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Chicago Photography Center Struggles as Smartphone Camera Usage Grows

By Serena Dai | September 6, 2013 6:24am
 The Chicago Photography Center is facing financial troubles due to declining enrollment in photo classes.
Chicago Photography Center
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LAKEVIEW — A photography community center is facing financial troubles — and the director says the ubiquity of smartphone cameras may be to blame.

The Chicago Photography Center, 3301 N. Lincoln Ave., faces declining enrollment in photography classes aimed at helping enthusiasts and professionals hone their craft, said executive director Heidi Kohz. Classes are the nonprofit's primary source of income, she said.

The decline of traditional camera sales — and the rise of smartphone cameras — makes taking photos so easy that many people care less about thinking before shooting, she said.

"Now that it's so prolific, I still think it's important for people to learn the basic rules of photography," she said. "The device can only do so much. It's a computer. It can't access emotions. You as a photographer have to have the skills and the knowledge."

Classes teach everything from photo basics like composition to how to tackle photo editing in programs like Photoshop. One boot camp even offers tips to maximize smartphone shots.

The center also offers a gallery space, one of the city's only public dark rooms, a lighting studio and photo programs for underserved communities, including a program for After School Matters

One-day boot camp classes cost about $235. Seven-week classes that meet once a week cost about $385.

Most of the nonprofit's expenses come from maintaining the historic corner building at Lincoln and Marshfield avenues, a previously abandoned space that volunteers built out in 2002, Kohz said. Recent emergency repairs have also hurt finances, she said.

When the lease is up in 2016, the center hopes to move to a new space in Lakeview. 

The Chicago Photography Center, which celebrates its 10-year anniversary Friday night, is focusing on fundraising and finding donors. At an anniversary celebration, photo sales and portrait sessions will be fundraisers to support the center. 

The current fundraising goal is $50,000.

Maintaining a photography community and offering classes remains important even though taking photos is easier now, she said. People using smartphone cameras can still take better photos by using the rule of thirds or by learning how to properly light a photo she said.

Professional photographers who use smartphones know how to use the tool properly — something others should keep in mind, she said.

"You see people with their iPads taking photos," Kohz said. "I think it's important to the future of photography that we not forget where photography has come from. It's really important to have an education to photography itself, not just a particular device."