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Department of Photography + Film Guide

1. General Information

This Handbook is a guide for the Photography and Film Department at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The Handbook covers general rules and procedures for the use of our facilities. The information in the Handbook IS NOT a substitute for the lectures and demonstrations given by the instructors. Each instructor is responsible for giving the students a syllabus, health and safety information, a supply list and technical and creative guidance.

Information may change, such as hours, access, and location of equipment. Contact the Facilities Coordinator if you are ever in doubt of protocol or procedures.

Facilities Coordinator:  Matthew Warren, 828-1731

Facility hours for Photography and Film, Pollak Building, 325 North Harrison

Access is dependent on class times, cleaning schedule, reservations, and eligibility.

  • Darkroom (213): 24/7 (w/Key Card Access)
  • Computer Lab (215): 24/7 (w/Key Card Access)
  • Mini Computer/Scanning Lab (213): 24/7 (w/Key Card Access)
  • Imacon Scanning Room* (213): Office Hours, Monday-Friday
  • Lighting Studio (209B):  Open Lab Hours, With Reservation
  • 211: 24/7 (w/Key Card Access)
  • 305: Reserve and get key through checkout
  • 225: Office Hours (w/Office Key)

To get room access with a VCU ID students need to contact the Facilities Coordinator, Matthew Warren.

The holiday, summer classes and mid-semester break schedules are variable and the hours during these times will be posted.

Important Telephone Numbers:

Faculty Office:                                      (804) 828 1695

Security non-emergency:                 (804) 828 1196

Security Emergency:                          911,   (804) 828 1234

2.  Introduction

Welcome! Please examine this handbook carefully so that you are familiar and well versed with all of the procedures relating to the various equipment, policies, procedures and proper health and safety techniques.  This is a reference guide to inform and to instruct you while you are taking photography and film classes and working within the VCU darkrooms. Know that communication and clear information is important, and never hesitate to contact the facilities coordinator if you have a question of any kind. We hope you have a very productive and rewarding semester.

The VCU Photography and Film Department, which includes both traditional and digital imaging, is an active and growing part of the School of the Arts.  Our students engage in theoretical and hands-on experience in the fields of fine art, studio, and location photography, as well as narrative, documentary, and experimental filmmaking. They gain a strong ability to intelligently express, investigate, document using photography or film, and the ability to interpret meaning in still and moving images.

Chair, VCU Photography and Film

                  Sasha Waters Freyer

         | 828-2162

 Full Time VCU Photo and Film Faculty:

                   Sonali Gulati, Paul Thulin, Brian Ulrich, James Justin Reed, Jon-Phillip Sheridan, John Freyer,

                   Mary Beth Reed, Matthew Warren

VCU Photo and Film Administrative Positions:

                  Paul Thulin (Graduate Director), Jon-Phillip Sheridan (Administrative Director),

                  Matthew Warren (Facilities Coordinator)

 For more information about VCU Photo and Film go to:

You can also find the department on Facebook and twitter #VCUphotofilm

3.  Grading

Grading scheme is A/B/C/D/F.  Students can be dropped a grade for more than two unexcused absences and failed for missing more than 3 classes.  If you miss critique, an assignment grade may be dropped by one grade at the discretion of the instructor.

While in the program, students must earn a minimum grade of C in each departmental course. Students who fail to meet this requirement may be asked to change their major.

Generally speaking, if you meet the minimum requirements of your assignments and classes, including participation, you will earn a grade of C.  Doing everything and doing it well earns a grade of B.  An A grade is earned by those students who have raised the bar and whose performance is consistently outstanding.

4.  Health & Safety

Health and Safety Compliance

VCU has developed policies and practices to ensure a healthful environment and safe approach to the use of equipment, materials and processes.  It is the mutual responsibility of faculty and students to review health and safety standards relevant to each class at the beginning of each semester.  Students should be aware of general fire, health, and safety regulations posted in each area and course specific policies, practices, and precautions.  Students who have concerns related to health and safety should contact and Environmental Health and Safety Manager Dean Broga at (804) 828 6347.

