Hello dark room, my old friend

Many aspects play into the field of photography that makes an image unique and well constructed. Between lighting, environment, subject and the type of camera that is used, any of these variables can make or break an image. All students at UAA that take photography classes learn about these elements that make an image and learn how to alter them to create their own style. The photography department offers classes starting at beginner levels, and progressing forward from there.

In the past, all photography classes at UAA have been primarily film based. Students learned the ropes of producing images through film, while digital imaging classes were saved for more advanced and serious photographers. However, there has recently been a shift in the program, all centering around the idea that digital photography is the primary way to produce images.

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The photo lab, located in the Fine Arts Building, isn't as packed on Friday nights as it used to be. Dedicated lab monitors still check to make sure the chemicals are regularly changed out. Photo credit: Young Kim

Deborah Tharp is the head of the photography department and has been teaching at UAA for 22 years. She has witnessed and been a part of the move from film to digital photography on campus and has had a strong voice in the decision making of where the photography program is heading.

“There was a time when digital cameras were way out of student’s price range. I knew we wouldn’t be able to go digital until the cameras became affordable, so when I saw students coming to class with the digital cameras, I knew the shift could be made,” Tharp said.

The photography program made the decision to go primarily digital within weeks before this fall semester began, and since then the feedback has been mostly all positive. Students now have the funds and capabilities of getting their hands on a digital camera, and the photography department has recognized that and decided to move forward with technology.

In the past, the beginning photography classes centered around film style photography and worked their way up to digital photography, which was a more advanced class. Now, the curriculum will work a little differently. Beginning photography classes will center around iPhone and digital cameras, and film style photography will be a class of its own, designed for students who want to really specialize in that area of photography.

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Joe Savageau works at UAA’s photography film labs and is a film expert. He monitors these labs on Friday nights, but has been doing this job and other things in the photography department for nearly four years now. He responded positively to the change, stating that it will benefit the program.

“The labs used to be a lot more packed every night because the only way students could finish their photo projects was at the labs. Now, Photoshop exists on computers, and they can pretty much do everything from home. I get one or two students that come to the open labs on Fridays, but never many more. I think making the classes digitally based is a good idea for the program,” Savageau said.

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The photography classrooms have already begun putting more computers and printers in their labs to provide the necessities that are required when shooting images on a digital camera. Beginning photographers will learn about online editing programs like Photoshop, Bridge and Lightroom in-class, and there will be less of a focus on developing film. Professors will also now discuss the details of printing images, not developing them.

“I knew it was time to make a change when my students began to care more about digital photography than film. There will always be the ones that choose to pursue film photography, which is why we don’t want to get rid of the option completely. The dark room will still be around for those who want to utilize it, but it will no longer be a primary focus,” Tharp said.

The field of photography is growing and changing constantly, like so many other programs at UAA. It is important for these programs to recognize when times and technology are progressing, and match the curriculum to that as well. Professors are working hard to produce classes that students want to take, and hope to only spark the interest of more potential photographers out there with the change from film to digital imaging.