SFAI’s photography program asks students to unite strong ideas, technical mastery, and personal meaning, emphasizing the complexity and possibilities of this evolving medium.
The visual language of photography is central to our understanding of the world around us, and SFAI’s program considers photographs both as formal objects and as modes of communication, documentation, expression, and critique. As students work inside and out of the studio, they consider questions central to the history and future of the medium: What characterizes a particular photograph as art? How has photography reproduced or challenged what is thought of as real or true? How has the digital revolution impacted the practice and interpretation of photography? What emerging technologies will shape 21st century image-making—and what historical methods offer unexplored potential?
Established in 1945 by Ansel Adams and Minor White, SFAI’s Photography Department was the first in the country dedicated to fine art photography, and the program continues to engage with aesthetic, theoretical, and technical issues surrounding contemporary photography. With the freedom to pursue independent projects in both analog and digital formats, graduate students take approaches from personal narratives to documentary work to experimental abstractions. SFAI’s interdisciplinary emphasis encourages students to draw from areas such as film/video, printmaking, design, performance, and writing to imagine new forms of production and display.
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.
Graduate Photography students have studios in the Graduate Center, which also houses a darkroom. At the Chestnut Street campus, 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 and 35mm, medium format, and 4x5 cameras, are available to students for checkout.