Richard Zakia, 1925–2012

It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to esteemed colleague, prolific author, and Professor Emeritus of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Dr. Richard Zakia, who passed away at the age of eighty-seven on Monday, March 12, 2012.

Zakia authored and co-authored over a dozen books with topics ranging from photography and advertising to visual perception and semiotics. His seminal books Perception and Imaging and Teaching Photography are considered classics in photography circles. Kate Iannotti, Marketing Manager for Photography and Digital Imaging at Focal Press recently remarked, “Dick was so passionate about his work that he fought to complete the newest edition of Perception & Imaging prior to his death, which will publish in September.”

In his 2004 biography in Contemporary Authors (published by Thomson Gale), Zakia is quoted as stating:

My earlier writings dealt with some of the technical aspects of photography. Recent writing attempts to integrate information from other disciplines and relate it directly to the understanding of photographs in particular and to pictures in general. Each discipline has its own vocabulary in dealing with philosophical issues such as truth, reality, and values . . . my interest is to build conceptual linkages among various disciplines by utilizing pictures . . . What is the visual equivalent of linguistic terms such as metaphor, metonymy, and synecdoche?

The charismatic Zakia’s teaching career at RIT spanned thirty-four years, where he taught courses in photography, advertising, and graphic design. He was the recipient of the Eisenhart Outstanding Teaching Award, later serving as Chairman of the Fine Art Photography Department and Graduate Program in Imaging Arts. Prior to his career in academia, he served in the United States Navy as a Radio Supervisor and at Eastman Kodak Company as a Photographic Engineer in the Research and Development department. In his later years Zakia contributed his observations on the art of advertising to a blog entitled “Ad Hoc,” which was a popular feature of the website “Digital Giraffe.” His last entry is dated February 2012 (the blog archive can be viewed at

Visual Studies Workshop houses the Richard Zakia Archive, reflecting his passion for photography, advertising, and visual literacy. The archive holds Zakia’s research materials and documentation (including a large slide collection) for his numerous lectures and published works, vintage advertising articles, and well over ten thousand magazine ad tearsheets dating from the 1960s through the 1990s. Many of them have his handwritten notes, categorized by topic, as well as his personal analysis and interpretation. The archive is being reorganized and will be accessible to the public in the near future. An exhibition is also in the early planning stages.

Michelle Earl is a mixed-media artist and fashion designer who is a student in the MFA program at Visual Studies Workshop.

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  1. […] a lot about teachers and teaching lately with the passing of a favorite college professor of mine. Richard D. Zakia, who I had the privilege of studying with when I was a graduate student at the Rochester Institute […]


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