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Franco A. Barsotti, 74, photography professor embraced digital age

Franco A Barsotti | Robert Clarke-Davis photo

Franco A Barsotti | Robert Clarke-Davis photo

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Updated: July 19, 2012 6:23AM

Franco A. Barsotti, professor emeritus of photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, was one of the first instructors at the school to explore digital technology.

Though trained as a traditional black-and-white photographer, Mr. Barsotti embraced change and explored digital processes that were at that time considered radical. He challenged expectations and encouraged his students to do the same.

“He absolutely welcomed [the digital age], new ideas, new opportunities and new techniques,” said his former colleague Barbara Crane. “He was pretty open to the students finding their own paths. He would be very supportive of their trying to do new visual experiments and concepts.”

Mr. Barsotti taught at SAIC for nearly 40 years, from 1964 until his retirement in 2002, and served as chair of the photography department.

On June 6, Mr. Barsotti, 74, died of natural causes at his home in Washington state, where he moved about 10 years ago.

Born Nov. 20, 1937, Mr. Barsotti grew up in the Pullman area and took an interest in photography at a young age. After attending Ohio State University, Mr. Barsotti ended up studying fine arts under renowned photographers Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design.

Following the advice of Callahan, Mr. Barsotti went into art education.

After joining the faculty at SAIC, Mr. Barsotti earned a masters in fine arts degree. The black-and-white photos he produced during this period are featured in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

During a 1974 sabbatical in Italy, Mr. Barsotti began hand-coloring black and white pictures. Throughout the rest of his career, he continued to use various techniques to layer images and manipulate photos, often obscuring the subject. In the 1980s, he started working with computer imaging to create unusual and experimental artwork that often raised questions of perception and challenged the idea of a photo’s subject matter.

“He was very inventive and was always challenging the medium to see what else could be done with it,” said Joyce Neimanas, a former colleague.

As a tribute to his father, who was an Italian blacksmith for the Pullman Co. on the South Side, Mr. Barsotti once shot a series of powerful photographs of some of the tools that his dad crafted. He called the collection “Artigiano,” which is Italian for “artisan.”

“They were beautiful, just gorgeous,” said Kenneth Josephson, a retired professor of photography from SAIC.

Friends and colleagues remember Mr. Barsotti for his strong sense of humor, warm personality and supportive nature, especially toward his students.

“For a student who was a bit unsure of what direction to take her work, Frank was most reassuring and helped to coax the best work out of me,” wrote one of his former students, Debra Friedman, in an email.

Mr. Barsotti is survived by his sons, David and Steven; daughter, Jenifer Rosian; seven grandchildren; ex-wife, Nan; sister, Agnes Tomei; and brother, Aldo Barsotti.

Services have been held. An additional memorial will be held at a later date.

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