (and not just the thumbs). And though we tend not to think of it as a manual skill anymore, photography is a discipline that needs a grasp of the physical to comprehend its physics. The basis of photography isn't frame and form, although those are essential, it's light—the perception and control of light as it passes onto film or sensor. I can easily teach the concept of shutter speed and aperture—the means of controlling light—by taking apart my big old Hasselblad and having a student peer through the open back into the lens. The closing "petals" of the aperture and the satisfying "clunk" of the shutter create an “aha” moment, as the capture of light becomes tangible. Developing film and prints in the darkroom shows the effect of chemistry in creating tone, and connects us to the history of photography—from the early 19th century experiments of Niépce, Fox-Talbot, and Daguerre, who tested chemical solutions to find a way to "paint" with light, to the miracle of polaroid, the first "instant" color images. In photography school, I loved hanging out in the absolute dark to wind film onto developing reels; it was a calming activity, like meditation (though I would never have called it that). Fellow students would ask me to load their film because I was good at getting just the right curve into the plastic so the film would sit smoothly in the grooves. It's amazing how digital technology has extended the ease of use, the control, and the visual possibilities of photography into areas I never dreamed of in my darkroom days. But I still miss handling materials in the dark, letting images reveal themselves in the developer, and emerging into the light with glossy, wet prints held gingerly between my fingertips.