course
Photo I

Apr 2017

Professor Roma is without a doubt the single most influential professor I have had during my four years here at Columbia. He is a kind and wonderful human being. He is dedicated to his students, his craft, art, family, music. Everything he does he does for a reason and with dignity. The stakes of this class are high. Professor Roma treats his students with respect but he expects you to fully commit to his classes. He believes that everyone who walks into the first class of Photo 1 is an artist and he treats them as such. That means students are expected to be able and willing to be intimate and vulnerable with their photography. If you are unable to do that, or unwilling to do that, do not take this class.

May 2015

The previous reviewer basically articulated all of my thoughts about Roma word for word. I must give him more credit though. Taking both of the classes that he offers to his undergraduates, I can assure you that Roma certainly embodies the term "cult of personality" more than any other professor I have encountered throughout my time year (I have another year left, but I doubt I'll meet any professor that matches up to Roma's charisma). However, while I must say that, yes--my photography has improved after taking both of his courses, I do wonder how much I (and others who listen to his every word with the assumption that they are words of wisdom) could have improved even more if such a large part of my time in those classes was not spent on listening to his musings like a disciple. Especially with his Photo 3 seminar--which is handled much more leniently than Photo 1--where much of the class is spent on chatting with Roma and there is much less pressure to produce work consistently. As a result, I found myself scrambling at the last minute to put together the final project for that class. If you really want to improve your photography, definitely reach out to Roma with specific questions and he will answer them, as well as the TA's. The TA's provide the helpful/technical counterpart to Roma's philosophical take on the classes. But of course, Roma is not a world-class photographer for nothing, he is of great assistance if you badger him in your office (which he loves!). Don't be fooled by his intimidating and bully-ish aura (though you inevitably will be at first), he is honestly a very kind and dedicated person who is ready to sit with you in his office for hours and feed you yummy cannolis during the seminar. If you're gonna take Photo I, definitely try to take it with Roma, simply for the fact that it will be a standout class in your Columbia experience, regardless of how much you end up liking/not liking it. Be prepared to seek out for help on your photography skills and don't fall face first into the trap of Roma's charm. Definitely listen to what he has to say but don't assume that everything he speaks is passed down through God. Like the previous reviewer said, he gets away with a lot more than other people do. P.S. Don't be afraid to disagree with Roma on something he says! He is (somewhat) open to engaging debates.

Mar 2015

This class should not be called Photo-I, it should be called Thomas Roma-I. If you want to immerse yourself in a semester of Thomas Roma, take this class. Incidentally, if you're lucky, you might learn some photography as well. Thomas Roma embodies the phrase "cult of personality." He is quite the personality: funny, witty, mean, kind of like the extremely self-assured bully. But I do believe that having high standards and expecting people to live upto them is a good thing, and definitely developed me in some way. Having been the recipient of a number of brutal critiques, that often left me questioning my entire personality, I was definitely inspired to really think about why I was putting up the works that I was putting up and what they meant and in this sense the class was better than other workshops I have been in where professors are nice to your work whether they suck or are good. So as opposed to other people who didnt like him, I really was grateful that he was honest with his critique and called out things that sucked for what they were. Did my abilities as a photographer improve in this class. Yes. However, the price one pays to obtain this in terms of feeding his enormous ego is almost not worth it. In a 2.5 hour lecture he spends about an hour or 45 minutes actually talking about why your photograph is good or why it sucks and spends most of the time relating random (and probably made-up) stories about his life that have nothing to do with photography. In critiquing your photo not only will he insult your photograph if it sucks but he will also make it a point to directly insult your personality and you as an individual, which to me didn't really matter that much but was quite unnecessary wrt to improving me as a photographer and was done more for his pleasure. He is an individual who knows that his popularity and cult-status affords him power and he definitely uses this power to the maximum and gets away with a lot of stuff that no one really could get away with. Thus a lot of this class is in my opinion quite unnecessary. As opposed to the students who hung on every word he said as if he appeared in the clouds and ordered us to write all he said on stone, I was quite unimpressed by most of his stories. The most annoying part of the class was that we each had to ask him a question unrelated to photography, about his personal life, after each critique. So that is like 20 irrelevant stories per class already, not counting the ones he launches into during a critique. I kind of went there to learn about photography, not to fill his ego by laughing at and being audience to his stories about his girlfriends and mother and son and what-not. You have to really have drunk the Thomas Roma kool-aid deeply and fully to willingly sit through his lectures with wide-eyed wonder. In short my opinion of this class is that there is a lot of bull-shit, a lot of unnecessary insulting but in the depths of all this there is genuine honest critique to be found and genuine honest growth as a photographers to be realized. And that is actually pretty rare to find. So my final verdict is take this class, but take it with a an entire spoonful of salt

