Adjusting To New Film With Old Forms

Photo junior Rachael Koscica photographs a subject with her 5D Mark II digital camera.
Photo by Josh Loeser

In today’s smartphone, social media sphere, not as much thought goes into capturing a moment with an iPhone. No planning of the composition, adjusting of the aperture, or setting the shutter speed to ensure the best photo.

Aim, snap and share.

Perhaps thousands of people have uploaded something to Instagram right this minute.

Digital technology’s ability to satisfy the need for instantaneous entertainment has permeated nearly every aspect of  social culture. As rolls of film, chemicals and dark rooms fade into nostalgia, companies such as Polaroid disappear while Kodak struggles to conform.

This digital adaptation encompasses departments across ASU as they ready their students for the post-graduation workplace. Programs such as the Digital Culture Initiative with the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts offer students a chance to combine digital media and tools with the goals of their own majors.

Within the Herberger Institute, the School of Theatre and Film has taken advantage of this digital socialization. Since opening in 2005, cinematography has only ever been taught using digital equipment.

“We didn’t have to transition from film to digital,” says film school lecturer Joseph Fortunato. “It makes it much more easier and economical to run a film school.”

Fortunato says the use of film stock and full film labs, which are going out of business, require more money than using high definition cameras, lighting equipment and green screen systems.

Although Fortunato says film students should focus on digital media, he also carries an appreciation for film.

“I’m kind of old school,” he says. “I appreciate the old film art and it would be nice for students of this generation to at least carry that forward in some fashion. But from a practical sense, that’s more of a niche than a mainstream thing.”

Students are still taught film history and are told to choose between film and digital. However, Fortunato says these lectures will need to be changed to accommodate a digital emphasis because “the choice is sort of already made for you.”

While the art of moviemaking plows full steam ahead into digital production, photography finds its own pace.

“In art, it’s not like that,” says associate professor William Jenkins in the School of Art at the Herberger Institute. “For us, it’s not a transition from film to digital. We’re doing all kinds of different photographic processes all the time.”

Photo senior Danielle Holman focuses a 4x5 film camera.
Photo by Josh Loeser

While teaching both traditional film and digital photography, The School of Art within the Herberger Institute also offers an alternative photography process program in which students can explore 19th century processes such as daguerreotypes and gum bichromate prints.

The materials for these old-fashioned cameras are built in the art school. Jenkins says from the equipment to the chemicals they teach students how to do it from raw materials.

While the school tries to preserve these older processes, changes have been made to make room for digital art. Last year, the photography department in the art school added a digital component to their Photo I class and opened a computer lab.

Also, all of the color Photo II classes are taught with digital cameras, because the developing process for color film requires carcinogenic chemicals and highly specialized machinery.

The photography department combines digital, film and historical in a place that accepts all mediums.

“We always opt for the most choice — the most options for doing things,” says Jenkins.

By offering an array of options — from film or digital equipment all the way through the developing process — students get more choices for how to create their final product and how to best convey their subject matter.

During the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 photography exhibitions at Gammage, one of the six photographers presenting shot in film and the rest shot in digital, said Bradley Myers, visual art coordinator for Gammage in an email. However, Jenkins says that this digital majority, as well as the pressure from other fields, does not affect students’ choices to study either film or digital.

A strong desire to preserve traditional photographic processes permeates the photography department, Jenkins says: “We all feel the same.”

Elizabeth Allen, curator of the Northlight Gallery in the Herberger Insitute of Art on campus, emphasizes this importance.

“I do not keep specific track of which photographers are using film or digital, and I do not make any attempt to separate the two,” she said in an email. “When I curate an exhibition, I work to show a broad spectrum of perspectives within a theme.”

Allen cited the gallery’s first exhibition of the fall semester, Sustenance, which she said will include daguerreotypes, gelatin silver prints, photograms, digital prints and video.

David Adams, who finished his Master of Fine Arts degree at ASU last spring with a thesis entirely done in tintypes, says he thinks learning these older processes can benefit digital photographers as well.

Film production senior Trent Wilson and ASU graduate Natasha Pirouzian look through a 5D Mark II. This photo is actually taken on film.
Photo by Josh Loeser

“It’s part of the history of the process and a lot of tools you use in Photoshop come directly from the dark room,” Adams says. “It’s essentially the same thing, and having access to that knowledge is important.”

While it is more economic and efficient for the film school to utilize digital technologies, for the School of Art the door remains open to all processes.

“When I first started in photography, there was only one way to do art photography,” Jenkins says. “But now, there just isn’t any right way to do anything. Any way you can think of to make a photograph, we do it, and if you don’t know how to do it, we’ll figure it out.”

With all of the possibilities in art photography, along with a resurgence of specialized photographers turning to historical processes, the designer filters of Instagram may be facing some fierce competition.


Contact the writer at or via Twitter @mackenziemicro

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