San Diego – And now for a change of pace… As I mentioned before i am now extremely interested in creating a series of photo workshops, seminars, whatever, some to be hosted by City College but all of them outside the scope of normal teaching duties and essentially “private” for-pay in nature. I also encouraged my colleagues to consider such things since the writing is on the wall for even deeper cuts to classes this coming Spring Semester (Spring 2012) and we need to get very creative for both money into the program as well as into our personal treasuries.
An email from one of our faculty got me to thinking about this when he mentioned that he was not sure where he fit into this since we already did field trip and other workshops. That made me think about what is was we could offer as a series from here that was unique. In the advertising world, the concept of USP or “Unique Selling Position” is important as it establishes why someone should buy your product or services instead of the competition. I think that applies to this “service” as well. So what IS the competition and how might we stand out?
There exists, all around this area, an abundance of photography instructors who can teach the technical underpinnings, the “craft” part of our medium. But what is sorely missing, in my opinion, are teachers who can step in, once that base is provided and the growing photographer can predictably use his tools to achieve a technically sound image, and now guide them into attaining their own visions, their own perspectives to inform the “art” side of their medium. In essence, that side of things addresses the re-awakening and honing of nothing less than the creative flame; something fine art instructors are steeped in but few photo instructors are as well. I do not know for sure why that is. Perhaps the effort required to master the long list of technical fundamental skills burns many of them out. Photography does have a denser base of technical underpinnings than virtually any other medium of expression and without being able to control those issues, the most creative vision remains either visual gibberish or impossible to predictably realize.
Maybe that is because this “vision thing” and the creative drive is far less tangible, far more “esoteric,” far harder, and will, to be bluntly honest, fall on the receptive spirits of far fewer students who are vastly outnumbered by those not willing to spend the prodigious effort required to embrace that spirit. To get up at the crack of dawn, to roam the streets, to see not just what things are but, as Minor White said, “…what else they are.” Those are the “skills” and fire that ignite the rockets on the real artists and it is hard to teach and can only be taught by someone who themselves has it. But perhaps, those currently unwilling under normal teachers would be, if the right teacher comes along.
I do not yet know precisely how to formulate the workshop/seminar/discussion “events” that can present those new tools to students. I try to do it in my field trips but time is short. I do not hand hold them, I am not simply a guide to new geographies, I am there to force them into their own hearts and spirits because I provide them no easy alternative. Not many students manage it but then not many of our human numbers become real artists. Too many of them simply want the bottom line tools from the teacher such as what filter to use, what exposure, or as one student actually asked me during a Yosemite field trip, “Where do I stand to get a great picture?” There are plenty of “gurus” who will happily give their own vision’s answer to that question. But in doing so they rob the student of the necessary experience of sorting it out for themselves and awakening in their minds the joy of the creative, artistic “Eureka” moment. Some will never get it but the few that do make the effort worthwhile, at least to me.
There is more than enough room for field trip experiences, live shooting exercises, and, perhaps most importantly, the chance to explore the depths of one’s own vision. This is not, or should not be a competition although I have had the experience of other workshop leaders who seemed to feel that it was. Rather than see other workshops as an opportunity for students to expand and see in new ways they saw those other workshops as competition for their pocketbooks and often for their egos. I have neither time nor sympathy for such a view.
The fact is, I am convinced, there are too few teachers on that spiritual/cerebral level. The world is chock full of workshops that can take you to “the pretty postcard” shot and tell you exactly how to set the camera, and even point it, to get the student’s version of the instructor’s vision. I watched in stunned amazement as a workshop teacher set up his camera, had his students look at the scene as he composed it, and then had them try to do the same thing with their cameras. I have ZERO level of interest in that even though there is a lot of money in it. I do not wish to teach, in the artistic sense, WHAT to think but HOW to think on their own.
But that cannot be taught by someone who does not do that themselves. Someone steeped in some scholastic approach, whether it is West Coast, East Coast, or Chicago Schools, be it F64, or are ANY aesthetic that thinks it can define and limit what a photograph, much less a work of art should look like cannot teach that openness to a student because they have no idea what it is for themselves. Art and art photography are, in my opinion, bigger than such limits can encompass.
As I said, I’m not sure, yet, how to properly create such a series but I know it can be done. So that is the quest. Hopefully I can get some of my colleagues on board and via the incredible facilities we have at City, create a new wave of photo students on their way to becoming true artists.