Editor’s Notebook

Posted in Departments, Fall 2015, Editor's Letters

Drexel happens to own one of the few intact copies of Larry Clark’s “Tulsa” photo series, and right now it’s on display in Drexel’s Main Building. If you’re local and into photography, this is a rare chance to see it.

The grim images of Clark and his childhood friends self destructing on drugs and violence made Clark instantly famous, inspired filmmakers such as Scorsese and Coppola, and led a movement in “confessional” art.

Some of the drama of “Tulsa” comes from Clark’s use of a darkroom technique called “dodge and burn” to heighten the images’ dynamic range, creating deep shadows here, luminous light there.

Today, any iPhone can snap a high-dynamic range photo with that signature intensity, contrast and detail. But before there were smartphones, photographers had to use desktop software and tone mapping to combine shots of multiple exposures. And before there was software, they had to control exposure manually in the darkroom using handmade stencils. One famous example, a 1954 photo of Dr. Albert Schweitzer working under the beam of a table lamp, took the photographer five painstaking days to perfect.

Photography — the tools, the techniques, the talents that matter — has been undergoing constant evolution since its invention. Our current epoch has been called the Age of Instagram.

How should photography be taught and studied now? How do you make a career out of taking pictures when everyone thinks they’re a photographer? We asked faculty and alumni those questions for our cover story, “Depth of Field.” We hired a photography alumnus to write it. We illustrated it with photos by seniors in the program. Our cover — part of a photo series on comfort foods by Ryan Geraghty, a recent photography graduate — appealed to us as a playful subversion of the “food porn” genre.

Here’s the short answer from the article: Knowledge and experience are the best antidotes against cliché.

In my pocket, I carry a camcorder, a tilt-shift camera, a dozen or more lenses ranging from macro to zoom and from prime to fish-eye, an entire darkroom, and every filter and photo-editing program imaginable. It’s Hermione’s handbag in there. My smartphone makes me a walking Fotomat, and believe me when I say that my cat-paw pictures are to die for.

If only the tools made the photographer. We’d all be one.


Sonja Sherwood / Editor