My first appointment as an instructor of Photography at the collegiate level took place in a pre-DSLR world. My teaching philosophy has evolved as I have watched photography transform in so many ways – from a medium carried out in a dark, mysterious room to create objects, to our present reality in which everyone is a documentary photographer armed with a camera in their pocket and an Instagram account. I prioritize teaching my students the difference between photography as an omnipresent technology and photography as a physical fine art form which they use to convey their own message.
Given our society’s widespread access to the medium, I embrace some aspects of the flipped classroom by giving students resources to investigate outside of class. I find that an online component to my course that contains tutorials, links to photographers, and demo videos, is necessary. This is especially the case for my Digital Photography students who have endless information at their fingertips to learn the basics of camera control. Comprehending these technical aspects and basics of exposure is at the forefront of both my digital and darkroom classes: I want my students to have mastery over the primary tool of their trade, the camera, before they move on to printing or editing. By the end of their intro class, I want my students to feel confident in their technical abilities, and finish with a series project that introduces the idea of multiple photographs which support a singular concept.
Beyond Photo I, I provide lists of open-ended assignments to which students apply their own interpretations, all within a series format. Advanced and graduate students keep journals and write proposals for their own projects. They check in with me on a daily basis to share new work, get feedback on technical editing, and help formulate which route they will take in sculpting a series. I stress conceptual ideas with which to frame a body of work that will transcend mere aesthetics and create multi-layered interpretations and dialog. Stressing their own personal vision should be the most important goal, and exposure to contemporary artists through magazines, websites, studio and museum visits, and books, is key. Craft is not left by the wayside, yet the expectations may vary in light of the student’s concepts, and a discussion of whether the rules are being effectively broken is crucial.
As an artist who works across multiple media, I encourage input from students and faculty working in other departments. I feel critiques for advanced students absolutely need the eyes of those working outside of Photography. I have incorporated mixed media into my Photo I courses as well, as I feel it is important to stress that students are studying Art rather than one particular discipline, and as such, their message informs their medium. I express that the tidy categories present in art school do not exist as rigidly in the art world. Installation art has been important to my own practice, and I encourage advanced students to consider whether this method of treating photography as a possibly tangible or sensory experience suits their own goals of expression.
Because Photography has a twin in the commercial realm, I feel the need to stress from the first day of Photo I that owning the most expensive equipment does not guarantee the strongest work. I dissolve the notion that they must travel somewhere exotic with a professional grade camera to make good art. I believe anyone can learn the core steps that can make them a stronger artist both technically and conceptually, in their own back yard. I aim for my students to not only grasp how they can become stronger artists if that is their career choice, but how the visual literacy skills they learn in my classes can enrich any pursuit they embark upon.