Where oh where do the students go?
This is aimed primarily at the students enrolled in photography courses. After reading some of the posts in Karen's intro, I started thinking about comments I had heard from Ryan, who is studying photography here at the U of A. At out last informal large format gathering, he had expressed his concerns about the direction taken at a university level degree in photography. Equipment was being poorly maintained, mistreated and the general state of image making was rather poor with respect to quality. "Conceptual photography" was emphasized, not photographic skill.
I'm wondering about the technical skills of the instructors at this level. Are they proficient in their ability to make a fine print in a wet darkroom? Is the mastery of materials an aid to a degree, or is it just something mentioned in passing? Are people being pushed to improve their skills, or just herded along to get a grade and then turned loose in the world?
With the advent of digital, I continue to hear that a wet darkroom is a thing of the past. Were is the emphasis now and what feelings are out there about this medium? I know this is a rather large question with too many answers, but I'm curious where the students in photographic studies see things headed. I'm sure a lot of the answers will be based on the individual instructor's abilities and whims, but what is going on? Thanks, tim
Just the words "Conceptual Photography" makes me want to vomit.
It was back in the late '70 when I finished my first University degree, a multi major one. Graphic Design, Photography, Printing and Publishing. I applied and was accepted to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA which was the best Art school in the World at the time. I had two degrees when I went there and was a combat veteran of the Vietnam war. What I experienced was "Conceptual Photography". Don't buy any equipment until you have a specific use for it. Don't buy any film until you know what you will shoot with it. Don't go out and shoot until you have a complete idea of what you will be imaging. Don't print until the negative has been inspected and checked off by a lab assistant. Don't wash the print until it has been checked off. Don't just take your print out of the wash, you must take all of the ones there at the same time, you name it you claim it. If someone beats you to it and your print is damaged, too bad start over and next time be there to take the print out first. Don't mount it until the print is approved to be mounted. Take it to class, on time or it's trash. The instructor then flips the board to see if the print pops off. If it does, your screwed. If it doesn't you may get a chance to be graded. This is not a joke either. Check the tuition and take a visit and you will see.
Then I when to Brooks Institute of Photography, what a fresh breath of air. It was great to be in the darkroom making a few mistakes and having some fun trying new things. Going out and just shooting without restraints. One assignment was to take an assigned block in town and go there and photograph what happened in a week. Then make a series of those images.
You have to have a great deal of Art History, History, Photo History, Real life - go to the galleries and see real photographs, along with travel and human interaction. This creates the drive to learn darkroom techniques.
My experience and my opinions.
Well said Curt,
I believe in the very near future the only students doing wet processes will be art students...many "commercial programs" are now totally digital....silver is now also alternative.
I'm not surprised that many photography degrees (or degrees that major in it) have moved rapidly to embrace digital. There are very few students who can afford to pursue a degree as a hobby - for most it's a means to and end: get a job in a field they are interested in. And what skills are in demand? It's no good us gnashing our teeth and wailing on here - we live in a commercial world where quality is readily sacrificed on the altar of profit. So it's digital that's in demand.
Originally Posted by Dave Wooten
Last edited by markbb; 01-11-2006 at 08:29 AM. Click to view previous post history.
I can only speak to my own experiences working at a College. Here, we have one darkroom left, from a total of four originally. As digital becomes more prevalent, the administration sees the costs and the low enrollment and removes programs that do no lead directly to graduates. Classes that are for personal gain are frowned upon, which is certainly unfortunate, but appears to be the way this particular college is going.
The other schools in the area are also moving to a digital world. Local high schools here still have wet darkrooms, but more and more they are being replaced with digital computer labs and fewer students come here with experience, or desire, to learn the wet darkroom. It is very disheartening to see.
As for instructors, we have high turnover due to low pay and adjunct-only positions. Without the possibility of tenure, most people who teach here are just passing through and have little motivation to fight the trends and save the darkroom. They seem to be more general arts and less photography-specific people.