This section is a basic outline of health and safety concerns for all photographic work. All art practices have the potential to cause health problems.  It is the responsibility of the student to learn the appropriate way to handle materials and equipment to minimize any health risk.

Our main darkrooms have slotted local exhaust systems attached to processing sinks. This is the recommended method because it captures and removes most contaminates as close to the source as possible.

Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for all the approved curricular chemicals used in the darkroom is always available at the entrance to the darkroom in room 213 and at the main office.

Special Note:

Any student who is pregnant, has allergies, is highly sensitive to chemicals, or has other health concerns should consult a doctor about their potential risks.  Pregnant students should read Chapter 1 “Photographic Chemicals and Our Bodies” in the book Overexposure recommended at the end of this section.  Note pages 32-34 on the “Reproductive System and Pregnancy.”  Small children should not be in the darkrooms and NO pets are allowed in that area.

Darkroom Points to Remember:

  • Be familiar with the location of fire extinguishers, eye-wash fountains, first aid kits, the posted list of emergency phone numbers, and the Campus Security Office
  • NEVER smoke, eat or drink in the darkroom areas.
  • Radios, CD players and audible media players are not allowed in the darkroom except while wearing headphones.
  • Lab coat or apron, neoprene gloves, eye goggles and towel are recommended as required by OSHA regulation when students use darkrooms. Advanced level photography class students may need to wear an approved respirator and/or face shield when mixing and handling toxic chemicals. The instruction will be given by the instructors in advanced level classes.
  • DEVELOPERS cause the most common health problems, such as skin or respiratory irritations. Mixing developers poses the greatest risk. Wear protective masks, gloves, and aprons. Avoid direct contact with developer powders or solutions. Never put your bare hands in developer. Use rubber gloves when mixing or handling developers and use tongs when printing.
  • ACETIC ACID used in most stop baths is highly irritating to skin and lungs in concentrated form, but in diluted working solution it is only slightly hazardous on skin contact. Use rubber gloves when mixing and tongs when printing.
  • ***Always add acid to water to avoid splashing.***
  • FIXERS contain a thiosulfate fixing agent. The main hazard from hypo or fixer solutions comes from exposure to heat or long exposures to air. Heat can cause it to form highly toxic sulfur dioxide gas. Keep the Fixer trays covered with Plexiglas covers when not in use.
  • TONING is forbidden in Department because toners are toxic.
  • In case of skin contact with irritating chemicals, wash area immediately with plenty of water. In case of eye contact rinse eye for 15 minutes and call physician. Get help from GTAs or someone on duty. Wash hands with soap and water after working with photographic chemicals before eating or smoking. Use your own towel.
  • LABEL all containers with your name, date and contents.
  • Chemistry be contained in either brown darkroom chemistry plastic bottles or the manufacturer”s containers (no milk jugs or mason jars)
  • No glass in the darkroom.

Chemical Spill Guidelines:

DO NOT Attempt to Clean Up a Spill Without Assistance from VCU Faculty or Pollak Building Manager if:

  • You are unsure how to proceed.
  • You feel it may be unsafe to do so. Don’t take chances and jeopardize your health or the health of those around you.
  • You do not know the identity of the spilled material.
  • You do not have adequate or proper materials for cleanup.
  • The spill is in an area, which precludes easy access to the spilled material (i.e., on shelves with other materials).
  • You feel any physical symptoms of exposure.

If You Cannot Clean Up the Spill For Any Of These Reasons, then:

  • Isolate the spill.
  • Notify others of the spill.
  • Evacuate the area. Close doors if the spill occurs within the laboratory. If the spill occurs within the hallway, quickly notify personnel in nearby rooms.
  • Notify VCU Faculty or Pollak Building Manager. Call from a safe location (i.e., not in the lab or room where the spill occurred).
  • If someone has been splashed with the chemical, begin flushing the contaminated area immediately with water. Continue to flush the affected area for 15 minutes. Seek medical attention if a possible health concern exists. If possible, bring a Materials Safety Data Sheet or call ahead to the emergency room to facilitate prompt and correct treatment of the injury.

The Department’s Main Office has a reference shelf of books dealing with art hazards, including photography and film.  A book every photographer should have as a reference is:

Overexposure, Health Hazards in Photography, second edition by Susan Shaw and Monona Rossol, and published by Allworth Press, 1991.

With common sense and proper informed care you can work safely in photography. In each of your classes there will be discussions of these issues in depth as they apply to the processes you are using.  Instructors in advanced level photography classes will supply specific information on health and safety concerns for each class.

Guidelines regarding the use of facilities for Alternative Processes:

  • Students who wish to work with alternative processes chemistry for a class project that are not part of the curriculum must have instructor permission. Students who wish to do any alternative processes for a non-photography class project must ask for permission from the Photography & Film Department Administrative Director and the Chair of the department.
  • Students may only work with the processes that are taught and demonstrated in our facilities.
  • Students must follow the proper health and safety guidelines.
  • It is advised that students read the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) for the materials that they wish to use.

What to do if I get sick?  If you are sick consider the following:

  • Limit contact with other people as much as possible.  DO NOT GO TO CLASS!  Seek medical attention at the Wellness Center, Monroe Park Campus (804) 828 8828.
  • Contact the Office of Student Affairs at (804) 828 1244.  They will assist with plans for self-isolation, arranging for meals, and any other necessary support. Contact any faculty whose class you anticipate missing and inform them of your illness. Work with them to make arrangements for catching up on any missed work. If you have difficulty reaching your faculty or if your illness lingers to the point where you will miss two or more of any one class contact the Office of Student Affairs.
  • Students who are sick should self-isolate for at least 24 hours after any fever is gone.
  • Make sure to get plenty of rest and drink clear fluids to keep from being dehydrated.
  • Avoid normal activities including work, school, travel, shopping, social events and public gatherings.
  • Go to for more information.

Faculty Office:                            (804) 828 1695

Security non-emergency:       (804) 828 1196

Security Emergency:                911,   (804) 828 1234

5. Photography & Film Checkout Procedures

The following procedures have been put into place in order to allow students maximum access to our limited space and equipment. Returning equipment late, for instance, directly affects other students. If you encounter issues either with these procedures or with your colleagues please contact the facilities coordinator.

There are check-out areas, each with different hours and protocol.

  • Front office check-out. Open during office hours. room 225 key,  and Imacon key and special accessories.
  • Lighting Studio and Lighting equipment check-out. Studio reservation required.
  • Extended Equipment check-out room 223 (general equipment: photography, film, sound, tripods, etc.) Reservation required.

1. Front Office Check-out Policy

  • All keys and equipment needed to process film and to print, such as special negative carriers, etc. should be used only within the department area and returned to checkout on the same day before closing.

2. Lighting Studio Check-out Policy

  • Reservations are required for use of lighting studios.
  • The Studios may be reserved by any Photo/Film student, however lighting equipment is limited to those students enrolled in Studio Lighting, or have completed Studio Lighting course.
  • Fill out an equipment request sheet ahead of time. Lighting Studio (A-C) equipment must be checked out at the lighting studio check-out station. All items students use must be checked out by a GTA during Open Lab hours.
  • All equipment for the lighting studio should be used within the department area and/or the instructor’s permitted area.
  • All items must be returned to the checkout on the same day before closing.  NO EXCEPTIONS.
  • Access to some equipment is permitted only to students enrolled in certain advanced classes. Contact the Facilities Coordinator or GTA if you have a question about the availability of certain equipment.
  • If you fail to appear for your reservation, the studio will be released to other students after 15 minutes.
  • When making a reservation you can reserve up to 4 time slots. Be sure to reserve what you anticipate needing.

3. Extended Equipment Checkout Policy

  • Reservations are required for all items through Prior to visiting checkout, have ALL items reserved through the online checkout system.  Any item that has not been checked out will not be given to you; if you are unable to access a personal computer, use the computer lab or mini computer lab. A GTA will not make the reservation for you at the checkout desk.
  • Checkout is ONLY open during scheduled hours. These hours change on a semester basis, contact the Facilities Coordinator for specifications.
  • It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that all items are in each bag they check out, not the GTA. The GTA will check the all equipment upon return.
  • Equipment check-out duration is two check-out ‘periods’. In other words, equipment checked out Monday is due back on Friday, equipment checked out Wednesday is Due back on Monday, equipment checked out Friday is due back Wednesday.
  • Renewals:  Items can be renewed IN PERSON for ONE more checkout period.
  • Students may NOT check out equipment for another student.  Once equipment is checked out under a student’s name, they are held completely liable and the equipment must be returned by said student.
  • When you reserve equipment online, you are agreeing to be financially responsible for all equipment that you check out. Students will be held financially responsible for the exact replacement cost and fee of an identical new item if the item that have checked out is lost, stolen or damaged. The replacement cost charge will be equivalent to the current price of the new equipment.  Students will not be permitted to register for classes and risk having their degrees held back if equipment replacement fees are overdue or unpaid.

Late Returns:

We have limited resources in the Photography and Film department, and therefore ask that students remain conscientious of the needs of their fellow student. Planning ahead, making reservations, leaving work areas clean, and returning equipment on time ensures that all students have equal access to the facilities and can complete projects efficiently.

If there is an emergency and you can not return your items on time, contact the facilities coordinator as soon as possible.

There is a fine system for late returns.

  • If you return equipment after set return time, there is a late fee of $5.00.
  • If you fail to return the equipment on the due date, you will incur another $5.00 fee for each checkout period you miss. For example, if you have equipment due on Wednesday, and you return it on Friday, You will be fined $10.00. ($5.00 for the day of late fee, and $5.00 for returning one period late.)
  • Your check out privileges will be revoked until you pay all fines.
  • Fines will be paid in either check or cash to the Facilities Coordinator directly, checks should be written to the Department of Photography & Film.

4. After Hours access to Facilities

  • Photography and Film students have 24 hour access to certain facilities in the Pollak building.  Access to the Darkroom (213), the computer lab (215), and Mat cutting station/classroom (211).
  • These areas do not require reservations, however the printers in the computer lab can be reserved.
  • Key Card access must be granted by the Facilities Coordinator.

Do not hesitate to contact the facilities coordinator if you are experiencing difficulties with equipment, building resources, or the checkout process.

Online Reservation References:

Checkout Equipment and Facility Reservation:

Facilities Coordinator: Matthew Warren,

5.  Department Facility Guidelines

Many students share the facilities at Photo and Film. There are of course Photography and Film students (MFA and BFA), and the Summer Intensive classes. Since many people use the facilities and consequently everyone must be sensitive about keeping things clean and in good repair. The Facilities Coordinator, along with GTAs (Graduate Teaching Assistants) and Work-Study students, oversees the day-to-day operations of our department. The Coordinator and the GTAs are responsible for the mixing of chemicals for darkroom printing, repairing and maintaining equipment, checking items in and out from checkout and keeping track of the inventory.  The GTAs report to the Facilities Coordinator; if you have an issue or concern with a GTA, please contact the Coordinator.  If your concern is not resolved, please contact Chair Waters Freyer.

Everyone who uses the facility should help in keeping the place clean, using the equipment carefully and reporting any problems to the on duty manager.

Scheduled classes have priority over all department facilities during their class times.  Additional students who wish to work must have permission from the instructor on duty.

The VCU darkroom and computer lab are educational facilities.  Students are not allowed to use any equipment or part of the facility for non-curriculum purposes.  Any student not associated with the program must check in as a guest prior to entering facilities.

