Photography as a New and Old Medium

Kaitlin Resler
Alongside the academic program changes at Emma Willard School, the photography program is also making a transition. Photo instructor Caroline Valites has “been teaching it [photography] the way it’s historically been taught, with darkroom and digital classes separated,” but is working on adjustments that address shifts in technology while allowing students to tailor their path towards more advanced coursework.

Beginning Photography, previously known as Photo I, is a course that follows the medium’s movement from the current to the historic. The class starts with “cellphones and photo composition, [...] showing students how they can change the exposure value on their phone and how they can choose where to  focus.” Smartphones allow students to become familiar with the tools and language they will encounter later on in the class. “The language is there: exposure value and high dynamic range--these are dark room terms, they’re not new” and they’re found on a phone’s camera.

From there, students move to digital photography and learn more about the camera itself. They can see their photos instantly, and will learn to gauge if they are using the manual controls and techniques correctly. Eventually, students use such concepts with darkroom photography.  With the class structured this way, students are gradually introduced to various forms of photography and constantly building on their knowledge and skills alongside a tangible experience that mirrors the history of the form. “I think the history of photography is more relevant than ever because it’s disappearing. We are so lucky that we have a darkroom!”

Before this change, shares Caroline, students have been choosing whether they take digital or darkroom photography courses. That choice is somewhat complicated, since “negatives don’t exist in their timeline! Many students have never seen one before, so how can they know if they’re going to be interested in darkroom?” Now, any student in the beginning photography course will have some experience with both forms for a clearer path to an advanced level course if they want to continue studying photography. And if they don’t love it?  Caroline laughs, “that’s fine! At least they tried a vegetable!” 

Similarly, Caroline teaches her New Media class some of the same introductory concepts and skills that the students learn in photography. This year is the first time New Media is offered, and Caroline  is already planning to adjust the content for the next iteration with a more lens-based approach. “Part of the motivation for doing this is to create a pathway to more advanced classes with photo, video, and new media. Learning those basic skills that translate between equipment and medium means more students can transition into intermediate photo if they want to, simultaneously streamlining the program and making it easier for students to explore.” 

To see more student photography work, check out our post on the student art displayed in Kiggins this fall. 
    • New Media class pieces on display in Slocum

    • Examples of photos from the Darkroom Photography class

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