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Revamped photography courses at Texas State reflect evolution of field

By Daniel Palomo
University News Service
September 25, 2013

Developments in photographic technologies have altered the art for its entire history. Digital technologies however, have made a profound effect and Texas State University’s photography department faculty is leading the way.

“Five years ago we didn’t all have powerful cameras in our pockets,” Professor Barry Stone, photography program coordinator said. “Every age has to confront these new frontiers.”

The photography program has grown steadily for several years, swelling to more than 200 students. The department recently received approval to hire an additional tenure-track professor in order to address the immense growth. The photography department has revamped curriculum and is incorporating digital techniques to keep students ahead of the trends. Digital processes have helped by allowing professors to introduce more processes in less time.

“We felt as though digital allowed us to cover a broader range of ideas within the history for the medium,” Jason Reed, assistant photography professor said. “We’re trying to address all aspects of what photography is.”

The photography department at Texas State has implemented several changes into their fundamentals courses. Students start with the cyanotype, an early process that produces a print with a cyan blue color. The course culminates in digital instruction, both on the actual camera and photo editing software processes.

“They might be doing cyanotypes, but they might scan that cyanotype and integrate it with another type of image making,” Stone said. “There’s a continuum between cyanotypes and digital photography that we like to explore.”

Creation and exploration are two key concepts that the photography faculty teach and embody. Stone is the founder of a central Texas, lens-based artist cooperative called Lakes Were Rivers. Stone’s work for the cooperative incorporated a technique called digital bending. The technique requires the artist to make slight changes to the image code by opening it in text editor software. If the coding changes are too drastic, the file will not show once it is opened as an image.

“I opened up an image file, rearranged the symbols in the code and introduced a sort of glitch to the image,” Stone said. “There’s a sweet spot where the anomaly is unpredictable yet surprising.”

Students learn digital techniques, such as data bending, in the recently added third course in digital photography. Formerly, students were only able to take introductory and advanced courses. The dearth of digital photography necessitated the additional course offering. Students in the introductory courses are traditionally informed, but digital processes have been integrated into the curriculum to ensure students are ready for the job market.

“Digital is the way the world is going,” Michael Niblett, director of the School of Art and Design, said. “But our program is still about thinking, problem-solving and being creative.”

Students have embraced the digital curriculum and recognize the importance of the changes. Many student projects have incorporated some form of digital processing. Students are taught photo editing processes, inkjet and large form printing as well as code manipulation.

“Digital photography is a necessity of our day and age,” Caroline Baxter, photography senior said. “It allows us to experiment.”

Texas State’s photography faculty strives to embrace the latest tools in order to prepare students for a demanding career field. The entire photography faculty is involved with Lakes Were Rivers and continues to produce impactful work in their field.

“If it’s happening in photography right now our faculty are on the cutting edge if not creating some of the dialogue,” Niblett said. “We have really strong faculty that are trendsetters in Central Texas and beyond.”

More about Lakes Were Rivers can be found at lakeswererivers.com.