The School of Photography’s Equipment Room provides top-notch gear to students free of charge in a welcoming and helpful environment
By Kyle Roe
At the School of Photography’s (PH) Equipment Room (EQR), top-notch cameras, lighting kits, lenses, and anything else a budding photographer might need are sitting on the shelves, waiting to be lent out.
“We carry all of the high-level cameras that are out there,” shared EQR Supervisor Edwin Vargas. “The type of equipment that the school provides to the students is exactly the type you will find in the industry, the rental houses.”
Vargas emphasized that quality and ease of access are key components of the EQR’s philosophy, mission, and practices.
“Provide them with the right equipment, and make sure they are all on time for their studios, and that they have everything they need to succeed in their classes,” Vargas said. “I’m making that my job, and at the end of the day, I’m here for them, and they are my inspiration to come to work every day.”
Vargas was hired as the EQR lab technician in 2016, fulfilling a decade-long dream of working at Academy of Art University. Through a winning combination of technical skill, gratitude, eagerness to learn, and a positive outlook, Vargas was promoted to the EQR’s top job in October 2018.
“For me, being in the university means a lot,” Vargas said. “It’s not like I just took the job. I’ve always wanted to be part of this university, since 2007.”
Vargas’ passion for photography and unending desire make the Academy a fitting workplace, to the benefit of himself and the students he serves.
“As employees from the Academy, we get the benefit to take an undergrad class every semester,” Vargas said. “I’ve always been taking advantage of that benefit from the university, and I’ve been preparing myself, taking classes, learning new equipment. That way I was able to assist the students in a better, more efficient way.”
Now, after three years of Academy tutelage, 12 years working in the industry, and advanced degrees in photography and cinematography, Vargas is not only EQR supervisor but an instructor as well. His upcoming course, Advanced Digital Capture, teaches students how to use Phase One cameras, which are usually extremely expensive and difficult to obtain.
“Adrienne [Pao] was looking for [an instructor] to cover this class since the [instructor] that was teaching it left,” Vargas explained. “They were looking between the current staff, the current [instructors] to see who has the skills to teach this class. I was the person with the most skill at that point. So, they offered me the position and I jumped in a second.”
Before working at the Academy, Vargas was the head photographer for the Panamanian branch of Wilhelmina Models, one of the world’s largest modeling and talent agencies, a fashion photographer for Wilhelmina in Los Angeles, and a Carolina Herrera Fashion House photographer, in addition to numerous freelance assignments. Top-of-the-line fashion work required top-of-the-line photography equipment.
“In some of the photo shoots I was working for magazines and different campaigns, we were able to use this camera they rented for the specific photo shoots,” Vargas recalled. “It’s just become very common for my photography because I like to create large-resolution, advertisement campaigns, photographs. So, it’s always been part of my curriculum, my résumé.”
Since Vargas and previous supervisor Dino Graniello took charge, the EQR’s staff has become the most student-focused in the room’s history. For one, they have set aside wall space for students to pin up their work. It helps reinforce that the Academy students visiting the EQR are valued and appreciated and that the EQR exists primarily for their convenience.
“Even though we have our high standards and rules, and they need to take care of the equipment,” Vargas said, “we want to not scare them, and make sure that they’re always welcome to come here when they have a question, when they don’t know how to use a camera. … They feel this is a welcoming place for them, and they want to be around us, and they want to be here, and we create different projects and ideas.”