Farewell, Film

February 22, 2010


Photo by Nicole Cousins.

Load film, snap 24 or 36 photos, rewind film. Carefully wind it around a reel in the darkroom, add a lineup of chemicals, inverting the canister every 60 seconds, rinse in water, cross fingers and wait for an image to appear on the negative strip. This has been the process for students taking JO 305, Basic Photography, in the photojournalism program for about 60 years.

Starting next semester, it will go something like this: snap photo, instantly check result and connect camera to computer.

The Negatives of Film

The BU photojournalism program will no longer actively teach students how to shoot with and develop film, according to Program Director and Associate Professor of Journalism, Peter Southwick. About five or six years ago, all the advanced photojournalism classes went digital, Southwick said, but beginning next semester, the four remaining basic photo courses using film will be taught with a digital camera.

This change is arising as the use of film has becomes obsolete in the news industry, said Southwick, a former Director of Photography at the Boston Globe. Being taught with film is like learning Latin, he said. “While learning Latin makes it easier for you to learn French and Spanish, I always thought, why don’t I just start learning French and Spanish now? I would rather have people start with a practical skill right away.”

The digital transformation is also part of an effort to give more journalism students the opportunity to acquire skills in photojournalism, said Southwick. As jobs openings in the news industry grow increasingly competitive, being a competent digital photographer is becoming a crucial skill for journalism students.

There is also a proposal to update the film printing room in the basement of the College of Communication, he said. The print room would become a general purpose room for larger classes of Basic Photo and possibly for digital printing. All of the tools necessary to develop film and produce photos would remain, but on a smaller scale–the dark room and the current film developing room will combine with the printing room and six print enlargers would remain.

The essentials of how to take a photograph will remain unchanged, Southwick said. The syllabus and assignments will largely stay the same and like the SLR film cameras, digital cameras will be required to have manual settings.

“You learn how to shoot photos effectively no matter what medium you’re using,” he said. “It’s the content that matters.”

The price of a digital SLR camera, however, is significantly more than a film camera, and Southwick says they are still working on acquiring funding for more cameras.

The shift in focus to journalism students, combined with the increased camera expense, could decrease the enrollment of non-journalism students into the class, of students who are looking for an elective or hobby.  For these students, the College of Fine Arts will continue to offer its film Introduction to Photography and Photography courses, which are open to non-majors after freshmen registration, said Alana Silva, administrative coordinator at CFA.

“I still have a lot of affection for film but at this point we have to be teaching fundamentals for journalism students that they can use and not just enjoy,” said Southwick.

Goodbye Bolex

The Film and Television Department is also planning to eliminate the use of Bolex film cameras in the Production I course, but will continue to use film in Production II and III courses, said Paul Schneider, Chair of the department and associative professor of Television.

“The Bolex cameras are very old and rather primitive and difficult to teach with,” Schneider said.

The digital camera is a superior teaching tool, Schneider said. “You can plug the digital camera into a monitor and you can show a student framing, composition and lighting.” It is also more expensive to shoot film than to shoot high-definition, said Schneider.

However, unlike photojournalism, film is still widely used in television and movie industry. “There are an awful lot of directors and cinematographers, including myself, who think that the look of 35 mm or 70 mm film is very powerful, very effective, very rich, so we’re kind of reluctant to give it up,” he said.

Processing the Change

For BU students, the impact of the transition from film to digital is dependent on what they are looking to gain from a photo or film class.

Kristyn Ulanday is a senior photojournalism major who has worked in the photo lab for three semesters.

“Mostly people who come to the photo lab aren’t photojournalism majors yet,” she said.

Ulanday herself has not processed film since she was a senior in high school and petitioned out of Basic Photo because she was the Photo Editor of “The Daily Free Press” and had already taken a photo class in high school.

“I do see the need to switch over to digital and starting right off the bat with learning it. It is the new format for everything,” she said. “I think it means that more people will be able to learn faster.”

Shereen Samadzadeh, a junior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Public Relations, took a photo class in high school and wanted to take a more in-depth film class in college.

“Digital photography is definitely something I am interested in learning about, as I am looking into buying myself a digital camera soon, but it is not a replacement for the hands on learning that a film photo class gives,” she said.
“Many aspects of our lives are becoming digital, so it makes sense to teach a digital photography class, but I think the solution would be to offer both digital and basic photo classes, enabling students to choose which they find more valuable or useful for their own pursuits,” Samadzadeh said.