We have computers throughout the department. Files will be deleted regularly, and without warning. Please bring external drives and refrain from storing files locally.

Darkroom (213)

  • The darkroom has large sinks for processing, timers, safelights, and ventilation. The darkroom has 18 enlarging stations; each station is equipped with a 35mm film holder, grain focuser, easel, and contact printing glass. Additional enlarger tools (medium and large format film holders and specific enlarger lenses) are available in the Main Office Check-out.
  • There is a spill kit, first aid kit and eye-wash station located at the entrance to the darkroom in room 213. Please refer to section 3 of the handbook, Health & Safety.
  • Cabinets in the darkroom are for the Department and instructors.  Students must use their hall lockers to store personal equipment. No Chemicals in the Lockers.

11 Easy Rules for a Happy Darkroom

1. Take your time, and be careful
2. Be kind and courteous to others & their prints
3. Always clean your workspace
4. Before turning lights on, make sure it’s not currently being used
5. Only students enrolled in a course are allowed in the darkroom during class time
6. Keep eye-wash area clear of clutter/chemistry (only for safety-no processing)
7. Always turn on the ventilation fans
8. Return equipment clean and dry to the designated cabinets
9. Immediately report any chemical spill and malfunctioning, broken or missing equipment to your instructor and/or Facilities Coordinator
10. Handle equipment and materials in a professional manner:

  • Label and date your chemistry, store it in the proper container
  • Keep the dry areas dry, no dripping trays or prints allowed
  • Avoid chemical contamination
  • Rinse and clean all trays and tongs before AND after use

11. If you are the last one out, make sure all enlargers, water, print/negative dryers, and lights are off and the doors are locked

As noted in section 3, Health and Safety, Students who wish to work with alternative processes and/or chemistry for a class project that are not part of the curriculum must have instructor permission. Students who wish to do any alternative processes for a non-photography class project must ask for permission from the Photography & Film Department Administrative Director and the Chair of the department. This must be in writing, explaining chemicals and process used.

 Please remember that the facility is home to more than one hundred fifty students per semester, so be considerate of the facilities and to others when working in the Department. Working here is a privilege, not a right. Any behavior which is deemed inappropriate will be noted and handled accordingly.

Lighting Studio (209 A, B, & C)

  • Only Photo/Film majors who have taken or are currently enrolled in Studio I Class may use the studio.
  • Reservations are required in advance to use the Lighting Studios. For equipment, students must complete an equipment request/checkout sheet and give it to the GTA on duty. GTA will then open up the studio (if not already open) and check the equipment out to you. It is up to you to make sure that all the equipment is accounted for. If you have questions about how to use a piece of equipment, please seek help in advance. The equipment in the Studio is delicate, potentially hazardous and expensive to replace.  Please take care of the Studio and its equipment and leave it cleaner and tidier than the way you found it.  Please be considerate and begin finishing all work thirty minutes prior to the end of your reservation.
  • Please bring a flash drive or external hard drive to store your images. Files are not to be stored locally.
  • Music is allowed, but please be respectful of other students trying to work.  No smoking is allowed in any studio at any time.

***Lighting Studio contains a multitude of high-powered equipment. Please account for any possible fire hazards, and pay attention to any smells or suspicious indicators, including the use of fire, any flammable materials or fire alarm sensitive items.***


Computer Lab (215)

  • Only current students enrolled in Digital Photography classes and current Photo/Film students may use room 215. The lab is equipped with Apple computers, up to date imaging software,  Epson flatbed scanners, and Epson large format printers.
  • The Computer Lab will be open 24/7, and it will maintain a “first come, first choice” policy.  The Digital Print Lab, however, has designated hours which require reservation. Computers #1-3 are designated for Digital Printing.
  • Students are not allowed to install any software or change the default settings on the computers. If there is something you would like to add or change, contact the Facilities Manager.
  • All files on the computers will be deleted regularly, so please bring a flash drive or external hard drive to store your work.

