DAVID M GYSCEK
Photo credit: John Buckingham, 2011
Students studying art, including photography, come to that study from diverse perspectives and backgrounds with an assorted array of expectations both in terms of preconceptions about the discipline and expected outcomes and goals. It is incumbent on us educators to have a strong sense of our students—their abilities, their needs, and their ambitions. We must be nimble enough to respond to the diverse needs or our students while guiding them through the non-stop onslaught of information they are exposed to in their lives and in their studies. It is our role to help them filter and process this information, cultivating visually literate, critical thinkers who are who are fully engaged in their practice and, importantly, informed members of society.
Material & technical engagement
At its base, the pursuit of art requires rigorous and disciplined engagement with materials and methods. Having proficiency in an artistic discipline allows its practitioner the freedom to operate and communicate effectively. Once students attain a basic level of technical proficiency with the materials and processes of the medium, they are more willing to experiment and innovate, making discoveries about their practice and the medium along the way. It also helps develop confidence, which, in turn, allows students to push themselves and innovate in bold and daring ways—taking risks and solving problems in new and creative ways.
Fluency & eloquence
In students’ academic work too, I encourage and direct students to critically engage with the subject matter they are exploring, whether their focus is on current events, aesthetic or contemporary art theory, or the life and work of a challenging artist. Through class discussions, which are reinforced by reading and writing assignments, I attempt to model an approach to inquiry that is curious, open minded, and relevant to their lives and the visual art they are producing. In a sea of visual objects and images, and in an endless stream of information, fluency in the discourse and in visual culture helps one discern meaning. Moreover, it helps students articulate their own artistic and conceptual intentions.
Teaching & learning photography
Today, advances in digital imaging and information technologies, places the discipline of photography at a turning point. While I believe strongly that there is merit in teaching and studying wet, analog photography at the introductory level, I recognize the reality of the changing photographic industry, educational facilities, and photography curricula. However, since digital imaging technologies are based on the mechanical, film-based cameras and associated processes, proficiency in shooting on film and developing an image through photochemical processes plays an important role in developing a deep understanding of the process of creating a photographic image.
In cases where students are only able to engage photography digitally, I structure my introductory photography classes to slow down the process—to set up a series of speed bumps, as it were, throughout the process. This tends to frustrate students’ expectations and preconceptions, which is important for the study of a medium in flux. Digital photography is a fast medium. Modern cameras can be set to do most of the work for you. You can shoot rapid-fire and sooner or later, just about anyone can get a decent shot without much skill or understanding of the discipline and without much thought. Early on in an introductory class, as students learn how to use cameras and the associated software (Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom), I insert a critical studies component that supplements and enriches their understanding of a discipline that is difficult to pin down. This has the effect of grounding them within the discourse of the discipline while slowing down the process of digital photography. This purposeful slowing forces students to be present to the moment and/or image they are trying to make. This is the very essence of discipline, practice, and visual awareness.