The Photographic Historical Society of Canada

Recent Shifts in Photographic Education @ Sheridan
Rafael Goldchain
Program date: January 16, 2008

Rafael Goldchain as Natalio
Rafael Goldchain
as Natalio

recent shifts in Photographic Education
Recent Shifts intro

Darkroom Unused
Darkroom Unused

Dismantling
Dismantling

The way it was
The way it was

Nothing romantic
Nothing romantic

Going
Going

Going, going
Going, Going

Gone
Gone

New Mac lab
New Mac lab

Digital "darkroom"
Digital "darkroom"

Big inkjet printers
Big inkjet printers

a closer look
A closer look

Girls predominate
Girls predominate

Scanning Station
Scanning Station

Pre-scan check
Pre-scan check

In-lab conference
In-lab conference

Cross-discipline
Cross-discipline

Equipment room
Equipment room

This presentation gives another perspective on the transition from traditional silver-based photography to the digital era. Like camera makers, film and paper giants, one hour photo services, photographers, and commercial processors, school curriculums have changed to accommodate the now ubiquitous digital camera.

From the late 1960s, Sheridan college has had a program of applied photography education. Like its many contemporaries, the emphasis was on mastery of the tools and techniques of the art. This program emphasized a good education in technique with a lesser emphasis on creative expression for the budding photographers.

Today, Sheridan's photography program has four full-time faculty members - two trained commercial photographers - Peter Walker, and David White, Rafael, who views himself as more of a visual artist, and Howard Simkins, a painter by education who has led the way in integrating digital imaging into the curriculum.

The faculty is rounded out with another seven part-time teachers from the industry. Unlike the schools of a few decades ago where a teacher's tasks included culling out the weaker students, Sheridan's teachers work hard to help all students succeed. The program is rigorous and demanding, but the results are worth it. The school has an enviable record of 97% employment for its graduates. In smaller studios, the graduates have been known to implement the new digital technologies and train their employers.

Sheridan has an advisory committee of ten people from the industry who help with the tough questions of what equipment to buy, programs to change, and courses to drop or add. The college has benefited from sponsorships by companies like Adobe, Canon, Vistek, Pi Media, Amplis, Daymen, Epson, Colourgenics, and Toronto Image Works.

Sheridan's journey to success in teaching photography in the digital era began in the late 1980s when Howard Simkins brought in smaller computers and began experimenting with computer generated images. The Macintosh computers of the day were powerful enough to use with scanners, and the first courses in digital photography were off and running. Then program coordinator Henry Visscher, as well as the advisory committee cautioned the school administration that they had a ten to fifteen year time-frame in which to change from fully analog (film) to fully digital if the school was to remain a force in photographic education. Simkins and Visscher sold the need for change to the administration who sanctioned buying the necessary equipment and Sheridan's first Macintosh computer lab opened in the early 1990s with thirty computers plus some scanners and printers.

The digital cameras of the time were both expensive and relatively low resolution. The administration had to be convinced that digital would come on fast. Fortunately Sheridan is a big art school with courses in illustration and animation and people from those disciplines helped push the fact that computers would soon move in to all areas. Howard Simkins joined special advisory boards at Apple and Adobe allowing him to advise the college on direction without violating non disclosure agreements. The school gained insight from equipment makers on technology one to five years in the future.

In the late 1990s the school had a single Phase One scanning back camera - essentially a studio view camera with a scanner attached to its back, generating 190 meg image files stored directly on the hard drive of a tethered computer. The faculty learned a lot from using the computer lab and scanning back camera, getting comfortable with the new technology long before it was embraced by other schools. The massive files the camera created helped the faculty understand digital workflow.

The 190 meg files had to be stored somewhere, going from camera to the lab, to the teacher for evaluation, and back to the student with the evaluation. If the 140 students made only a single image, it would require over 26 gigabytes of storage! The school had to invest in servers, large hard drives, and terminals for the teachers before the students could be taught using the scanning back camera. This infra-structure has grown and today Sheridan has a huge server setup, work stations for each teacher, a portable hard drive for each student to save her work, and a campus-wide wireless network for fast and convenient communications.

The difficulties encountered working with film and scanners in the early 1990s, brought home the value and need for colour management. Before colour management, a student scanned his film, adjusted the image on screen and sent the file to the printer. Poor print quality chewed up materials and increased student costs. As a clumsy work-around, students resorted to misadjusting an image on screen until the print looked good. The Mac IT support at Sheridan became part of the team. Kristy Finley, technologist in charge became interested in colour management and along with Simkins and Goldchain pioneered a colour-managed workflow at Sheridan.

After the implementation of colour management the colours on screen matched those in the print no matter which work station or printer was used. Finley is now in charge of several colour managed labs that serve both illustration and photography, teaches first year digital imaging, and keeps the program’s large format inkjet printers at peak performance. Along with her colleagues in the Mac IT group, Finley also develops Mac IT solutions for the education setting and maintains collaborative relationships with peers at Apple Computer and other companies such as X-Rite and Integrated Colour.

