Curriculum Development : Photography

B. Des. in Communication Design 


A. Introduction

In July 2014, I joined the prestigious National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Kolkata as a guest faculty. I was to teach photography to students pursuing Bachelor of Design (B. Des.) in Fashion Communication (FC). The first year of the four year B.Des. program is same across all the departments of NIFT— Fashion Design, Fashion Technology, Knitwear Design, Leather Design, Accessory Design and Fashion Communication. It is geared towards proving a common design foundation. Third semester onwards the students specialise in their respective disciplines.

B. Fashion Communication : Existing Syllabus

The focus areas of the FC course are— Graphic Design, Space Design, Fashion Journalism, Photography and Advertising. Being part of India's best fashion college, the course has a fashion bias. However, it is not limited by it. According to the syllabus provided, the photography module is divided in four levels. One level each for the four semesters (second and third year of the FC program). The aim of 'Photography Level-1' is to teach the basics of camera and lighting. The subsequent levels covere topics such as portrait, fashion, architecture, product and photojournalism.


C. SWOT Analysis

After my first semester teaching, I noticed certain shortcomings in the syllabus. So I decided to get feedback from students and conduct a SWOT analysis on the curriculum. For the next six semesters I have continued collecting feedback and in an attempt to improve my teaching.

 

I. Strength
The department has a well equipped studio with latest high-end dSLRs, lights and a computer lab with latest iMacs. The college has reputed departments teaching design for different disciplines such as fashion, textile, leather and product.

 

II. Weakness
Students not incentivised to conduct in-depth research. There is no academic requirement to produce detailed process documentation. The students are over-burdened with assignments. As a result blatant plagiarism is rampant. Also the course does not  capitalise on it’s strength and no cross-discipline learning with the other departments is actively developed.

III. Opportunity
According to a report published in November 2016 titled ’The Future of Design Education in India’ by British Council, the potential market for design in India is expected to grow to INR 188.32 billion by 2020. Of that, only a fifth of the design market is currently tapped. If the design potential is fully realized, the number of designers required in industrial, graphic, communication, packaging and other design domains will be 62,000 by 2020. However currently, there are approximately 7,000 qualified designers in the country and approximately 5,000 students in design education. There is a huge scope of growth.

 

IV. Threat
The challenges faced by photographers is eloquently explained by artist Chuck Close. He says, “Photography is the easiest medium with which to be merely competent. Almost anybody can be competent. It's the hardest medium in which to have some sort of personal vision and to have a signature style.” In this digital age when everyone is a photographer thanks to their mobile phones, conceptualising visuals and executing them with an unique style become the hallmark of professional expertise.

V. Recommendations*

1. The foundation subjects are often ignored by students. As a result, their base is very weak. The general feedback I get with every new batch is that they feel it’s a waste of time.

2. Even a majority of the better students fail to connect what they learn in Elements of Design (EoD), Principles of Design (PoD) or Art History during foundation to what they will eventually learn in Sem III onwards. They need to be taught practical applications of these theoretical subjects during foundation.

3. Students look at core subjects such as Graphic Design, Photography, Visual Merchandising, Styling, or Fashion Journalism as separate modules. There is no synergy or cross application. E.g. photography assignments would often come with ugly layout or typography. And there would be no application of lessons learnt during VM to show- case photography as an installation or exhibit.

4. To solve the problem mentioned in #3, one or two big assignments every semester that involves different subjects should be planned. E.g. Photography + Styling; Photography + Fashion Journalism + Graphic Design; VM + Photography. This approach would also reduce the bur- den on students and contribute towards a stronger portfolio.

5. There needs to be a stress on research. Research for a majority of students stops at Google image search and idly browsing Pinterest.

6. Design schools globally work towards inculcating the importance of process among their students. It is not the final work but the concept, iterations, mistakes, problems, and solutions to those that are looked at and marked. This rigorous process, which makes for a better de- signer, is missing.

7. In the absence of process, students often submit a basic iteration of something that already exists on the internet. Plagiarism is rampant and it’s taken very lightly. To solve these two problems, students can be encouraged to stress on key aspects of the process like research and iterations by incentivizing them with marks for those steps.

8. The course should be more open so that students are free to choose the subjects they like. A completely open course may be impractical logistically, but a solution to that can be cross department electives each semester. NIFT has various skill sets across departments. And coordination between departments would be beneficial to all students.

9. Current syllabus touches the basics of photography. But is not designed to help the students develop an industry ready working portfolio.

10. Ancillary areas with job prospects like product styling, retouching, cinematography, video editing, colour grading, motion graphics, etc are not explored in the current syllabus.

11. Indesign, Illustrator and some other basic software should be taught in the foundation year rather than obsolete ones like Corel draw. The time thus saved can be utilised Sem III onwards to learn more relevant software on 3d modelling, coding, video and audio editing, colour grading, etc.

12. A compulsory module during Sem VI on developing portfolio should be introduced. This would help the students apply for their internships. Also the module on Presentation Technique should not be an elective. Industry cares more about work and not marks.

13. Other than being employed as a photojournalist by a publication, most job opportunities in photography are mostly freelance and hence entrepreneurial in nature. The syllabus doesn’t equip the students to face those real challenges. So modules that provide a working knowledge of accounts, costing, taxation, IP rights, copyright law, contract, and marketing strategies should be introduced.

*To read the letter addressed to NIFT for curriculum restructuring, click here.


