Photography courses were offered at OCC shortly after the opening of the campus in 1948. A newspaper article in the Daily Pilot, April 16, 1953, describes the enthusiasm of the “boys” in the “Photography Department”. During the early years there were fewer than 50 students enrolled in photography classes during any semester. By 1963 the photography department was offering courses in basic photography, commercial photography (which at the time included cinema), art photography, and color photography.

The courses were taught by Arthur Evans, who was the only full-time faculty member. He was assisted by one or two part-time instructors. In 1964, John Upton, who had been teaching two courses in the evening, was employed as a half-time instructor, and in 1965 he was hired full time to replace Arthur Evans who resigned to start an educational film production company.

In 1965, the few photography classes became the foundation for a comprehensive program of instruction in professional photography. A citizen’s advisory committee, composed of professional photographers in Orange County, was formed to consult with the faculty in planning the courses and requirements for a broad program that would lead to employment in a variety of professional photography specializations.

Beginning in the late 1960s, a nationwide surge of interest in photography led to an extraordinary period of growth in the OCC photography program. In 1965 there were approximately fifty students enrolled in one or more photography courses. By 1975 the OCC photography program had grown to 1,500 students enrolled in one or more of the fifteen courses offered at the time. In the early 1970s, Kodak conducted a survey of photography students enrolled in universities, colleges, and art schools in the United States. The Photography Program at OCC had the largest enrollment in a public college. Some private schools such as the Rochester Institute of Technology had even larger enrollments. This extraordinary increase in the number of photography students at OCC reflected a national trend.

OCC was not prepared for the number of students intending to enroll in photography classes. Students had to confront long waiting lines in order to secure admission. During this time about one in five students were denied enrollment - sometimes for several semesters. To address this phenomenal growth the college began to hire additional faculty. In 1968, Lauri Martin was hired. John Sanford joined the faculty in 1969. Beginning in 1970 a new full-time faculty member was hired nearly every year. Rick Steadry joined the faculty in 1970 (becoming Chair in 1976) followed in 1971 by Arthur Taussig, Ken Slossberg in 1973, Barbara Kasten in 1974 and Sylvia Impert in 1986 (Sylvia later became the Dean of the Fine Arts division from 1999 to 2009). This group remained the core of the full-time faculty through the late 80’s and early 90’s. However, the number of part-time faculty members often exceeded fifteen.

Then, much like today, most of the part-time faculty were highly successful photographers working in a variety of specializations such as architectural photography, product photography, fashion photography, portraiture, photojournalism, and other commercial applications. However, these vocational part-timers were balanced out by part-time faculty who would later become important artists in the medium. The roster included Lewis Baltz, Anthony Hernandez, Allan Sekula, Martha Rossler, Susan Rankitis, Linda Troeller, Robert Cumming, Leland Rice, Ellen Land-Weber, Jerry Burchfield and visiting Artist, Thomas Barrow.

The program encompassed three broad tracks: commercial photography, general education/transfer courses, and fine art photography. New courses were added nearly every year. The department began to receive widespread attention for the quality of its program. In 1990 the prestigious Photographer’s Source Catalog, published by Simon &Shuster, listed the OCC Photography department as one of the twelve best photography programs in the United States. 

The large lecture facilities provided forums for lectures by nationally known photographers such as Ansel Adams, Gary Winogrand, Helmut Newton, Cole Weston, Barbara Morgan, Robert Heinecken, Paul Caponigro, Jerry Uelsmann, Van deren Coke, and numerous others whose careers impacted the direction of contemporary photography.

By the mid 90’s a few of the original faculty began to retire and a new group came in to replace them. Blade Gillissen was hired in 1996 (becoming Chair in 2006), followed by Justin Kimball and Eve Luckring in 1999. Leslie McCall joined the faculty in 2001, followed by Richard Kraft in 2002 and Agatha Ibronsian in 2007. Beginning, in the 90’s the program played host to many regional and national lectures and events, included hosting the Society for Photographic Education in the Fall 2007, and hosting the Month of Photography in 2011.

In 2003 the program began taking small groups of students to Rabbit Island, a 39-acre island that the college owned in British Columbia. The trips went on for several years, with many regional shows and books being published from the work created on and around the island. The program began hosting an annual Artist lecture in the late 2000’s and the Month of Photography LA in 2011, exhibitors and lectures included, Melvin Sokolsky, Philipp Rittermann, Justin Kimball (former faculty), Harry Benson, David Kennerly, Art Brewer (current faculty), Donna Ferrato, Michel Tcherevkoff, Joyce Tenneson, Michael Grecco, Norman McGrath, Peter Read Miller, Tyler Stableford, Carol Guzy and Douglas Kirkland to name a few.

The program continues to offer classes, lectures, facilities and equipment that you’ll find nowhere else. With an excellent faculty, national reputation and a strong Program Foundation offering around $15,000 a year in scholarships, there can be no question…. The School of Photography at Orange Coast College continues to offer an education in photography that is second to none.