May 2014

Laura was an absolutely wonderful professor. Coming in to the class I was constantly taking crap photos of buildings and nondescript flora, and exiting it I found myself focusing on subjects that actually mattered to me, as well as composing my shots better. This is definitely a content based class; although there was extensive training in darkroom procedures, and early critiques noted printing and development issues, by the middle of the semester most of the non-darkroom time was devoted to content. The critique process itself was initially a bit intimidating, and also frustrating because of the use of words like anonymous and specificity when talking about unsuccessful and successful photos. By the end their meaning was clear, but boy for a while it seemed like Klingon. Both Matthew and Laura were very supportive and helpful in discovering how to take meaningful photos over the course of the class, and despite a relative lack of broader class discussion during critiques, the atmosphere was relaxed and non-judgemental. Photos weren't declared good or bad, but successful or unsuccessful, and critiques were always very specific in what was missing so that students could learn from past missteps. If you are looking for a class that teaches you only about the technical and formal aspects of photography while letting you take as many photographs of fire hydrants as your heart desires, then this class is not for you. Laura and Matthew's goal was to push us to take photos of subjects that mattered to us and would express something to other viewers, not just to get our apertures and shutter speeds right. Absolutely worth all the time spent on it (and money! boy film, paper and cameras are expensive!) N.b. Matthew is crazy funny, try to get him as your TA in other classes in the department as well.

Dec 2010

Take this class if you want to do something meaningful with your life. Thomas Roma is extremely intimidating at first, but secretly is one of the most sincere, well-meaning and yes...even kindest people you will ever meet. Yes, he tears apart your work (sometimes literally) but somehow does it in a way that's so helpful you end up wanting the criticism. And it's not a weird masochistic thing. Because he's not attacking you, he's attacking the parts of you that you don't need, the aspects of your personality that are preventing you from communicating honestly with your photographs. It's basically a class on how to be a better human being. As he said in the last classes, it's Photo I but it's also "Stop and Think About It I". Just do it.

May 2010

I agree totally with the review below. Kai was a great photo professor, both honest (in a brutal kind of way) and engaging. Our critique sections (2.5 hours each monday morning) were consistently hilarious and also useful, drilling into us over time what makes a good photo and what does not. By "good photo," all the photo professors (the once-students of Thomas Roma, usually) mean photos that are about something, something real, something of our lives. No pretty photos of cute animals or landscapes or the like make the cut in Columbia's photo department. Under Kai's instruction, everyone in the class improved notably over the semester. His critiques are harsh, but that's the only way to really improve. It should be known that Photo I focuses on taking better photos, not on making perfect prints. In this class, contrast filters, dodging, and burning are not allowed, and pushing or pulling film speed is discouraged. This is not a technical class, so don't expect to learn all the tricks of the darkroom here. Expect your photos themselves to get much better, though.

Dec 2009

I highly recommend taking a Photo class with Kai. He initially seems narrow-minded and disrespectful, but soon you realize that he's doing a great job teaching you how not to read nonsense into life, and, basically... keep it real. His advice for better photos makes its way gradually into one's ability to think of and experience any sort of art, as well as think about larger issues one confronts in the world. His format enables a lot of points for better photos to be reiterated in blunt terms multiple times. By the end of the course, his criticism (very harsh and blunt) about your photos no longer affects your ego, but it's directed at your ability to think about what it means to capture a good photo. He instills an intelligence that allows us to take in the world in truer terms, stripping away meaning that we've added due to wrongly placed judgments, prejudices or misplaced notions of authenticity, Forms, or absolutes.

Apr 2008

You are doing yourself a severe disservice if you leave Columbia University without taking a class with Professor Roma. This is not in any way to say that Photo I will be an enjoyable experience. You will leave this class at least once crying, if not from Roma's unrelenting criticism, than from the intimate, if brief, glimpses of truth that this man shares with his students. True, he doesn't give a shit about your feelings and he's always quick to remind you of your inherent immaturity as undergraduate students, but in the end it doesn't even matter. Take this class if you are creative in any capacity. What he demands from you is basically to put the most secret and sacred page in your journal up on the wall for everyone to see. He knows when you mean it, and you will too. As long as you're at least partly comfortable with this idea, please, please take this class.

