Photography and Photographers at RIT: An Overview

Cover of the photography class brochure from 1902
Cover of the photography class brochure from 1902


Photography and Photographers at RIT:

An Overview  


RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences began as the Photographic Technology Course in 1930. Classes in photography had been taught at the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute since 1902, but this was the first organized program at the university to train students for a career in the field. 

The first classes were designed to provide basic training in photography and prepare students for work in industry. Courses were offered in the fundamentals of photography, chemistry, optics, theory, technical practices as well as business training. C.B. Neblette and Frederick Brehm, the first instructors, both came from Eastman Kodak Company, and the program was closely allied with the photographic industry in Rochester.

In 1939 a program in professional photography was developed to train students for portrait, commercial, and advertising photography. In the fifties a fine art component, called illustrative photography, was added. The school is now recognized for outstanding programs in all these areas.

This exhibition has multiple parts. First, a brief overview of the first fifty years of the school, when the major areas of the curriculum were established, is presented. RIT Archive Collections is fortunate to have historical and contemporary examples of classroom exercises that illustrate the curriculum first-hand, and two cases contain items taken from these collections. Next, individual works by former and current faculty, and alumni are displayed. Substantial donations of archives have enlarged the collections related to the school considerably, including alumni Bernie Boston and Jeannette Klute, as well as former faculty Bea Nettles and Bill DuBois. Two cases contain works from a series of faculty portfolios published in the 1980s and 90s. Finally, selections from the Purchase Prize collection of student works show the breadth of the curriculum and the quality of the programs in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences.