By Lindsay Godin
Photography has significantly changed in the last thirty years. Prior to that, this art form was far more taxing, expensive, and slow, requiring photographers to move carefully through the critical thinking process, observe their setting or subject, make the proper technical adjustments, and carefully construct the composition in order to create a purposeful image. Feedback and final product were achieved hours to days later in the dark room. However, today’s photography is much more forgiving; digital and software technology provides photographers instant feedback of multiple images and encourages the use of editing software to correct these images. What can be lost, unfortunately, is the deliberate process of implementing sound foundational photographic practices. Therefore, in this fast-paced world of immediate image gratification, it is essential that I develop a solid groundwork for my students. Helping students ‘learn to see’ through carefully constructed graduated steps from theory to application to analysis to self-reflection provides a path from which they grow as artists.
At the University of Iowa, I have taught 10 undergraduate courses. The majority of my students are non-majors from diverse backgrounds, both in terms of majors and cultures. Each semester, my roster is filled with international students, newly returning veterans, and many first-generation college students. Most of these students initially enter my classes with the anticipation they will be taking ‘pretty pictures’. When they complete my coursework, they possess a strong conceptual framework and have applied theories to create thoughtful fine art photographs. When students set forth to complete assignments, I encourage them to reflect upon their own personal experiences and background and to communicate these unique perceptions in their art. Sharing diverse cultures, values, and perspectives enriches our classroom experience.
Clarity is the most effective method I use in my classroom. For students to ultimately obtain visual acuity, my lessons comprise carefully systematized steps such as 1) presenting theoretical concepts 2) examining contemporary and historical photographers whose works exhibit or purposely stray from these specified concepts 3) demonstrating the procedures, strategies, and models necessary to yield specific effects as well as showing projected (and often very humorous) outcomes if guidelines are not followed 4) students’ experimenting with, applying, and modifying these concepts 5) critiquing each other’s work using artistic theoretical/conceptual language in their verbal exchanges, sensitively noting strengths and flaws in their own images as well as those of others and 6) supplying students with content specific rubrics and constructive teacher feedback to advance students’ critical eye and giving students the necessary time to self-reflect on their own work in order for them to evolve as artists.
Students find my teaching environment to be highly-structured, enlightening, and hugely interactive. Students receive a detailed course outline. All assignments include specific guidelines, deadlines and written rubrics. Striving for an engaging student-focused class, I use an eclectic mix of hands-on, visual, and auditory methods of instruction. In addition, we explore the intricate workings of the camera as well as the photographic software such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Camera Raw Editing. I want my students to fully grasp this medium and all it encompasses. I also encourage students to visit me during office hours if they should need extra help with applying abstract concepts or they just want to run a project idea by me.
As an instructor, my ultimate goal is to increase student awareness, understanding, and appreciation of fine art photography so that students ‘learn to see’ and not just take ‘a pretty picture’. In a respectful environment, I use various pedagogical methods and activities to engage them. The lively pace of my class makes it enjoyable for students, regardless of their diverse backgrounds. Many of the students have expressed that my supervision has directly impacted them, making them more observant and reflective, and has helped them to successfully capture images with unique photographic vision. A number of times, non-major students have informed me that they have decided to change their major to photography or to add a minor of fine arts photography and my art majors expressed a continued enthusiasm in pursuing advanced photography coursework. What inspires me to continue working very hard in the field of art is that my students recognize the value of receiving a strong photographic groundwork in this world of instant images.