In a way, a darkroom is just rough industrial age computer, one that uses chemicals instead of code. Both are machines, tools that let us resolve and visualize captured data. Isn’t this what Eastman hinted at, with the old “you press the button” ad campaign?
Darkrooms do have a romanic physicality about them, but so can digital darkrooms. I grew up with computers and coding, writing drawing programs on an Apple II back in the late 70s, so that process of manipulating code to create art is quite natural and “physical” to me. Computers grant me me a very direct and even intimate connection to the light I captured.
I think the familiarity with the machine is what transforms it from a black box into an artistic tool. A darkroom is just as mysterious and artificial as a computer, if all you see it the red light on the outside. But once you walk in the door and pour the chemicals, or boot up the machine and manipulate the code, it changes from a simply machine into a expressive tool.
(Inspired by a conversation at The Online Photographer.)