Balancing the study of the history of photography with inquiry into its future, SFAI’s program emphasizes the complexity and possibilities of this evolving medium.

Established in 1945 by Ansel Adams and Minor White, SFAI’s Photography Department was the first in the country dedicated to photography as a fine art, and has a legacy of engagement with environmental and societal conditions. The early faculty included such influential artists as Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange, John Collier Jr., Imogen Cunningham, and Pirkle Jones. Among our alumni are Ralph Gibson, Annie Leibovitz, Larry Sultan, and Catherine Opie.

Guided by dedicated faculty, students at SFAI explore photography’s potential on aesthetic, technical, and conceptual levels, revealing the subjective undercurrent of the “reality” that a camera captures. Working with both analog and digital processes, students focus on strategies such as documentary, the narrative, and experimental image-making to refine their reasoning. Many students also cross the boundary of still photography into the moving image, text, and book arts. Whether images emanate from a traditional darkroom or software, the curriculum develops the skills and insights necessary for visual communication, critical evaluation, and individual expression.

The on-campus Prentice and Paul Sack Stillights Gallery and the Diego Rivera Gallery provide photography students with opportunities to display their work. The Bay Area offers many resources to enhance a photographer’s practice: SFMOMA, the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley, The Pilara Collection, the Prentice and Paul Sack Collection, and the California Historical Society have extensive photographic holdings, and a large number of galleries exclusively show photo-based work. The organization Photo Alliance also programs a lecture series that brings nationally known photographers to San Francisco.


The Photography Department’s resources include a 12-station group darkroom and private darkrooms, all with Saunders and Beseler enlargers to print 35 mm to 8x10 inch negatives; a digital facility, fully color managed with Mac Pro towers; Epson V700 & 10000XL, Nikon 9000, and Imacon Precision III scanners; a 30x40 inch UV light exposure unit for historic processes; filtered and temperature controlled water for film processing; a fully equipped lighting studio with a green screen and lighting grid; mat-cutting facilities; and a classroom with Intel iMac computers and Epson printers. Digital and film cameras, including Canon SLRs with HD video capability, 35mm, medium format, and 4x5 cameras, are available to students for checkout.