On the up side, we do have one school locally that is very photographically oriented and does seem to make a very positive impact on its' students. One out of a dozen may not seem outstanding, but it sure beats none out of a dozen...
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Originally Posted by noseoil
I think it's best for you to make connections with the outside world while you're in school and try to see what the benefits are that you're having right now. And then decide what you want to do when you get out.
Schools are nothing more than being institutions of providing materials. If you want to be a shooter, you go out or stay in your studio and shoot what you want to shoot. If you want to be a good printer, you need a lab/darkroom you have total control of.
There can be many choices, but it's up to you to decide which one you want and how you start to live with it. And ultimately you will be teaching yourself.
In my town, there are a couple of photography schools available to those so inclined. I own one of them. PrairieView School of Photography is a private vocational institution with 16 full time students and about 650 part time evening/weekend registrants (mainly hobby type courses). Our full time program is geared towards those that intend to enter the photographic industry in some capacity or other. Traditional darkroom techniques are a core part of the program and will be as long as the buck stops with me.
Like Ilford, I have thrown down the "last man standing" guantlet with regards to black and white and traditional photo techniques. Of course our students are trained on the latest greatest (obsolete next week) digital gear for which we pay dearly each time we "upgrade' (our enlargers are due for an upgrade in the summer of 2086). They shoot a lot of digital and do a lot of photoshop work since, as a vocational institution, our goal is to train them to work in the industry...and as the industry goes, so does our curriculum. However, it is my belief that the traditional techniques, taught by experts (all of my teachers are working professional photographers/artists/computer geeks) represent the best foundation upon which to build a photography skill set. So our students are in the darkroom at least twice a week for classes and have access to it for most of the other days to complete assignements. All of our students shoot film for many of the assignements, all will have some training on medium and large format cameras. We even offer optional units on alt photo techniques.
It is great to observe that the (mostly) youngish people in the class truly love the darkroom and tradtional techniques. Computers to them are everyday objects....things they have grown up with. There is no real razzle dazzle involved in digital imaging for them. Oh, they like it alright...it is cool, fun etc, etc. but it is no mystery. Nor is it the evil beast. It just is. They take to it like a duck to water and produce good work (the teachers really like the instant feedback). The darkroom and vintage cameras however are cool with a capital C for many of them (and for most of our teachers too). It warms my heart to see a 20 something student walking around with an Olympus Trip 35mm rangefinder he picked up at for a few bucks, loaded with HP5 shooting whatever floats his boat.
There is a "fine art" program available at a local university. From what I understand, and from the work I have seen produced by graduates, the program is similar to other university fine art programs. The school tends to produce some fairly good artists with so-so technical skills. Like many (most) other university programs they have a large (40 inch?) colour processor, so naturally 90% of what students produce is super huge colour prints no matter what the subject. Dick Arentz once told me that in many universities the mantra for a good photo was "make it BIG and make it RED"! I am not sure how a tradtional black and white print would go over in the program.
Like much of the work I have seen of young fine art students in recent years, the subject matter usually involves:
1. Urban decay/sprawl and other assorted evils of mankind or
2. The student's own tortured life/sexual indentity and other assorted evils of mankind.
But it looks like traditional (colour) printing is alive and well at the university for now...they have a really big machine to pay off I guess. I am not sure of the status of their digital program at this point but I am would not be surprised to find out that they are working on ways of getting really big, red prints about the various evils of mankind out of an inkjet printer of somesort.
(tongue firmly in cheek folks....some of the teachers in the univeristy program are absolutely top-knotch...and they really have produced some excellent artists.)
