Photography class enrollment falls

Phoebe Rounds ’07 has found an intimate atmosphere in a traditionally popular and crowded class, as one of only six students in a section of an introductory photography course that even last year did not offer enough spots to fill demand.

The restructuring of the undergraduate photography program this semester — which involved adding a second semester of introductory photography and renaming courses — may have contributed to a significant drop in the enrollment in these classes, administrators and students said. A notable exception to this trend is “Digital Photography,” which saw higher enrollments this year.

The undergraduate darkroom in Green Hall is emptier this year than ever before because of course changes and increased interest in digital photography.
Ben Muller
The undergraduate darkroom in Green Hall is emptier this year than ever before because of course changes and increased interest in digital photography.

This semester, a total of 23 students enrolled in three sections of Art 136a, which is now called “Small-Camera Film Photography,” said Patricia DeChiara, the director of academic affairs at the School of Art. Last fall, the department offered four sections of the class, then called “Introduction to Photography,” and enrolled 51 students.

“We have often turned away many students, and this year was rather unusual,” DeChiara said.

Crystal Garcia ’09 said she faced competition for a seat in an Art 136 section last fall.

“First semester last year the classes were really crowded, and we had to go through a sort of selection process,” she said. “The instructor had to pick from a pool of 30.”

Students and administrators attributed the decline in enrollment to two possible factors: the change in the course titles and an increasing interest in digital photography as opposed to traditional film photography.

Henk Van Assen, the director of undergraduate studies for the Art Department, said that because the title change may have caused confusion, the administration is considering restoring the introductory course’s earlier name.

Van Assen also said student interest may be shifting from traditional photography to digital media.

Fifteen students are enrolled in Art 138, “Digital Photography,” as opposed to 12 last year, DeChiara said. Ben Ogilvy ’10, who is taking Art 138, said dozens of shoppers interviewed for admittance to the class and that the professor accepted more students than he had originally intended.

Rounds said the increasing prevalence of digital media may be a factor in the class’s popularity. Ogilvy said students may own digital cameras more often than they own film cameras and may be more used to using them.

“It’s just easier to work with a digital camera than to do the whole film thing,” he said.

Lisa Kereszi, the acting director of undergraduate photography, said the department’s recent restructuring of photography classes will help students learn about the medium in a more organized and concrete fashion.

In previous years, she said, only three specific classes were required for photography majors, and students did not gain the same knowledge base as majors in the new program will. They took one semester of Introduction to Photography, followed by multiple semesters of an intermediate photography course and multiple semesters of an advanced photography course.

“We were getting people every year in Advanced who we didn’t feel like were really ready,” Kereszi said. “What we were finding is that we were spending a lot of time doing technical stuff that students should have known.”

Now, she said, photography students enroll first in 136, then in a new class, “Medium-Format Film Photography,” before moving on to one of two intermediate level courses: “Color Photography” and “View Camera Photography.” Only then can students take the advanced photography class.

“Splitting it up into all these classes makes it more of a serious program,” Kereszi said. “We feel like we’re going to give people more instruction, better tools and a better knowledge base.”

Despite the decline in enrollments, many photography students said they favor the program changes. Garcia said she is pleased that there are now two introductory classes.

“Last year I learned almost nothing about medium-format cameras or flash photography or night photography,” she said. “Being able to be exposed to this before taking more advanced classes is going to be beneficial to me.”

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