Photography as an evolving medium

For at least the last 28 years the basic photo course, ART150, has remained almost unchanged. Those who have taken the course will remember a quarter of capturing photos with 35-millimeter cameras and hours spent in the darkroom developing their prints. Starting this quarter, the course will be completely renewed.

Chad White, the head of BC’s photo department has devised the change: “It’s not about making the course easier to teach or the lack of facilities but of evaluating the myth in photography curriculum and the tradition found in the tools being used.” While 35-millimeter film cameras have long been an important part of modern photography, their use by the average person has greatly declined in recent years due to the advent of digital cameras and especially the capabilities of modern cellphones. Using 35-millimeter film as the sole tool for the capture of light and teaching of technique is not only an inadequate introduction to the art form as a whole, but is becoming prohibitively expensive for students as it falls from popular use.The department has shifted the focus of its intro photo class from purely film and darkroom processing to integrate instruction in digital techniques as well. White explains that students, “while meeting the same course objectives will be researching lens-less photography, constructed cameras, as well as using film and digital in both the chemistry darkroom and digital lab. What is essentially happening is minimizing the divide between film and digital processes and even historic or alternative methods.”

According to Ginny Banks, who has been teaching photography at Bellevue College since 2006, film will still play an important role throughout the class, as the first few projects will consist of “photograms, which are essentially light drawings.” After, students will construct their own pinhole cameras, and will transition to working with computers, using photo-editing software to manipulate and perfect their images before printing the digitized product.

After completion of ART150, students interested in film enroll in photo II and III, which introduce larger-format film processing and fiber printing. Photo III requires the student to present a cohesive project, which introduces them as artists and defines their work for presentation in a public forum. In the spring Banks will be offering a class for aspiring photographers who wish for hands-on work experience. Students will be paired with nonprofits from the greater Seattle area and work with them throughout the quarter to produce a narrative piece, utilizing either or both photos and videos to portray the nonprofit’s work and ethos. The class will also teach students to self-publish through the Internet.

With an extensive array of tools and many available processes, BC’s photo lab is a holdout for tradition amongst the many colleges who have abandoned film altogether. The department is manned by and has produced professional photographers for decades.

On Feb. 12, an exhibition of Patrick Nagatani’s photographs, currently open in the art gallery, will see its public reception and Nagatani, one of White’s own professors, will attend.