Over the 50 years since the program’s inception, there have been numerous acclaimed photography professors and visiting guest artists including Hayley Austin, Melissa Catanese, Mengwen Cao, Penn Chan, Anna Collette, Harlan Crichton, Sara Cwynar, Matthew Connors, Ben DeHaan, Shannon Ebner, Walker Evans, LaToya Ruby Frasier, Mark Goodman, J Houston, Susanne Kriemann, Justine Kurland, J Houston, Sharon Lockhart, Jessica Mallios, Lawrence McFarland, Elizabeth Moran, David Newman, Mike Osborne, Eileen Quinlan, Alexis Rivierre, Adam Schreiber, Sophie Schwartz, Alec Soth, Bryan Schutmaat, Nolan Trowe, Penelope Umbrico, Ellen Wallenstein, Dave Woody and James Welling. The program has recently adopted a more accurate title, Photography & Media, to include consideration of all lens-based arts.
In 1965, Russell Lee, a prolific photographer who gained recognition for his images of Depression-era America taken while working for the Farm Security Administration, was given a retrospective exhibition at the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, at the University of Texas at Austin. The exhibition was met with such enthusiasm that the Chair of the Department of Art and Art History, Donald Goodall, asked Lee to start a photography program.
Russell Lee has often been referred to as a gentle, generous professor. Influenced by his background in painting, Lee described his teaching as experimental courses in ‘seeing.’ For this reason, beginning students used a 4×5 view camera because Lee believed this was the best tool to learn how to see–a pedagogical philosophy that is still taught today. Lee retired from teaching in 1973 and died in Austin on August 28, 1986. Lee’s personal negatives, photographic prints, and slides were donated to the Briscoe Center for American History on the University of Texas at Austin campus. The Russell Lee Master Print Collection, containing more than 800 photographs printed by Lee, are also housed at the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin.
Garry Winogrand was the next leader of the photography program, from 1973–78. Winogrand was an equally acclaimed, though fundamentally different type of photographer. Along with his European counterparts such as Henri Cartier–Bresson and Robert Cappa, Winogrand captured pressing social issues and anxieties of his time. However, unlike Cartier–Bresson, Winogrand wasn’t looking for a decisive moment. No moment is most important, he said. Any moment can be something. Winogrand’s critiques in class often involved cut-throat edits and critical, obtuse comments while students sat in a room filled with cigarette smoke, drinking copious amounts of coffee.
With the growing interest and enrollment in photography courses, the original darkroom was expanded and moved to a newly-built facility designed by Winogrand. To this day, students use this darkroom for black and white photography. The photography lab has undergone many adaptations to accommodate changing technologies over the years including color processing, alternative processes and most recently, the addition of a state-of-the-art digital lab and printing facilities.