D. Redesigning

Photography is just one of the subjects being taught to future designers at NIFT. As such, the course needed to stress on the interdisciplinary aspects of photography vis-a-vis other branches of communication design such as graphic design, space design, advertising and even journalism. This cross-discipline approach is something that is often missing in traditional photography courses. For those courses, photography is sacrosanct. A holy grail of sorts that is not to be messed with. On the contrary for FC students photography is a starting point, not the destination. It is one of the raw materials in the design process whose aim is to communicate an idea efficiently. So they should focus on the content and not be a slave to the medium. With that in mind, I started with the syllabus provided but went beyond its scope. I added modules like visual literacy, critical thinking, showcasing and marketing strategies, as well as the entrepreneurial and legal aspects of being a photographer. I tried to support this idea of exploration by giving them a sound knowledge base and lot of practise so that they could imbibe the theory. I have tried to inculcate in them a strong sense of research. And my syllabus focuses primarily on encouraging them to know the rules in order to eventually break them.

I. Philosophy

Photography, at least great photography, is a synergy of knowledge, practice and exploration. To revamp the syllabus, I turned to the three princes from the Isle of Serendip, martial arts and an obscure Zen idea.

While we now associate serendipity with dumb luck, at its birth, it referred to a skill that could be acquired rather than a random stroke of good fortune. At its heart serendipity is all about interacting with disciplines that are diverse and different from the ones we are used to, in order to lend a fresh perspective. Hence, it is something that we can actively achieve.

But just knowing something is of no use. In the context of martial arts training, one often hears the expression karada de oboeru. It’s Japanese for learning with the body. When you've done something — an action or technique — a few times, you'll have some understanding of it. Only when you've put your body through it a few thousand times, it becomes an instinct.

Lastly, exploration can appear esoteric or even pointless. The zen philosophy of mushin can help demystify it. Translated 'mind without mind,' it’s when a person is free from anger, fear, ego or emotions. At this point, he relies not on what he think should be the next move, but what is felt intuitively. In this state a master finally understands the uselessness of techniques and becomes truly free to move.

 

II. Course Weightage


E. Syllabus

Module 1 : Genesis

1A. Introduction
1B. History of Photography
1C. Photography in Colour




 

Module 2 : The Art of Seeing

2A. Visual Literacy Basics
2B. Advanced Visual Literacy
2C. Art History for Photographers
2D. Killing Darlings [Editing]
2E. Building Narratives
2F. Critical Thinking and Ethics
2G. Film Theory

Module 3 : Light and Camera

3A. Fundamentals of Light
3B. Placing Shadows
3C. Controlling Exposure
3D. Lens and it’s Features
3E. Flash Photography
3F. Basics of Motion Picture Photography
3G. Audio Recording
 

Module 4 : Exploring Genres

4A. People
4B. Things
4C. Spaces
4D. Fashion (Introduction)
4E. Fashion (People)
4F. Fashion (Things)
4G. Graduation Project (Optional)

Module 5 : After Photography

5A. File Management and Basic Workflow
5B. Advanced Retouching
5C. Showcasing Strategies
5D. Video and Audio Editing
5E. Colour Grading
5F. 3D Modelling and Motion Graphics
5G. Coding for Designers : HTML, CSS, Processing
5H. Building Websites with CMS

Module 6 : The Business

6A. IP Rights, Copyright Law and Contract
6B. Marketing Strategies
6C. Accounts and Invoicing
6D. Costing and Taxation
6E.Applying for Grants and Fellowships


F. Module Distribution

Photography Level 1

1A. Introduction
1B. History of Photography
1C. Photography in Colour

2A. Visual Literacy Basics
2B. Advanced Visual Literacy
2C. Art History for Photographers
2D. Killing Darlings [Editing]
2E. Building Narratives

3A. Fundamentals of Light
3B. Placing Shadows
3C. Controlling Exposure
3D. Lens and it’s Features

4D. Fashion (Introduction)

5A. File Management and Basic Workflow

Photography Level 2

2F. Critical Thinking and Ethics
2G. Film Theory

3E. Flash Photography
3F. Basics of Motion Picture Photography
3G. Audio Recording

4A. People

5B. Advanced Retouching
5C. Showcasing Strategies
5D. Video and Audio Editing
6A. IP Rights, Copyright Law and Contract

Photography Level 3

4B. Things
4F. Fashion (Things)

5E. Colour Grading
5F. 3D Modelling and Motion Graphics
5G. Coding for Designers : HTML, CSS, Processing
5H. Building Websites with CMS

6B. Marketing Strategies

Photography Level 4

4C. Spaces
4G. Graduation Project (Optional)

6C. Accounts and Invoicing
6D. Costing and Taxation
6E. Applying for Grants and Fellowships


G. Assessment

Marks Distribution

Internal Assessment

Hover on the pie charts to see %


H. Expected Outcomes

1. Exposure to varied styles of photography, techniques and processes leading to development of sophisticated understanding of visual language.

2. A professional portfolio comprising of projects in portrait, architecture, product and fashion photography.

3. Knowledge of photography techniques, visual literacy, art history, ethics, intellectual property rights and entrepreneurship

4. Expertise in skills such as lighting, developing visual narratives, conceptualising  projects, creative direction, retouching, cinematography, audio recording, editing and colour grading films. 

4. Familiarity with the following softwares-
Photoshop, Lightroom, Final Cut Pro, Audition, Da Vinci Resolve, Cinema 4D, After Effects, HTML, CSS and Processing.


I. Student's Gallery

I. Beyond Words by Baishali Pradhan / Graduation Project : Semester VIII

II. The Purple Heart Project by Rajshree Saraf / Semester IV

NB : Copyright of photos displayed in this section remains with the respective photographers.