Data point number 1:
At the Midwest Society for Photographic Education conference in Madison, Wisconsin, a faculty member from a large, state university was discussing the offerings at her photo program. The DSLR introductory courses were doing fine in terms of enrollment. Her program had just created a course for non-majors that allowed students to use any camera they wanted, including their phones and point and shoot cameras. In some ways, it was a photography class without f-stops. More than that, it was also an overview of photo history and contained a good deal of information about composition and what makes a good image. The non-major course was becoming really popular and was beginning to pull some enrollment from the DSLR course. More curiously, she found that fewer students had any interest in working in the darkroom each semester. Her program still offered enough courses to keep the darkroom running, but it was clear that some important shift was happening in enrollment.
This matches my experiences at the community college where I teach. We worked hard to keep a darkroom class that is open to non-majors. At they are avoiding the class in droves.
Data point number 2:
While trying to finish up a long-standing project, I realize that I need to purchase more of my favorite ink-jet paper (Ilford Gold Fibre Silk). Everywhere I look, the paper is back-ordered or out of stock. After a little more digging, it is clear that the paper is on longer being manufactured. This is really frustrating. In theory, one of the reasons for working digitally as a photographer is that o one is manufacturing darkroom materials anymore. This isn’t supposed to happen with ink-jet paper, right? Switch to digital and everything is good?
What occurs to me is that maybe my perceptions about the current state of photography are all wrong. I thought we were leaving the darkroom. But it seems more likely that we are leaving photographs as printed objects. Being of a certain age, I am caught trying to reconcile a love for photography that smells like vinegar when you make it, and a group of students who love photography because they can share an image of vinegar instantly with all of their friends.
So why are my introductory photo courses still predicated on the supremacy of the printed image? Making inkjet prints is the highlight of the course. We work for weeks to have images that are strong enough to take to the department’s 3880s.
My students are not entering a world of printed images. Those students who want to work commercially will not be printing their work out on high-end inkjet printers; they will be sending bucketfuls of images to service bureaus. Commercially oriented students and young fine artists alike will both be promoting their work and themselves on social media.
It really seems like the responsible way to teach photography now, and to keep courses marginally future proof, is to start with the notion that the networked image is paramount. Instagram (and others) belong in the curricula from the very first days of a student’s formal photography education.
The professor from Midwest SPE really seems to be on the right track. I wonder how that course incorporates social media.