Schools have to make money like any business. Running a department requires a minimum of students. Most technical or local colleges have photo programs to give someone a career as a professional photographer. The reality is that 99% of professional jobs now require digital in some form or another. If schools want to have the program and draw students they have to go digital. Budgets usually do not allow for both analog and digital. Here locally at one of the community colleges the big impetus to go digital was when the realized they could use the same computer lab for digital photography and tear out the wet darkroom space for other uses. You can still shoot film for classes, but it has to be 35mm and is scanned after being commercially processed for printing on inkjets.
You may have a handfull of art or graphic design colleges that will have a wet darkroom in the future, but I bet by the end of the decade you will not find any analog facilites in any local or state funded college or university. It just does not make economic sense for them. A sad state of affairs, but reality all the same.
If analog can survive the loss of this base of support for products is yet to be determined. As schools eliminate programs, that removes a huge source of gauranteed sales for someone like Ilford. Even if a student never bought another roll of film after the class, there was always the "next" class to buy a semesters worth of film and paper.
As far as "where do the students go"?, if you mean where will they learn traditional methods if that is there choice, it will not be at the college level, unless they go to a specific art and design school that still offers analog.
The only other route will be to seek the help of a local practioner of analog or join a club or co-operative that has a similar interest. There are workshops of course but they are not geared towards beginners needing to learn fundamentals. Locally it would be great to have a space somewhere with a 2 or three enlarger darkroom and a room for a small gallery where I could offer courses. This may be one of the few models that provide learning opportunites.
"Fundamentally I think we need to rediscover a non-ironic world"
Now to start with, I'm not enrolled in a school of Photography, nor am I a Photography major. I'm actually a business major at a liberal arts school. With that said being the vice president and equipment manager of the college photography club, I think I have some experience with the topic at hand.
Our photography club is about 20 to 25 students with about 7 or so that are really active with the group. We have a fairly good darkroom in terms of basic equipment and we can process black and white 110, 35mm, 127 and 120. While I have processed every one of those formats with varieties of emulsions, about 90% of the club deals with one film and one developer (TriX 400 and HC-110) There is one other student that I know of who uses 120 in his Mamiya TLR but most members of the club have 35mm SLRs.
In terms of printing, we have stocks of Ilford Multigrade in 5x7 format. Unfortunately due to the rising costs of paper and the way the kids went through it, we've had to abandon 8x10 printing altogether and leave that up to the individual to purchase.
Our budget is nearly nil at the moment. I have suggested over the last year that we explore more into trying new films and new developers but the answer always comes down to a lack of money. I am exploring them on my own and hopefully when I graduate next year I'll be able to have my own darkroom, at least for processing film. Printing I can always take to the lab or do it the other way.
The other sad thing is when some of the new students come in and they have their new P&S digicam and kind of scoff at traditional darkroom as too borring. While I admit I hate making prints (our safelight makes the darkroom at least 90 degrees) I do love processing my own film and going through negatives on a light box.
Digital is unfortunately becoming a part of the club. When I first joined it was sort of shunned upon and now we actively make it more a part of the club. Unfortunately to me Photoshop and digital snapshotting is not really what the club is about.
Of course what I'd really like to have the club do is make pinhole cameras, maybe even work with a view camera, some alternate process stuff and basically more chemistry. I'm sure that might attract some Chem students. Actually the head Chem professor and I have talked quite a bit on various films, developers, etc.
As far as the black and white photography class we have on campus, it's fair to good I'd say. Composition is stressed above all, obviously, but general darkroom skills are what is taught. Filters on the enlargers are barely mentioned, using different emulsions/developers/papers etc. is never even touched.
There is a thread related to this on LL on this just very recently. It was started by a student who wanted to know what film camera he should buy for his basic photography class in his college. He said his prof insisted everyone get a film camera to learn photography.
As you can imagine, instead of anyone giving him advice on what camera to get, everyone instead told him he should write a letter demanding that the school 'get out of the dark ages', that the teacher was probably not worth being a teacher if he didn't know digital, that the school in question should be avoided and blacklisted because it didn't teach digital, etc....
We're dealing with this kind of world people. Sad.