Like a proud parent, Stephen Dominick enthusiastically shows off a slideshow of self-portraits compiled by one of his most passionate students. Sitting in front of his iMac, the rhythmic change of photos reflect a creative mind at work, as each portrait’s composition and contrast changes, from mild to wild, from black-and-white to in-your-face. With a wide smile, Dominick describes each shot, detailing the lighting and colour that gives each image a life of its own.
“This girl is a chameleon,” Dominick said, referring to her ability to change character with each frame. “I told her that her work is just incredible.”
Coming from Dominick, that’s quite the compliment. Dominick has nearly 30 years of experience as a professional photographer in the Niagara Region.
Now, like the switchover from film cameras to digital ones, he’s doing something new. As the co-ordinator of Niagara College’s Digital Photography program, which debuted in fall 2010, Dominick will see its first group of graduates at this upcoming spring convocation ceremony.
Getting to this point has been a long process for Dominick, something akin to organizing the old family photo albums. When the idea was first floated to him regarding teaching photography at the college, there was one small setback – like a flash with dead batteries. There was no digital photography program.
With the persistence of a news photographer sneaking around police barricades, Dominick wouldn’t be deterred. Working with the deans of the college’s School of Media Studies, Dominick spent four years writing the course outline, mapping out the learning outcomes and creating the business plan, before the first group of young shutterbugs arrived.
“I wrote the program from scratch,” Dominick said. “It’s been a tremendous honour to be able to implement the Digital Photography program and be a part of it. I reached the point in my career when I felt I needed to give back to the community that gave me so much over nearly three decades. I feel a great deal of personal and professional satisfaction in bringing a program to Niagara College that will hopefully thrive for the long term.”
Dominick and the community did indeed have a great deal of give-and-take over the years, after he opened his first studio in 1982. Seldom seen without a camera, Dominick has photographed boatloads of Niagara’s most notable names, ranging from politicians to business owners, philanthropists and even the College’s own Dan Patterson.
Like all pro photogs, Dominick also carved several other niches, shooting high-profile weddings, big commercial spreads and almost everything in between, earning a strong reputation from Grimsby to Fort Erie.
Dominick has a special passion for black-and-white portraits, done in the style of his biggest inspirer, famous photographer Richard Avelon. The method consists of shooting the subject against a white background, with an emphasis on expression, clothing and facial features. Oftentimes, the style includes taking people out of their associated context, such as shooting a businesswoman in biker leather. Removing colour from the photo gives it the finishing touch.
Dominick’s work features a wide range of big-name local clients, including White Oaks, Iniskillin, Henry of Pelham, Fleet Aerospace, the Hilton Hotel group and many more. He’s done a lot of work for local print media outlets, like Niagara Life Magazine, and was a part of Brock University’s award-winning Both Sides of the Brain marketing campaign.
For Dominick, the most rewarding part of his long and storied career is when people remember the experience of participating in a photo shoot.
“I’ve done a lot of interesting work in the area, and sometimes people will recognize me and tell me that they remember the piece or the process, and that’s always very nice,” he said.
Nowadays, Dominick looks forward to a different kind of reward, the one that comes from passing along a new skill to an aspiring student. Despite the transition, Dominick’s proving that his professional success is no fluke; Digital Photography is already a high-demand program at Niagara College.
“This program’s potential is amazing,” he said. “We have 40 students, and 400 applicants.”
The high level of interest means that great candidates are coming in, ones that are vetted out through the program application process that includes a portfolio submission of 10 photos and a letter of intent describing their background and why they want to study Digital Photography at the College. Discussions are already underway about expanding the program to include a third-year, or entering articulation agreements with four-year programs at Sheridan College or Ryerson University.
Enrolled students get a Nikon D-SLR camera in September, along with two lenses, one 18-55mm and one 18-200mm. The photography studio in the College’s Voyageur wing features new 27-inch iMacs for photo uploading and slight retouching, as well as a shooting area.
The two-year program is a “very intense, well-rounded education,” said Dominick. Students learn about several different facets of the trade, from portraits to food photography, lighting to contrast, photo journalism and Dominick even brought in an Ontario Provincial Police officer to discuss forensic photography.
Following graduation, students will have all the tools to successfully work in any professional photography position. Like most photographers, Dominick expects the majority of grads to open their own studios, and he also teaches them business practices they should know for successful operation.
Additional highlights of the program include two field trips: first-year students are heading to New York City, to shoot different locations of the world-class metro, including aerials from the top of the Empire State Building. Second-years are heading to Washington, D.C.
“It’s a full itinerary before they leave,’ Dominick said. “For students, it’s a heck of an experience to go down there and see the people, places and things and have to capture the moment.”
With only one full year of study under the program’s belt, Dominick said the students’ work has been “absolutely fantastic.” When the last frame of film runs out, or in modern times, when the battery on the camera dies, it’s really raising the next generation of Robert Capas that keeps Dominick so motivated.
“I love it here at the college. I love the teaching experience, sharing my knowledge with students. It’s been a wonderful transition from practicing professional to professor. When you see that the light has gone off in the student’s mind, when you know they get it, that’s when I know I’m truly part of something special.”