Jan 2008

Taking a class with Roma is like a theatrical experience. He screams, sings, plays great music, recites poetry, and is undeniably funny, even if it is at your own expense. He is immensely honest with his students about the details of his life - he ends critiques by allowing each student to ask him a question about literally anything but photography - and his stories will really make you think. Taking a class with Roma was without doubt the best decision I have made at Columbia so far, as other reviews have said, and I recommend it to anyone with a backbone. Go into critiques expecting criticism (EVERYONE is criticized), and when (*if*) he says something positive, it actually means something. Another note: he does not grade on the inflated Columbia scale. Some people do the work and still do badly.

May 2007

Avoid this professor. Yoav is a jerk. Flat out. Yeah, he makes some insightful and helpful comments about your work and he's definitely a great photographer who knows his stuff, but his personality is not conducive to a class like this. He definitely has his favorites in the class and if you're not one of them (i.e. if you don't go along with EVERYTHING that he says) he totally rude to you for the rest of the semester. Our class was supposed to meet from 2:30 to 5 mondays and wednesdays. On wednesdays he would religiously keep us past 5...most of the time until at least 5:30. and if you had to leave early he got pissed off and would say things like "what? you have another class?" as if there's nothing more important than him and his class. His class probably wouldn't have to run over time like this if he didn't sit around talking to the TA for the first 20 minutes. But of course he blamed the late start on the students. Seriously though, stay away. His accent isn't even that cute. Get over it.

Dec 2006

Mixed feelings. I agree with all of the positives and all of the negatives that have been stated. It's all true. If you're serious about your creative work, you may find this the single most useful class you take at Columbia. If you can't handle burning criticism, you may find yourself hurt - damaged, injured, disabled - by this class. If you can, you may find yourself incredibly inspired one week, bored the next. I would add three damning criticisms, in terms of Roma's pedagogy, to those levied in other reviews: 1, in the end, it's very difficult to control your grade in this class, because the criteria are never clear, and they won't even discuss your midterm with you, let alone tell you how you're doing. 2, you have to make the TA's work for you or you're not going to learn much about the mechanics of photography - and yet, you'll be judged on those mechanics to some degree. 3, don't EVER argue with him during your critique. Just nod and look like you understand, or you will be sorry at the end of the semester. I'd say those three criticisms add up to a pretty negative picture. And yet, I'm very glad I took the class, and I think most people are.

May 2006

Everyone at Columbia should take Roma's class. He doesn't really teach you anything directly, but somehow you end up with a better understanding of the world in general and definitey yourself. And your photos will get way better, if you're into that.

Apr 2006

I didn't know anything about either of the Photo I. teachers (Tom Roma and Yoav Horesh) when I signed up for this class. I chose Yoav's section because I liked his name better. I also googled him, and liked his stuff. While Roma is a hot-shot in the world of photography, and is basically responsible for the entire photography department at Columbia, I am so glad I took Yoav's class (but I do hope to take a Roma class later). Yoav seems a little intimidating at first, constantly saying stuff like, "HOW MANY TIMES HAVE WE TALKED ABOUT THIS?" At which time he rolls his eyes and does this little clicking thing with his tongue (my mom used to make a similar noise when she saw me trying to eat Sour Patch Kids before dinner), and looks at the TAs for support. But he's really a sweetheart--honest, supportive, and helpful in his criticisms. I feel like I've learned volumes about all aspects of photography: the basics like developing and printing, but also some history, the best bookstores to browse photographical works, and what galleries to check out. He's also really approachable, so talking after class about lighting techniques, best lenses to buy, etc. is never scary. He respects different students' areas of interest (i.e. protraiture, documentary photography), and gives us a lot of freedom to explore those areas. Some people take advantage of the freedom he gives, which is to their detriment. Too bad for them. So, TAKE THIS CLASS, but only take it if you're willing to put as much effort in as Yoav does. Otherwise it's a waste of time and money. Also, the TAs know what they're talking about. Phew! And finally... What's not to like about a cute Israeli accent?

