Let There Be Light!

Let There Be Light!
Prof. Roy DeVille

By the time our readers see this issue, all of the Christmas-New Year festivities will be only a memory, and LSUA will be gearing up for another semester. Last month, I wrote about our revised courses in ceramics. Just a reminder that these arts courses are open to anyone in the community who is interested. I would like to now tell you a little about our revised course in film photography. LSUA has not offered film photography in several years due to our lack of adequate darkroom facilities. All of that has changed with the new MPAC Building, and we now have a photography lab and darkroom with the latest equipment. I am excited to again teach photography. It has been an ongoing interest and love of mine throughout my artistic career.

Photography is all about light. In fact, the term comes from two root words: photos, meaning light; and graphein, which means to draw. The term was first used by scientist Sir John Herschel in 1839. The photographer’s primary task is to draw a picture using light. Strikingly similar to painting, you might be thinking. Yes, it is. The difference is that the photograph gives us a detailed accurate image, while the artist’s painted interpretation may or may not be so realistic.

As early as the fourth century BCE, Aristotle talked about the optic laws that would later make the photograph possible. In Problemata, he documented an optical device, a box with a small hole in one end to allow light to enter. Through his observations of the sun, Aristotle discovered that no matter what shape the hole, the projected image of the sun was correctly round. Eleventh-century Iraqi scientist, Alhazen, is called the father of modern optics. Alhazen, who spent most of his career working in Mozarabic Spain, created the earliest pinhole-type camera. His box with a hole allowed light to pass through the hole and strike the inside surface, reproducing the image upside down, but in perfect perspective.

The first photographic images were made in 1827 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce with what he called a camera obscura. Niécpe called his images “sun prints” and stated that “light draws the picture.” These heliographs were the prototype for the modern photograph. The term camera obscura had first been used by Johannes Kepler in 1604 to denote a pinhole type of device. This, by the way, is not the same as the Scottish alternative rock band, Camera Obscura, who create their images through sound!

Louis Daguerre produced the first practical lasting image in 1839 and the Daguerreotype method spread quickly. By 1889, George Eastman had developed flexible roll film and invented the Kodak camera. In the early 1940’s, color film was developed. The line of progress continued at a rapid pace. In 1905, Oskar Barnack developed the Ur-Leica, the first 35mm camera. Edwin Herbert Land continued the progress with his Polaroid Land camera of 1948; and in 1956, Fuji produced the first disposable camera. 1984 saw the beginning of digital still cameras, produced by Canon. Henri-Cartier Bresson developed a small 35mm camera in the early 1930’s to capture the images of life as they happened rather than staged poses. With the outbreak of World War II, photojournalism was born. The ability to capture the horrors of war and the decisive moments of history, such as Joel Rosenthal’s Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, changed the face of photography.

Edward Weston gave us the beautiful photographs of natural landscape and Alfred Stieglitz made photography an acceptable art form. Dorothea Lange’s Depression era work solidified documentary photography. The photographs of Man Ray moved into futurism with movement in time and space. And now we have come to the digital age, a point of great controversy among professional photographers.

Digital photography has the seduction of producing immediate feedback. Snap the picture and see it in your camera (or mobile phone!) But film mimics the eye. Digital has no gradual overload to white and the photographer hits a brick wall. Often it is the artist and not the medium that defines the quality of the print.

One of my favorite photographers is Darwin Wiggett, known for his striking pictures of the Canadian wilderness and the Rockies. Wiggett, who uses both film and digital, is outspoken in favor of film for artistic photography. He believes that black and white film is the only means to produce art quality prints. The image is a single monochrome silver halide layer. “Photoshop has to work miracles to get digital to this stage.” In comparing his own work, Wiggett has photographed the same image with both film and digital. When laid side-by-side, he shows that while the film photo is alive and full of color, the digital image is flat and pale. Simply stated, “for professional photography, digital takes far too much time editing.” For Wiggett, a fine art photograph is created in accordance with the vision of the photographer as artist. “You find the subject, in the right light, and wait for the exact moment.” Wiggett is often published in the magazine, Arizona Highways. Their photographs are full-page reproductions and they will not accept digital images, stating that they are not good enough for a professional 12” x 8” magazine reproduction. In his workshops and his own work, Wiggett prefers to work with film. He finds that taking a digital photograph is only the beginning for the professional photographer. He must then download the images and essentially recreate them through a program like Photoshop. Wiggett would much rather be out in nature, taking photographs, waiting for that exact moment when all conditions are right to produce a work of art. I am much of the same mind. While I often rely on a digital camera for travel, give me my large-format film camera for doing my art!

Let There Be Light!In the academic setting, both media are taught. The LSU-Baton Rouge School of Art offers two separate degrees: one in art with a concentration in photography, and one in art with a concentration in digital art. The aim of the film photography concentration is to “merge both new and traditional techniques with the critical concerns of the contemporary artist.” Thomas Neff, LSU professor of photography, endorses film photography as the means by which to create fine art photographs. The University will not accept credits in digital photography as substitutes for film courses.

So, all this having been said, LSUA will offer film photography at the beginning level this spring. (FIAR 2995) We will subsequently continue with FIAR 2996, taking the students up through non-silver methods, followed by advanced courses. Students will learn how to capture light and use it to “draw a picture.” As always, anyone may take the class and, of course, feel free to visit the photography studio on the first floor of the MPAC building. You are always welcome.