I was looking though some papers the other day and came across this article in a popular photography magazine that is no longer published. It was published in 1967, around the time that I myself was finishing my undergraduate degree in the school. I found the contents interesting although noted some pre-PC sentence construction. In spite of that I could see the point. But that is just my reaction. FYI, andy davidhazy

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Should You Study Photography in College?

Here's what C.B. Neblette, photo expert, author and first Dean of the College of Graphic Arts and Photography at R.l.T. said.

Construction is under way for a $5.25 million building for the School of Photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. Why should a college invest so much in a School of Photography? Is photography that important? Does it require college-trained men and women, in such numbers, year after year? The answer to these questions is an emphatic yes.

Let us suppose for a moment that suddenly, for some reason, there are no photographic materials available anywhere. What would happen? Our science and research programs, almost without exception, would come to an immediate and complete halt. A scientist in one of our space programs was asked recently what he would do without photography. He is reported to have said, without a moment's hesitation, "We would have to stop everything and invent it."

If film, paper and photographic materials suddenly became unavailable, there would be no photographs in the daily newspapers or magazines, many of the latterprinted by photolithography or gravurewould have to find other means of printing, for both of these printing processes use photographic materials: There would be no printed matter with illustrations; no news on television except for live broadcasts from the spot, no documentary programs and all dramatic programs would have to be "live." There would be no illustrations for advertising, no amateur photography, still or movies, no portraits, no aerial photographs, no blueprints for the architect or engineer, no X-rays at the dentist, in the hospital or of metal parts of a high-speed machine. There would be no new movies, no high-speed photography for the analysis of rapidly moving objects.

Photography through the printed page, the motion picture, the news or documentary TV program, is an important means of communication in an age when effective communication between people is more important than ever before. The importance of photography in communication would alone justify its place in higher education.

Photography, however, is more than a means of communication; it is a means of acquiring information. The high speed photographer is collecting information on an event that occurs too quickly for the eye to see; the X-ray technician is securing information through photography from radiation that is invisible to the eye; the astronomer photographs a galaxy of stars he cannot see because the photographic emulsion, unlike the eye, can accumulate light energy like a storage battery holds a charge; the reconnaissance photographer flying over enemy terrain obtains information on the resources and intentions of the enemy. These are but a few among thousands of examples of how photography is busy collecting information. So dependent are we on this aspect of photography in science and engineering that it is inconceivable that much of our research and development could go on without it.

On the whole, American colleges and universities have shown little interest in photography. Only one has a school of photography and only four or five offer a major in photography. A large number have one or two courses usually as an elective in journalism, communication or fine arts. In only one or two cases is any attempt made to offer courses in the science of photography or its engineering applications. In many of these courses only the rudiments of photographic practice are taught and, even if the subject is taken seriously, teaching is not on the level of other subjects in the curriculum. A common mistake is to think that an instructor in design can teach photography because of his background and an amateur acquaintance with photography, or that a member of the faculty in physics can teach photography because he is versed in optics.

A number of two-year junior or community colleges offer instruction in photography. In most cases, it is a special curriculum designed to prepare young men and women for jobs in professional photography. In only a few cases is photography available as an elective in another curriculum. The approach of the two-year institution to photography is thus primarily vocational and quite different from that of most four-year institutions.

There is no one solution

Education for photography involves two broad areas: 1) the techniques of photography and 2) their application. The breadth and depth of the treatment accorded the techniques of photography and the way they are taught vary with the ultimate objective of the student. It is quite inappropriate, for example, to require the same background in the science and technology of photography of the potential illustrator as of the photographic engineer. However, there is a technology of photography which even the former must understand. Photography is indeed a tool, but it is a complex tool involving the understanding of scientific principles as well as craftsmanship. The intelligent, creative artist needs to know his tool thoroughly, not perhaps in the same way as the engineer or the scientist but he cannot dismiss it as unimportant.

The approach to photographic technology, however, can be quite different. The creative artist can be concerned in the beginning with use, adding to his store of knowledge of photographic materials and processes as experience progresses. The photographic engineer or scientist, however, needs to develop the scientific approach, the habit of minute examination, accurate definition and exact classification. The approach to the technology of photography in this case may well be through mathematics, chemistry and physics leading to the materials and processes of photography.

The difference in approach is an important one not only in terms of the ultimate objective of the student but because of differences in manner of thinking and the motivation of the individual. The student interested in illustrations is usually little inclined and poorly prepared for the methods of science; the would-be photographic engineer on the other hand must become an engineer; he must acquire the engineer's approach to the analysis and solving of problems. There are also significant differences in depth. For example, it is perhaps sufficient for the illustrative photographer to know about the color sensitivity differences of photographic materials and that these differences are the result of adding certain dyes to the emulsion. He need not concern himself with what dyes are used nor how they work. The photographic scientist, on the other hand, will want to know something about the chemistry of sensitizing dyes and the mechanism of sensitizing and how it is that the energy absorbed by the dye molecule is transferred to the silver halide crystal to make it develop.

These differences suggest that on the college level curricula for the training of illustrative photographers and courses in photography for engineers and scientists should be in separate colleges and not combined unless, of course, a department of photography is established with separate curricula and separate faculty. It is a mistake to assume that even a course in basic photography can be arranged which will fully meet the needs of students from the School of Fine Arts, School of Journalism or Communication, and at the same time the students from engineering or those majoring in chemistry or physics. The differences are even greater in courses beyond the beginning level.

In many colleges a course in photography established in one department has, after a number of successful years, been opened up to students in other departments with different backgrounds and different objectives. This often has led to compromises that seriously affect instruction.

But it is in the separate course, or department, one not directly attached to a single school or program of study, that the problem becomes most serious. There is no simple answer, but certain fundamental principles need to be kept in mind.

1) No one course in photography will meet the needs of students from several different departments with widely different backgrounds and objectives.

2) So far as possible each major group should be taught by those who are competent in photography and in the course of study in which that group of students is enrolled.

3) It is important that an appropriate balance for each group he preserved between the fundamentals of photography and its application by the student.

4) Careful planning is necessary and in planning courses and programs one should not attempt too much too soon. Better teach a few basic things well than many things poorly. This applies to the technology of photography as well, as to practice in its use. In the final analysis, an understanding of principles and a reasonable degree of proficiency are more worthwhile than a multitude of projects and assignments.

Finally, there are those who believe that the only real way to learn photography, or at least the quickest and best way, is through apprenticeship or self-education. Schools, it is said, teach only theory, but the same has been said in the past about business education, about law and even about preparing for the medical profession. In my own boyhood, it was a recognized and accepted practice to qualify for the legal profession by "reading law" in a law office and, strange as it may seem to us today, there was a time when the aspiring physician apprenticed himself to a practicing physician and qualified for the practice of medicine without medical school. A professional career in any field of photography requires professional training that, of course, must be supplemented by practical experience. The graduate, like the student of medicine, should be prepared for a period of internship during which he acquires the aspects of practice that school cannot offer.

It's very possible there are not enough places in higher education in which truly professional training in photography is obtainable. In time there may be more. In time, more attention, too, may be given to the incorporation of photography in other curricula than fine arts and journalism. Science and engineering education particularly needs to reexamine the needs of the world of modern science. I believe that we are on the threshold of a new period in photographic education, that the period of neglect and ignorance is drawing to a close and that the college will finally recognize the important place of photography in the world of today and tomorrow.


This article appeared in Modern Photography magazine in 1967