May 2005

you will most likely have mixed feelings about this class. Roma does provide a good intro to photography and you will probably be left a bit inspired by his brand of absolute truth. but sadly, in the end, his rants get a little old. his revolutionary attitude starts to wear thin when you realize the circumstances of his life, how he achieved success; how he spends his life making pictures for fatcats on the upper east, then lectures to their progeny. in the end, his philosophies on life boiled down to admonishments to 'let go.' i think there are more responsible and better informed thinkers, more effective teaching methods, more ultimately caring people [he doesn't even WANT to know your name].

Jan 2005

First of all, Tom Roma is NOT an asshole; To be fair, I do agree with many of the contentious points about Roma made by the other reviewers. Yes, he is a tyrant, but you will come to the realization that it would actually benefit you to take down and burn into your brain the rules and life credos that he has gleaned from his rich life, and apply them to your own. .... for Roma does not teach Photography; he teaches life, and how to live it. (I know it sounds corny, but it's true.) And make no mistake-- he Loves teaching and his teaching is a gift that he wholeheartedly offers to his students. The gift he gives may come in dirty, recycled, and unattractive wrapping paper, but the gift itself, if you bother to open it, is raw gold. Do yourself a favor, and TAKE A CLASS WITH THIS MAN. It might hurt a bit, but you will grow as a person as a result. I especially recommend this class for artists and seekers, but people interested in still and motion picture obviously will benefit as well.

Feb 2003

the first reviewer had it right. roma is a tryrant, and he wants it that way. but if you take the class, you might learn something worth thinking about...... theres no point in being afraid of the class, as long as you know what you're getting into. prof. roma has a powerful personality, but he is the same person who is obsessed with robert frost. if you cannot relate to this, too bad, maybe the class really isnt for you. if you think he sounds interesting, he is. the incessant and adamant opinions that will arise in roma's wild speeches and critiques display, if nothing else, his intense passion for photography and for his teaching. i wish other professors had such passion for their work, and were so hilarious during class..... photo 1 with roma is hard, and creates a lot of anxiety. (although the criticism isnt as painful if you are wise enough to give up your prints the instant you pin them to the wall) amazingly, everyone's photographs get exponentially better by the end of the class, regardless of how they started. in the end, you gain from the class what you allow yourself to lose..... ps. to art majors: do you sometimes get the feeling that no one is EVER honest about the work that is up on the wall? do you ever just wish the teacher would, for once, tell the truth about that piece that everyone knows is terrible? this class has, as mentioned, brutally honest critiques, but it can be a relief, in a way, even when it is your own work that sucks.

Jan 2003

Roma is no joke. He is frustrating, difficult to work with, and you will curse him many a time outside of the classroom. However, it cannot be denied that he knows his craft...he is damn good. If you are a major or concentrator, know that your path will be extra difficult. AND...if you have issues about being corrupted and cloned into a "Mini me" version of Roma do NOT sign up for this course. I think his ultimate goal is to have little Romas running around the department spewing Romaisms. Heaven help us. But then again...he's good. dammit.

Nov 2002

I took this as a summer course, and found Anibal to be an awful teacher. He is arrogant, callous, close-minded, and opinionated. He knows exactly what he likes, and if he doesn't like your chosen subject matter (which he probably won't), you'll suffer in critiques. Most art teachers focus on form when discussing work. He never really gets there because he's so busy criticizing the things in the photos. Even worse, there's no hint of his attitude until half-way through the class when you get to the first critique! The only good thing is that everyone's work gets blasted, so no one really feels that bad. The critiques also don't give you any idea where to go or what to improve on - he just lists off all the things he doesn't like about the work you've been doing. Keep in mind, too, that photography classes are expensive. He asks that you shoot 2 rolls a week (12 rolls total) and lowers your grade if you don't shoot as much as he'd like. You have to pull 20 'good' prints to turn in as your final portfolio. Paper is expensive, and you go through a lot if you're learning how to use contrast and vary exposure times.

Aug 2002

Do not take this course over the summer! Six weeks are not enough to develop your photography skills, and you'll die trying to complete the assignments (I spent roughly twenty hours in the darkroom every week). Plus, Professor Pella is a bit of an ass. He HATES "sweet" photos (i.e. anything that isn't depressing and vomit-worthy), and he NEVER gives As (just ask him).