Art photography

W&M launches the first art photography course

  • Old process, new class
    Somayah Allibhai-Mawani, an art student, hangs a cyanotype in a dark room in Millington Hall. The primitive photo process involves coating the paper with chemicals that react to sunlight.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

  • Old process, new class

    Old process, new class
    Photography teacher Eliot Dudik works with students creating cyanotypes, a primitive photographic process. Dudik’s class represents W & M’s first foray into programming an art photography program.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

  • Old process, new class

    Old process, new class
    Art student Kelsey Hughes is working in Millington’s darkroom on a cyanotype she created from one of her sketches.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

  • Old process, new class

    Old process, new class
    Photography professor Eliot Dudik has tried to compress the value of a one-semester knowledge program for graduate art students, so that they at least get a taste of the photography process.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

  • Old process, new class

    Old process, new class
    Dreamlike quality defines the negatives the students created with pinhole cameras made from cans of paint.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

  • Old process, new class

    Old process, new class
    Art student Kelsey Hughes waits for cyanotypes on a sunny day. The antique photo process involves chemicals that react to sunlight, creating a negative blue image.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

  • Old process, new class

    Old process, new class
    Art students Grayson Cooke, Kelsey Hughes, Austen Dunn and Somayah Allibhai-Mawani work in Millington’s darkroom in W & M’s first fine art photography course.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

  • Old process, new class

    Old process, new class
    A cyanotype created by a student on a sunny day. The process involves coating the paper with a chemical that reacts to sunlight, creating a negative blue image.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

  • Old process, new class

    Old process, new class
    Art students Kelsey Hughes and Somaya Allibhai-Mawani work on cyanotypes outside of photography class.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

by Cortney Langley
|
March 4, 2015

Somayah Allibhai-Mawani knows something is wrong even before print development is complete.

“It looks so dark,” she said softly.

She, two other students of William & Mary and Eliot Dudik, a visiting assistant professor of photography, are in a forgotten darkroom in Millington’s basement. It is believed to have housed the Flat hat darkroom before the advent of digital news photography.

The Allibhai-Mawani print is more than dark. It’s all black. Dudik suggests she try again.

The class represents the university’s first foray into fine art photography. Dudik joined William & Mary this summer to develop a photography program within the Department of Art and Art History.

He also coordinates the Andrews Gallery, which increasingly features new contemporary photographs in addition to the work of academic artists in traditional William & Mary mediums.

Upon hearing that the photo course was on the horizon, a number of art and art history students expressed disappointment that they graduated before they had a chance to take classes. So Dudik decided to offer this semester a simplified crash course in photography as an independent study class to these four seniors: Allibhai-Mawani, Kelsey Hughes, Grayson Cooke and Austen Dunn.

“I try to give them a good introduction to everything I would normally teach in the whole program,” Dudik said.

They started with antique and non-silver photographic processes, such as cyanotypes. They began working in the darkroom with photographs they took with pinhole cameras – made from paint cans that students placed photo paper in.

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Then they moved on to shooting with the famous Holga cameras of the 1980s, then to other medium and large format cameras, and finally to current digital scanning and printing technology.

Back in the darkroom, Dudik inspects Austen Dunn’s print, noting that its edges appear much lighter than the middle of the image. Pinhole photos are sweet and dreamy to begin with, but this one is positively fleeting.

“The great thing about this kind of process, just like the Holga camera that you’ll be using soon, is that each camera has its own unique personality,” says Dudik. “It almost looks like Austen has a light leak, so I’m checking to see if there’s a part that wasn’t painted black that maybe was bouncing the light inside, but it has the looks pretty well painted… it’s a feature of your camera, which is cool.

Student Kelsey Hughes says she originally assumed the class would focus on how to take good photographs, based on Dudik’s work. Instead, the students were immediately immersed in the history of photography, which she said provided context and a better appreciation for the craft.

“As I got to know the camera obscura and how it actually works, I thought it was really interesting,” she said. “I love all of these different processes, rather than just going out with a digital camera and taking pictures all the time. Anyone can do it easily. But no one knows how to do this with a paint bucket.

After about 15 minutes, Allibhai-Mawani’s second impression came out perfectly, revealing from ground level details of a massive tree, which she reveals looming outside Millington. It is perfectly balanced between the misty dreamlike effect and the solid, steep rooting of the tree.

The we’re going, ”says Dudik, likening the photograph to a Sally Mann landscape. “So I wonder what happened to this other; he must have been exposed to the light somehow.

“Much better than pure black,” Allibhai-Mawani said.

Dudik plans to offer a similar course again in the fall, as well as a joint course with Associate Professor of Art History Charles Palermo, in which Palermo will give a lecture on the history of photography and Dudik will provide practical instruction.


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