Photography darkroom closing after spring semester

Film instructor J O’Brien said that film photography forces students to be more deliberate in their work. Photo by Courtney Walston.

The renovation of the Fine Arts Building that’s beginning in June  is expected to result in closure of the film photography darkroom used for the Introduction to Photography course.

Arts and Humanities Dean Daniel Powell said the renovation plans don’t include the darkroom because of cost, as well as the need to modernize the media department’s equipment.

“We can’t use that space for anything else,” Powell said. “We have to buy the chemicals, which are expensive; we have to pay to dispose of the chemicals, which is expensive; there’s even a special filtration system that goes into that room that was in need of updating. There’s a large number of variables.”

The Arts and Humanities school received $7,000 in Perkins grant funds that were combined with department and LCCC Foundation funds to buy 10 new digital cameras and lenses at a cost of slightly more than $15,000.

“We bought new digital cameras for the class in anticipation of the darkroom going away, and that’s sort of a logical step of modernizing to teach students relevant skills with current equipment to go out and become photographers … they’re nice, nice cameras,” Powell said.

The shift of the medium in which photography is captured comes with an corresponding shift in the way a course such as Introduction to Photography is taught.

Adjunct Media Instructor J O’Brien said there is a massive difference in the methodology when comparing film to digital photography.

“I think that teaching film forces students to be more deliberate,” O’Brien said. “It forces students to really, truly understand and engage photography … you’re never so mindful of how important light is to photography as you are when you shoot film. Digital just removes all that.”

When it comes to the level at which students understand the fundamentals of photography, O’Brien said the grasp is much stronger with students who learn with film.

“They have a far better appreciation of exposure. Digital just has so many cheats … digital cameras, there’s just so many crutches, and if you only shoot digital, I think it takes longer to get to the point where you actually understand light and how light creates an image, and you miss a lot of opportunities,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said he doesn’t know if he’ll be teaching the course after the spring semester.

“I’ve not been asked to be part of that process (of restructuring the course), and they should have a full-time instructor now,” O’Brien said. “I don’t know if they’ve completely thought it through. They’re going to have to rewrite the MCOR (Master Course Outline of Record) because the film components are actually written into the MCOR. The competencies, the course description, the cornerstones. They’re going to have to rewrite that.”

Powell said the MCOR is a guiding curriculum document that has some non-negotiables that need to be covered in a course.

O’Brien said from his perspective, it’s a shame the darkroom is being shuttered.

Powell said shuttering the darkroom and saving the cost of operating it will provide an opportunity for the further growth and development of LCCC’s media program.

“We’ve identified strategic communication as a growth area in this community,” Powell said. “That includes a lot of multimedia areas, a lot of PR, marketing and things like that. So, what you can do with multimedia has been expanded and diversified in a lot of different career tracks … To justify another (instructor) position, we’re going to have to expand.”  

The investment in the media department continues with a search for another well-fitting multimedia instructor.

Powell said there was a recruitment window earlier in the semester, but a decision has been postponed because they want to keep the standard high, and there weren’t enough well-qualified applicants. Powell said the next meeting to look at candidates with a fresh lens would be in early March.

Wyoming Tribune Eagle Managing Editor Brian Martin served as the adviser for this story. Wingspan adviser Jake Sherlock declared a conflict of interest in advising this story because of his involvement with the photography curriculum.


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