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BU Photography Club: Capturing Life

Students learn to paint with light

| From BU Today | By Amy Laskowski | Video by Robin Berghaus

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In the video above, the BU Photography Club “paints” by using LED lights and flaming flying objects. The results are glowing rings of fire and playful scenes. Photo by Ben Cooper

Night has fallen by the time a group of a dozen students meets on the banks of the Charles River. The Boston skyline looms on the horizon, throwing bits of illumination into the dark sky. But down near the river, swirls of light suddenly begin to fly, followed immediately by the snap of a camera.

The BU Photography Club strikes again. On this evening, members are using flashlights and flaming bits of steel wool in an exercise designed to teach them how to paint with light. The students manually adjust their shutter speed (anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes) and direct light near things they want to highlight, exposing people posing in the process. Then someone takes a flashlight and quickly draws whirling shapes and writes words in the air. The photos show whatever light was exposed in the total time the shutter speed was set for, revealing words like “love” or “BU” scrawled in messy white letters.

Many of these images are on display in the club’s Gallery Showcase, in BU Central, 775 Commonwealth Ave. The student-run show highlights the work of amateur photographers from across the University.

Photo by Yi Lin Hung

The Photography Club prides itself on offering instructional support for amateur photographers, says group president Almond Dhukka (ENG’12). “We’re one of the largest groups on campus, and we attract students with lots of different workshops,” he says (the club has a mailing list of 450). “We make it a priority to make sure our members grow as photographers.”

Current members believe the club started in 1997, but Dhukka recently discovered a photograph in Barnes & Noble at BU (along the escalator between the fourth and fifth floors), of an incarnation of the club dating back to the 1950s. Optional dues of $25 give members special access to the darkroom in the College of Communication basement (the only one available to non–photo majors), paper and supplies, and priority in signing up for the club’s popular photo walks around the city.

The group does not discriminate between digital and film photography, teaching workshops on both darkroom technique and digital editing software. Students are welcome regardless of their experience or proficiency.

The club’s bimonthly photo walks offer some of the best teaching and learning opportunities. Besides trying their hand at light painting along the Charles, members have also traveled to Boston’s waterfront, the Financial District, and MIT. Club officers lead the walk and answer questions, but the point behind the walks is to get members to look at familiar landscapes in an original way. The club also hosts speakers to talk about issues like copyright law and photography’s place in the art world.

Photo by Albaraa Falodah

“The Photo Club members have a wide range of knowledge, from students who have photographed their whole lives to those who just use their iPhone,” says Kal Zabarsky (CFA’69), the club’s advisor and a longtime BU staff photographer. “In terms of advising, those teaching really try to nurture others’ excitement without overdoing the technical aspects. But for those students who want the extra instruction, the club can teach them.”

The Photo Club has collaborated with the College of Fine Arts Arts Live blog for an upcoming project called Reveal Your BU. The recently announced Tumblr page will be an open forum for members of the BU community to upload their photos of life at BU. Anything and everything is accepted.

In the days leading up to the Gallery Showcase, Dhukka could be found in the COM basement helping students prepare their prints for the show. He was on hand to advise, but students had to choose and crop their own images. The showcase features 48 color, black-and-white, and monochrome photographs from 31 undergraduate and graduate students.

White Sand Dunes, Plate II. Photo by Almond Dhukka

Dhukka, a self-taught photographer, has two pieces in the showcase, White Sand Dunes, Plate II and White Sand Dunes, Plate III. Both are black-and-white images of New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument. The two works are a study in contrasting shades of gray, and at first glance seem featureless.

“My intent with those photographs is to show the stark relationship between the vast sky and these seemingly out-of-place formations below,” Dhukka says. “I intentionally decided to make the photographs smaller, around four inches by four inches, to force the viewer to really get close with the piece.”

For Dhukka, leading the group is a way to connect with other people interested in photography. “I define myself as an engineer by trade and a photographer by passion,” he says.

Sherry Prasad joined the group because of her love of black-and-white photography. She has selected a digital black-and white-photograph of her mother for the club show. “I’m a premed major and I’ve always liked taking pictures, but obviously don’t get to do it often with my major,” Prasad (CAS’14) says. “I like that it is an open club, and that if you need help or critiques, they are there for you.”

Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

“The show varies quite a bit, as we left it up to the members to submit whatever they wanted,” Dhukka says. “Some opted to show their best work of the past year or so, some opted to show their best work of all time, and some just chose something they thought was interesting. We’re not curating the show, and it’s completely up to the members. This is just as much their creation as it is ours.”

The Gallery Showcase is at BU Central, 775 Commonwealth Ave.

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