Photography Instruction: Brooks Institute Closes!

by William Lulow

I just read that Brooks Institute, the venerable school of commercial photography has closed its doors permanently! Brooks has trained many photographers over the years. When I was an assistant learning our trade back in the 1970s, I met many successful, commercial photographers who had graduated from the school in Santa Barbara, CA. As a matter of fact, I had visited it once, many years ago on a trip to California and was impressed with its facilities.

It struck me as very curious that it had closed. Photographers, back in those days, were trained in everything from exposure techniques to Adams’ “Zone System” to Brett Weston’s printing ideas. Most people these days have heard of Ansel Adams, but I doubt many practicing photographers these days have heard of Brett Weston or even Alfred Steiglitz for that matter.

As I have said many times, digital photography has engendered a breed of photographers who really don’t know anything about photography! Maybe they have taken a few workshops or courses in how to use their digital cameras, or maybe they’ve even taken a course or two in studio lighting, but they are not photographers in the same sense that Brooks Institute used to train! They, instead, are practitioners who are able to use techniques they have learned to fulfill their goal of setting themselves up in a photographic business of one sort or another. Maybe they shoot houses for real estate brokers. Or, maybe they shoot babies and children in a particular style they have developed. All of which may be well and good, but they have not learned about photography!

One of the best publications I have ever used was the original Time/Life series on photography. It taught how the medium was born, evolved and became what the great masters knew and loved! Of course, it was published way before the digital age, so it did not include many of today’s masters. But, it was instrumental in providing a good, detailed history of photography as well as lessons on various specialties within the medium itself.

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As a practicing photographer of over 40 years, I consider myself not only knowledgeable in the basics of the art and business of photography, but conversant in its history as well! I have studied the great masters of both the traditional and digital! I have studied the history of the medium from its infancy to the changes that technology has made. I have attended many exhibitions at museums and galleries all in an effort to soak in the rich history and technique of our medium.  Practitioners who have not kept pace with this history are missing out on very important information. With all the self-help websites and other information out there these days, a school like Brooks perhaps, should have seen this coming. But, a school like Brooks Institute used to teach its students a lot of this. I mourn its loss!

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