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What Your Smart Phone Photos Can’t Do

Photography art students learn that film and prints still matter

In an age of iPhones and Androids, why would students want to spend time learning how to make art prints of their photographs, which are often shot on film? Professor of Art William Wylie says it’s because after learning what makes a good image, some students see value in the experience of the photograph amid modern technologies.

“The object nature of a print versus the fleeting experience of something stored on a computer or viewed online is a very different way to think about art,” he says. “There’s something about the time and space required to look at a physical print. And using film gives you a certain richness and detail that digital just can’t capture.”

For more than a decade, Wylie has been teaching an advanced photography class to fourth-year students, whose portfolios become part of the photography department’s collection.

“That means something to students,” he says. “It’s helpful as a teacher too, because when I show current students the work from previous years, they see this incredible work and know they have something to measure up to. It creates a certain expectation. And if any of them ever become world famous—and a few might—we can say we’ve got one of their prints here at UVA.”

Below are the student photographs from this year’s graduating class selected for the portfolio, along with a brief comment by Wylie on why they were chosen.

Kendall Combs
A studio art minor, Kendall worked all semester with a large-format camera, black-and-white film, and darkroom prints. For this outstanding landscape of the Doyle’s Branch Falls in Shenandoah National Park, she had to pack the camera down three miles of rugged trails and negotiate the cliffs to find the “best” vantage point. Then she had to trudge the camera back up that three-mile hill. The beauty of the print she wrought, however, has a traditional quality that cannot be overstated.

Carey Coleman
Carey chose to work with the concept of abstraction. But the end of the semester she had moved beyond the camera to more complex ways for creating “non-objective” work. A distinctly photographic appearance underlies imagery that defies explanation. And the beauty factor is off the charts.

Ataira Franklin
“Frankie,” as we called her, was an all-star basketball player here at UVA and has been working with photography since her second year. She struggled every semester trying to avoid using basketball as a subject, feeling it was such a major part of her life that she should make art about something else. In her final semester, however, after the season ended, she turned her attention to the details behind the scenes of the more public game. This image is at once a map and guide to the sport known only to players and a view of a space that select few athletes ever get the privilege of inhabiting.

Julia Loman
Julia was a double major in studio art and biology and was trying to figure out how art could more directly convey the intricacies of nature. She eventually began to intervene in the landscape by setting up “events” that on one hand felt like scientific data collecting and on the other hand like a child’s experimental sculpture. The area inside the marked-off area defines an ordered space that contrasts with the chaos of the natural world that surrounds it. Julia found a way to point out the inconsistency of that standard assumption.

Constanze Brand
This “detail” is both monumental and insignificant. It is a bathroom stall with cracking drywall and soothing paint colors. The shadows and forms build a visual structure that formally relates to sculpture and modernism in architecture. “Coco,” as we call her, was looking for these iconic forms in everyday life and found a gem here. She will be starting in the architecture program in Glasgow School of Art next fall.

Elise Sokolowski
Elise was looking at adolescence through the eyes of her teenage sister, Stella. The project incorporated places that felt like transition zones, such as backyards and alleyways, with faces of young women, revealing both the awkwardness and tenderness of the age. This photograph of Stella, alone and cold in a space that is wide open and full of possibility, stood out as the one that touched on all the signifiers in the work.

Sara Blake
This work from the Eastern Shore of Virginia focused on the details that defined that particular community. Those tended to be most visible in the architecture and signs of commerce. Peace Token Cigarettes stood in stark contrast with reality in many ways. For instance, the Native American depicted on the sign was not from the Eastern Shore but from a western plains tribe and while tobacco served as a form of peace offering to native peoples, a cigarette in contemporary culture represents something far more diabolical.

Ally Burnett
Ally graduated in 2013 and was awarded the Aunspaugh Fifth-Year Fellowship to continue her work another year as a post-bac. She approached the idea of death and decay of the body by creating metaphors through photographic references and combining them with soundtracks of morticians talking about their practice. The class felt this image best represented her project. The tunnel is both vessel and passage and the fluid that pours out empties into a dirty puddle. And for good measure, raw concrete has never looked so beautiful.

Roxanna Trujillo
Roxanna’s work all semester focused on gender roles and mostly consisted of portraits and figures. This “portrait” of a very gendered machine excited the class, and in particular we liked the juxtaposition of the bike with the dirty snow. All dressed up with nowhere to go.