A tantalizing piece of cherry pie, the tip of a submerged iceberg in the Antarctic, a Hollywood icon, and the cell of a human eye - these attention-grabbing images are a far cry from the black and white yearbook photos sitting in your parent’s attic. These days, as technology advances, almost everyone with a cell phone has a digital camera. That said, a new wave of elite schools such as Hallmark Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, Brooks Institute, and the Art Center College of Design are broadening our understanding of the world of professional photography beyond the newest model sports car and high-fashion photo shoot.
Early on in our background research, we learned from Hallmark President George J. Rosa III that becoming a successful photographer can come down to the depth of a student’s commitment in pursuing a career in the field of professional photography. Hallmark’s unique developmental approach to photography education revolves around their world-class practitioner scholar faculty and innovative curriculum - a program of study and experiential learning, in which photography sales, marketing, and management skills are taught concurrently with photographic, artistic, and imaging techniques.
Founded in 1975 and located in Turners Falls, Mass., Hallmark Institute of Photography offers a 10-month program that attracts students from across the nation and around the world. Hallmark students regularly sit beside and learn from globally recognized photographers who teach from the total perspective of lighting, color, shooting, darkroom work, digital imaging, studio management, and marketing. These practical photography skills and competencies offer students the tools they need to succeed in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Beyond its modern campus infrastructure, state-of-the-art equipment, and practical hands-on photo skills training, Hallmark graduates and interns take advantage of the Institute’s real world connectivity that opens doors to photography studios, businesses, and alumni networking.
Located in Rochester, N.Y., RIT offers a somewhat unusual program in biomedical photographic communications (BPC), along with more traditional photographic studies. With a concentration in BPC, RIT students are well prepared to work in medical research centers, medical imaging companies, ophthalmology and forensic laboratories, and pharmaceutical companies. Department Chair Michael Peres notes that the field of biomedical photography in the United States has undergone significant changes as a consequence of nationally recognized changes in the health care industry and reimbursement procedures, as well as the complete integration of digital photography into that industry.
As technological advances shape and change the world we live in, Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif., is expanding new boundaries in the field of photography. From capturing the coy look of a Broadway celebrity, the sleek line of a new roadster, or the aquatic image of an underwater oasis, the shift to higher ed multimedia is evident everywhere on campus. Scott Miles, Brooks Professional Photography program director, tells us that recent technological progress has created not only a new skill set, but new professional photography careers where students are needed to work with websites and track digital images beyond the darkroom. When considering the difference between a skilled photographer and someone with a digital camera, Miles adds that the difference is the characteristic of a professional photo and how it uses light to communicate. And how, we spend time with students to become masters of lighting and they leave having the incredible ability to control the light and use it to communicate with the subject.
In Pasadena, the Art Center College of Design has been committed to preparing students with the skills and tools with which to effect change and address real world issues for almost 80 years. Providing the center’s students with the technological skills, business savvy, and social context of photography is centrally significant. Photo and Imaging Chair Dennis Keeley emphasizes that image will be the most important document of the 21st century and will function at the visible intersection of all content, commerce, communication, identity, and culture.
Having taken the chefs tour of several of America’s leading institutions of professional photography, we wonder what common traits best describe the photography institute of the future. In the wake of a global credit and cash meltdown, and with advertising demand plummeting to new lows, these institutions help students navigate the fast shifting environment of modern professional photography. Uniquely, these institutions help students develop resourcefulness, ingenuity, and a passion for professional photography — traits which characterize the greatest photographers of our century. Beyond these characteristics the new world of professional photography education will appeal to students with a special tolerance for taking prudent risks and managing ambiguity in a fickle economy.
James Martin and James E. Samels, Future Shock columnists, are authors of Turnaround: Leading Stressed Colleges and Universities to Excellence (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). Martin is a professor at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.