The location of our photography department within the College’s historic Old Building is highly significant, as photography was first taught here in the late nineteenth century. Plans show that the first rooms photography was taught in have now been reassigned to the new Film School, and that the room at the very top of the building's tower was the photo printing room. Just as the Film School embraces the latest developments in photography, film and animation, our first photography provision equipped aspiring professionals and enthusiasts to participate in the rapidly advancing world of photography.
Records for 1895 show that the Engineering Department offered a short course of instruction with practical lessons and regular excursions. Classes were held on Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon in June and July. The course fee of seven shillings and sixpence, which equates to around £40 today, included use of the darkroom. Students already enrolled in other College courses could attend for a discounted fee of only five shillings. The introductory lecture was free to prospective students and concluded with an exhibition of lantern slides showing photographs previously taken on the course.
The course was taught by Professor Charnock, Head of the Department of Engineering and one of the institution’s most senior figures. Although the practical tasks set are designed to demonstrate mastery of technical aspects and the specific needs of engineering, some appreciation of the aesthetic aspects of photography are also apparent.
The weekly lectures encompassed: “The theory of light as applied to photography, including the general properties of the spectrum, and the chemical action of light. The principles of photographic optics, reflection and refraction of light, with the forms and properties of lenses. The dark room, its arrangement and method of lighting; choice of apparatus, studio and out-door cameras, detective or hand cameras, camera stands and other accessories. The use of stops, shades and instantaneous swing-back in the camera. Exposure, relative sensitiveness of the various kinds of plate, actinometers. The gelatine dry-plate process in theory and practice, various methods of developing, fixing, clearing, intensifying and reducing negatives, and the general properties of the chemicals employed. Orthochromatic photography. Silver printing, including vignetting, printing in clouds, &c.; toning, fixing, mounting, and finishing the prints. Printing by development on bromide paper.Landscape photography. In the field. Picture making by photography.Copying and enlarging by camera, and with the lantern. Transparency and lantern slide making. Use of gelatino-chloride plates. Ferro-prussiate, or blue-printing process, and other methods employed by engineers for copying drawings, preparing and sensitising the paper, &c.”
Photography Lecturer, Andy Vaines was fascinated by this first syllabus and explained that during this period photography was becoming cheaper and more accessible to the better off. He commented, "We are still teaching those fundamental skills on our diploma and degree programmes. This first
course had all the core skills needed as a photographer and gave a basic understanding of how materials react and how to get the best results with the technology available."
Whilst our photography department has produced some exceptionally successful photographers in recent times, the first College student to create an international stir with her photographs was Elsie Wright. She attended College from the age of thirteen and worked as an illustrator designing greetings cards before finding employment in the darkroom of a photographic lab. In 1917 she combined these skills to produce the famous photographs of her cousin, Frances supposedly playing with fairies found at the bottom of the garden. The photographs of the 'Cottingley Fairies' were convinced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and fooled scientific investigators for over sixty years.