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Charting the Course VES 40ar

By Erwin R. Rosinberg

Students enrolled in Visual and Environmental Studies 40ar: "Fundamentals of Still Photography" spend a total of nine hours a week in class. Usually, at least four of those hours are spent in the dark.

"I can see how the time commitment might be difficult for some people," says Maame Ewusi-Mensah '97, a History of Science concentrator. "But so far it's definitely been worth it."

The course trains students in photographic techniques and film processing and studies the work of professional photographers. There are two four-hour section meetings and one lecture a week.

Visiting Lecturer on Visual and Environmental Studies Frank Gohlke, who organizes the course, says that his goal is to teach students "how to process film consistently well and learn how to make and recognize a beautiful black and white print."

All students are provided with 35mm cameras and other necessary materials. Thirty-five-millimeter cameras were used to create the principal photographic books used in the course, such as Robert Frank's The Americans. "We like to show students a range of possibilities in using a camera like that," Gohlke says.

The darkroom sessions aim to familiarize students with basic aspects of the development process. Students are taught about contrast and varying film speed, and some go on to more advanced techniques such as photographing at night or under low light conditions.

"But we're most concerned with getting people familiar with the language of pictures, and what's interesting about them," Gohlke says.

Each section leader chooses a selection of slides to show the students, to help them determine "what's behind the pictures, historically and aesthetically," according to Gohlke. Section time is also used for field trips to local exhibits, and possibly a photographic outing.

"We try to put a really interesting mix of students in every section, since they'II be spending a lot of time with their section leaders and with each other," Gohlke says. The students also critique each other's photographs throughout the semester.

The first assignment for students in Gohlke's section is to photograph things that remind them of home. Students are then asked to find a place that makes them uncomfortable and convey in photographs exactly what makes them feel uneasy. Other assignments include photographing a place they had never visited before and taking a roll of 36 exposures in their own rooms.

The last half of the term is devoted to the final project. Students define their own subjects and try to discover "the kinds of things that really interest them," Gohlke says.

The weekly lectures are designed to expose students to the work of other photographs. The section leaders each give lectures on their work, and the class will receive visiting lectures as well. Recently, Jack Lueders-Booth showed long-term photographic projects focusing on workers in Tijuana and women prisoners.

Out of approximately 100 interviewed applicants, 34 students are in the class this semester, divided into three sections. The class is required of Visual and Environmental Studies concentrators, leaving little room for other students.

However, "we really do like having students from other departments," Gohlke says.

Gohlke adds that although some students have had previous experience "more serious than the average vacation snapshot," some enter the course not knowing anything about photography. "And that's fine," he says.

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