Long-Running Student Photo Club Faces Pressure From UAlbany To Move

Jan 29, 2019

Students at one of the University at Albany’s longest-running organizations are speaking out against a potential move from the space they’ve occupied for over 50 years. Members of the University Photo Service club are hoping to keep their space that includes a darkroom, which the university says hasn't been used in years.

As has been the case for decades, if you head up to the third floor of the University at Albany’s Campus Center, you’ll find the home of the student-run University Photo Service.

Photo Service President Sabrina Flores and club Treasurer Erin Connorton show me around.

Flores points out the studio space, lined with photos taken by students over the past half-century. There’s all kinds of equipment, from film cameras to a digital work station.

“Just turn the corner twice here…this is our dark room.”

The Photo Service dark room, with all the necessary sinks and plumbing, was custom built by students. It’s the only space of its kind on campus available to all students outside of one restricted to the art department.

Until its last edition was published in 2014, the office also served as home-base for the student-run Torch yearbook. The yearbook documented daily life and significant campus moments for decades.

Flores shows me the 1972 yearbook, a highly regarded edition published at the height of the protest movement against the Vietnam War.

“Every other photo in the sequence of pages that were graduating seniors, they included a photo of a decapitated Vietnam child. And it was like a really, it was a bold move but it’s such a perfect example of how much freedom this yearbook has had…”

But now Photo Service faces pressure from the university to move. 

“…that whole office space…into this room.”

The potential new space is just down the hall. Flores speaks first, then Connorton.

“This would be the home base for our office, all of our storage, all of our equipment, and photo shoots with such a big member count, that would all happen in this room,” said Flores.

“We actually took a photo of one of our members holding up the size of our backdrop up against the wall and it barely fits by a couple centimeters. So it really would take up the entire room,” said Connorton.

In a letter dated January 15th, more than a week before students returned to campus from winter break, administration officials told Photo Service officers they would need to move by February 15th.

UAlbany proposed that the Photo Service office would instead be used for a student food pantry and an organization to provide used clothing for students.

Photo Service members were shocked.

Flores says they notified alumni and over the weekend launched an online campaign to “Save the Studio.”

“The messages from the alum have been, like, pouring in since we posted everything online yesterday. So it’s showing that a lot of people still do care,” said Flores.

One Photo Service vet is Anthony Tassarotti, who also edited the 1980 Torch yearbook.

“The news was completely unexpected and it rather upsetting as well because Photo Service has this long tradition of service to the students and the faculty and it was a great training ground for me and many other people who went on to make photography a part of their career,” said Tassarotti.

A meeting for concerned students and alumni is set for tonight.   

Monday afternoon, UAlbany informed WAMC that it is willing to postpone the move to learn more about Photo Service’s darkroom needs.

In an email, campus spokesman Jordan Carleo-Evangelist said:

“The challenge we face – and it’s a big one – is balancing the competing demands of +/- 300 student organizations for a finite amount of premium space in the Campus Center. To address this, with the opening of the new Campus Center West Addition last year we have increasingly moved to a model in which multiple student organizations share spaces. This is not only more efficient because it ensures that spaces are being used a greater percentage of the time but also promotes more interaction and collaboration among organizations.”

Again, Photo Service Treasurer Erin Connorton.

“We really create a space for people regardless of skill level, or interest, or what they know about photography to just come and learn and we just share what we know. And just, it’s all inclusive and it’s unconditional support for each other, and we just want to teach what we know,” said Connorton.