Lack of film photography lab tech leaves students ‘scrambling’

Film photography supplies used in 1A; contact sheet and photo paper box. Photos by Vivienne Aguilar.
Film photography supplies used in 1A: contact sheet and photo paper box. Photos by Vivienne Aguilar.

Fall 2019 is the first semester Delta’s Photography Lab is running without a technician. Students are confused, crowded, and messy with only one advisor available due to the school’s decision to cut the photo lab tech position. 

The stress in the lab is palpable, and must be taken seriously by the school. A lab tech must be hired, or the quality of the program will continue to suffer. 

Ever since the removal of the position from the class, Photography professor Kirstyn Russell has been shouldering more than she should. 

In one class period Russell could be tasked with presenting lectures, demos, critiquing, problem solving, delegating to assistants, and mixing chemicals, all before rushing upstairs to another class.

“It’s pretty difficult to do two jobs at once. It doesn’t benefit students, clearly. You can not keep the lab running with just a teacher — you need a designated person,” said Russell.

RTV, Graphic design, and other labs have technicians, why shouldn’t photography?

Lab hours are significantly shorter without a lab tech. As of today, students can only work from Mon/Wed 10:30 a.m. to 1:20 p.m. or Tues/Thurs 8 a.m. to 2.

There was no justification for cutting the 20-plus year old position from the board of trustees, according to Russell. 

“Nobody ever came and reviewed the space, or talked to students,” said Russell.

Without the help of another professional in her field, Russell sometimes falls short when it comes to things like fixing equipment.

While Russell is well-versed in many things, fixing broken cameras and photo enlargers aren’t on that list. Even if she could, she has no time.

“I’m not a trained technician, so I’d much rather that fell on somebody who was trained to do fixes,” says Russell. 

The risk of damage to equipment also increases without a lab tech. 

Due to the crowding in darkrooms, Russell has been challenged to make room. Her current solution has been to allow selected beginner students into the advanced darkrooms. This poses a problem because more things can go wrong for novices in advanced spaces. 

Advanced darkrooms are constantly altered at the whim of advanced students, so the settings on photo enlargers and supplies are of a high caliber. This also causes confusion for beginner students, some have begun to use the space without being prompted to.

“That lab is really reserved for the intermediate/advanced photo majors who committed and get a little more space. So, if suddenly that lab becomes really really packed it kind of takes away from those advanced students’ experience. I feel like I would prefer not to do that, but since we have 27 students in your class and only 17 enlargers, logistically it just doesn’t work,” said Russell. 

On top of it all, 20 percent more students are in photography due to a new section added, and problems with the MyDelta registration system allowed more students to join without consultation from Russell.

Hired student helpers are doing what they can in the absence of a lab tech. They are only qualified to hand out equipment and do small tasks. These students aids are not allowed to mix chemicals, for safety reasons.

“I mean, yeah they can hand me the equipment that I need to come in here,” said photography major, Dawn LeAnn, “but to give me feedback on a challenge that I’m facing as an advanced student, they don’t even have the knowledge to be able to do that. So I think that somebody that has had at least an AA degree in Photography should be the one that’s doing that.”

Assignments this semester are being shortened. 

Russell sent out an email to Photo 1A classes saying she understands the frustration over space and time the first assignment will require one less print. 

“I could dumb down the class, make it easier, but I have an expectation that the students that leave here should be able to go to Sac State, UC Berkley,” said Russell, “I could very much backtrack and make it very much more simplified, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable moving students on in other classes.”

Students are struggling in the photo lab.

“For me as a DSPS student, I have a difficult time when there’s like a lot of people. I get a lot of anxiety due to the fact that we don’t have the hours where the lab’s open more,” said LeAnn, “It’s very stressful. You see everybody scrambling to try to get their work done.”

Students in film photography classes this semester will not have the same opportunities and experience classes from previous years were afforded. 

This must be fixed immediately.