Digital Printing (room 215)

Our computer lab in room 215 contains three printers, 2 Epson 4900 and one Epson 9900. Students MUST take PaperCut training and and sign an Agreement of Use before accessing the printers.

The instructors of the digital classes will give out detailed instructions for getting the best results from these printers. Guidelines are as follows:

  • The student is responsible for providing their own papers for printing. Paper must be specifically made for use with inkjet printers. This will be noted on the packaging, or manufacturer website.
  • The Epson 4900s are given for students taking Digital Photography I and II as well as Advanced Digital Printing.
  • The Epson 9900 are reserved for students taking Advanced Digital Printing, as well as majors who have previously taken this course. NO EXCEPTIONS.
  • The Epson 9900 is only available during open lab hours, and to those enrolled in, or have already taken Advanced Printing.
  • Students may only print on one printer at a time, so avoid overlaps during reservation.  If you can work on a smaller format printer such as the 4900s, please do so, leaving the larger printers available for someone who wants to make larger prints.
  • Students MUST stay in the Digital Print Lab while their print is printing.



PaperCut Training

The Department is using software called PaperCut to manage student payment for printing. Each student who takes a training session will be given an account. To use Department Printers, students MUST take Papercut training.

*It is forbidden to give account information to anyone, particularly a person who has not been trained.  If you are using your login for another student, your printer privileges will be revoked.*

The Department gives printing credit to students who take Papercut training, and the amount will change per semester. The credit is awarded to students and may not transfer to other accounts.

You will be notified of printing fee due dates and amounts via email. Students must pay the amount owed to the Department via cash or check. There will be ample warning for due dates. Unpaid bills will lead to revocation of printing privileges.

Printing Refund Process

1. Log into your papercut account at:
2. Show your print and explain what happened to your instructor or GTA on duty.
3. Mark “request refund” for the appropriate file. You must fill in a reason for refund. Explain what happened to the print.
4. Send an email to Matthew ( cc’ing the GTA and instructor who has confirmed the printer malfunctioned
5. You have 24 hours from when the print was sent to notify Matthew that a refund is needed.

**Refunds are granted only if a GTA or instructor signs off on your request. If you are worried about the printer malfunctioning and taking your $$$, plan to print during the open lab hours when they are nearby.**

Scanning/Annex Computer Lab (213)

  • The Scanning Rooms are located in the back of the darkroom and contain 3 Nikon negative scanners, Epson flatbeds, large lightbox and an Imacon Flextight X5 scanner. Availability is first come first choice. All scanners, except the Imacon, have 24/7 access.
  • The same rules of the digital lab apply to the scanning rooms; food, beverages, and loitering are not allowed. Please help keep our labs clean and safe.

**Imacon Flextight X5 Scanner is for senior level and above use only.  These students must be trained by the Facilities Coordinator, Instructor, or GTAs.  Open Hours include regular office hours, yet still require a reservation.  Extra film holders are available in the main office check-out.**

Film Editing, Dubbing and work Rooms (305, 305A, 305B, 305C)

  • Our Film facilities are undergoing change, and therefore policies and equipment are in a state of flux. We have analog film editing suites available, along with equipment needed. If this is something you require, please contact the facilities coordinator to go over your project and what you may need from the department.
  • While a scheduled class is using room 305, students are not allowed access unless permission from the instructor is granted, or digital film dubbing we have three computers available in 305A.
  • Keys for these rooms are available for reservation and checkout through
  • Students currently enrolled in a Filmmaking class may check out 16mm editing equipment through the Facilities Coordinator


All Photography and Film students are given a locker.  Students must sign up in the Main Office for a locker, which will be assigned to them their entire stay at VCU.  The lockers must be vacated at the end of their final semester.  Locker combinations are kept in a file on the Main Office’s computer, but combinations should be kept conveniently located for assured access. ***No Chemicals in Lockers***