Desktop workstations cost more that laptops but they are critical to the quality of the program. Most laptops are impossible to use for colour correction work as the screens are not designed for the demands of colour accuracy and they lack the ability to be reliably colour calibrated.

Gallery at Sheridan
Gallery at Sheridan
Lewko Hryhorijiw, Rafael Goldchain, and Felix Russo
Lewko Hryhorijiw, Rafael Goldchain, and
Felix Russo
©2007 Emily Cooper
©2007 Emily Cooper

©2007 Isabela Souza
©2007 Isabela Souza

Some examples of the quality produced by the students at Sheridan College. Visit the student web sites at Sheridan to see more - well worth the visit!

 

©2007 Jeremy Lewis
©2007 Jeremy Lewis
©2007 Julie Marsden
©2007 Julie Marsden
Lighting by Wayne Gilbert, Photo by Bob Lansdale
Lighting by Wayne Gilbert, Photo by Bob Lansdale
Victor Wong joins in
Victor Wong joins in
©2007 Pete Stewart
©2007 Pete Stewart
©2007 Trisha Last
©2007 Trisha Last

To stay current, Sheridan acquires equipment on a three year financial leases. This allows the school to build a stock of cameras over a period of time and keep their labs and cameras current with the industry. By providing each student with a camera for the full school term, Sheridan ensures each student has a quality camera and one familiar to the teachers. The student can the delay purchasing an expensive camera until graduation, beginning her career with a new state-of-the-art camera. If a camera breaks during the term, it is replaced immediately so the student isn't held back waiting for repairs.

Initially there was resistance to change from the faculty, especially after teaching film technology for a couple of decades. It took some effort to have everyone learn at least the basics of Photoshop. Finding teaching talent today is another challenge. Because of a government mandate, all Sheridan photography teachers require a masters degree in fine arts. It is hard to find candidates with the requisite MFA and skill in the fine points of commercial photography.

Setting up a new program and plotting the evolution from film to digital was a big challenge for Visscher (recently retired) and for Goldchain and his colleagues. Many decisions had to be made on what to keep and what to drop in the two year curriculum. The 2004-5 program was film oriented with a bit of digital component - mostly Photoshop. By 2007-8 the program was ramped up to fully digital. Many courses were dropped or combined to make room for new material. Subjects such as process control, chemical dilutions, and density graphing disappeared along with darkrooms and the environmental issues of waste chemicals. The rapid switch to digital also solved the growing dilemma of finding an adequate supply of traditional film, chemistry, and papers.

The new curriculum introduced colour management, computers, inkjet printers, raw files and high bit workflow - topics that relate to photography today in the commercial world. Presently the first two semesters are mainly technical while the last two are devoted to the art and conceptual aspects of photography where students learn to apply art world concepts to their work. Most studio 4x5 training is still done with film, but the developed negative is scanned using the same software a commercial studio would use with an expensive digital camera back. For medium and large format training, Sheridan added digital backs to their 645 and 4x5 cameras starting with fifteen sets of cameras and backs, and later adding ten 6x9 view cameras outfitted with 22 megapixel camera backs.

Goldchain mentioned that a future trend appears to be that digital files in need of correction and manipulation will simply be sent off-shore to low wage retouching shops in India. The emphasis then needs to be on picture taking and getting the right colour balance and exposure in the camera. Image manipulation takes place when photography is blended with illustration in the form of conceptual imagery or photo-realistic illustration.

The present Ontario College Diploma is earned in two years. although some schools offer a third year. Sheridan's approach is to push for a BA in Applied Arts. They have some programs now in collaboration with U of T and York.

We may look back nostalgically on the age of the darkroom, but there was nothing romantic about colour darkrooms so dirty and full of dangerous chemicals. Sheridan's darkrooms are gone now. enlargers dismantled, sinks ripped out, and paper processors removed. The darkroom has been replaced by a digital lab filled with quad-processor Macintosh Pro computers, colour balanced 20 inch cinema screens, wide-format printers, print viewing stations with calibrated white light, and Epson V-700 and Imacon scanners.

As well as the move on to digital technology there is another interesting demographic that is changing the photographic industry: a few years ago the ratio of male to female students was 80/20 - today it is reversed with 75 female students for every 25 male students in photography. You can see some of the outstanding work from Sheridan's students - most of whom are in their late teens on the student website. The work is a testimony to the success of Sheridan's digital curriculum and quality of its students.


This page was designed in Dreamweaver CS3 on an iMac running OS X 10.5 (Leopard). Unless otherwise noted, images on this page were taken with a Sony F828 digital still camera and subsequently adjusted in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom V1.3 and Photoshop CS3. Presentation images are ©2008 by Rafael Goldchain and may not be used with out his permission. The example images by the Sheridan students are ©2008 and cannot be used without the individual originator's permission. Contents and all other images are ©2008 by the Photographic Historical Society of Canada and may be used freely provided the source is clearly indicated. Contact PHSC at info@phsc.ca if you would like more information on the items discussed on this page.

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Bob Carter

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