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. 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 of 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 1971 a new full-time faculty member was hired nearly very year. Arthur Taussig joined the faculty in 1971 followed in 1972 by Rick Steadry, Ken Slossberg in 1973, and Barbara Kasten in 1974. The number of part-time faculty members often exceeded fifteen.
Many 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. 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 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.
In 1975 the Fine Arts building was completed which helped alleviate the shortage of class room, studio, and laboratory facilities. Included in the new building were two large lecture halls and a corridor used as a gallery space in order to exhibit the work of well-known photographers Exhibitions of photographs were mounted monthly for ten months a year. 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.
Beginning in the 70s many part-time faculty were hired 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, and Visiting Artist, Thomas Barrow.