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Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Photography Classroom

Amid changing technology and an increasingly difficult business environment, schools and teachers who are training tomorrow’s pros have their work cut out for them as they struggle to push forward while creating a foundation built upon the past

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Says Gratton, “Speaking from the perspective of teaching digitally, you have a much better appreciation for what you can do with programs like Lightroom or Photoshop when you understand what you can do in a darkroom.”

When students understand the whole process of analog photography and start to previsualize and appropriately create an image on film, the transition to digital photography builds on a foundation of solid photographic theory. The student then can use digital tools to make already good work great.

Yet continuing to educate students with film presents its own challenges. Analog materials are getting increasingly harder to find, from spare parts for enlargers to varied films, papers and chemistry. Students in some states might have to send transparency film across the country to get it developed, where even two or three years ago most cities still had photo labs that could handle the processing. It’s also unrealistic for a photo program to expect a student to invest in all the necessary film equipment, only to turn around in a few semesters and replace it all with digital gear. To find that balance, a program director must take into consideration not only the educational needs of students, but pragmatic and financial ones, as well.

As if these conflicting interests weren’t difficult enough, the third challenge for modern photographic educators is presenting students with the best introduction to the immediate, modern workforce. Although this concept walks hand in hand with looking forward, there’s a more pressing need to do the best by students in the here and now. The industry continues to change very quickly, and educators can look forward to what the trends seem to be and where things seem to be going, but they have a responsibility to offer students the best possible education in the moment. The problem is, at this point in time, the purpose and expectations of established photographers are shifting, as well.

As Gratton travels around the country and meets with educators, he also works with industry professionals, giving him a front-row seat to the changing demands on the photographer. “It used to be really clear what was expected of us and what we were producing as final products,” he explains, “and now there’s so many different possibilities with what we can do with it and so many different places where our images can end up.”

With the introduction of video capabilities into DSLRs, photographers are no longer expected to just create still images. Admits Gratton, “Figuring out what the role of the photographer is, and what the final product is that they are expected to produce, is a challenge in today’s world.”

Yet educators are up to the challenge, expanding programs, changing curriculum and trying to answer these elusive questions for themselves as well as for the students.

In the case of Brooks Institute, Litschel explains, “Today, not only is digital still capture and video capture the heart of the curriculum, but the expansion of knowledge to include digital workflow, asset management, audio, required websites, the knowledge of all aspects of multimedia and a high level of business savvy is expected of graduates.”

Each of these programs continues to evolve because each one earnestly wants to provide the best education for tomorrow’s photographers. At all levels of education—universities, community colleges, trade schools and art schools—the game is changing more rapidly and with greater impact than merely the shift from film to digital. Sometimes the change is best expressed as an inclusion of more techniques, approaches and knowledge.

“As little as a year or two ago, a lot of these schools still thought that they had to do either film or digital,” Gratton acknowledges. “They have finally come to the realization that you can still do both.”

And perhaps they all should. Modern photographic educators have to understand not only the needs of the photo industry, but also the needs of the photo student—and how to make him or her a photo professional. The two are intertwined, yet also separate, and it’s the job of the photo educator to see where we’re going, remember where we’ve been, understand where we are and communicate that knowledge in today’s classrooms.

Amanda Quintenz-Fiedler is a writer, photographer and educator living in Southern California. See her photography at www.amandaquintenz.com.


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