Anyone who has spent time in a darkroom knows that smell.
Developer. Fixer. Stop.
Acidic with a hint of sweetness. And plastic. And something else that you could almost taste; it grabbed at the back of the throat.
What happened in the darkroom was black arts. Knowing the arts, knowing their power and methods, separated the snapshot from the art shot. That's not to say what happened in the camera wasn't important, but the darkroom was where the magic occurred. There the idea manifests and is manipulated in ways that drugstore chemists could not replicate.
I haven't been in a darkroom for something north of twenty years. For a few years I paid professionals to work on my negatives. Then I lost touch with all things photographic. By the time I returned in earnest the whole digital thing was emerging. First with photo CDs; later digital cameras.
Digital cameras changed everything. Not only did their tiny computers make pictures better but you could ride the learning curve at a tremendous pace by snapping and learning and deleting and snapping again. And then digital editing software changed everything again by making it easy to apply the black arts. Picasa made everyone a wizard.
Racing up learning curves and free wizardry. What's left of the magic and art of photography? Can anyone make a great photo? Is photography diminished?
Maybe we're right back at the beginning; back at the fundamentals. Visualization. Composition. Technique. Sure a thousand monkeys could take a couple of good shots given enough time, but you gotta understand the basics, either intellectually or instinctively, to make a good shot; or be lucky.
Perhaps what the digital revolution has done more than anything is to make the art of photography more accessible. What blogging has done for writers the digital image has done for artists. It's now easier to make one's own art.
That doesn't mean it will be good art, but it will be one's own.