Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A few students from my Creative Composition class.

I'm sure most of you have heard the saying "those who can, do; those who can't, teach". Well I happen to strongly disagree with this statement. As someone who has been involved in teaching photography for the past few years I am constantly amazed by the rewards it brings.

First of all there is the feeling of giving back. I'm sure that all of you who are finding some success in photography have a great photo teacher in your past. For me there was Karen den Hertog at Trafalgar High School, Thaddeus Holownia at Mount Allison University, and David Hopkins at Dawson College. All of them were passionate about the medium and that passion was quickly passed on to their students. To be able to share my passion for photography and see a student become excited about what I am teaching is so rewarding. I must say that after every one of my classes, even if I have been having a bad day, I leave feeling fulfilled and excited about life.

Secondly there is the need to keep up with the medium. After a summer working at The Maine Photographic Workshops I saw the power of inspiring students through daily slide shows and so I now incorporate slide shows into almost all of my classes. That means that I constantly need to be finding new photographers, and this search exposes me to many people that have since inspired my work. Through these searches I have come into contact with the work of Michal Chelbin, Julie Blackmon, Ingar Krauss, Hellen van Meene, and Mona Kuhn, all of whom I greatly admire. As well there is the need to stay on top of the technical side of things. This past semester I was teaching a Photoshop class on CS3. Well I have CS3 at home but that doesn't mean that I know all of the new possibilities it has over older versions. So I have had to do some reading and have therefore updated my Photoshop skills. This has led me to be much more efficient when working on my own images. It is true that I could have done much of this research into contemporary photographers and the technical side of photography on my own but there is nothing having to fill three hours of lecture time to get you moving.

Thirdly there is getting back to basics. How do you teach someone to notice light? or why is light even important? Being able to teach things like the possibilities of aperture brings fresh and new eyes to old subjects and allows me to appreciate them all over again. Things that had become automatic for me are now chosen much more carefully, and much more intentionally because I have been re-teaching myself in the process.

Fourthly there are the questions and comments that I get from students. For me photography is definitely a solitary venture. Things like this blog help to start some discussion and lead me to new ways of thinking but students who are just starting out in the field of photography often have no qualms with saying things like "what's so great about that photo?" This constant questioning again allows me to see things with new eyes. Also these students that are just beginning to be exposed to the world of photography tend to be a reflection of what is out there in terms of what people in general think is important in photography. Some dislike any image where the content isn't strong and socially relevant, some love light and form, still others only like portraits where the subject is looking into the camera, etc. I have my very narrow way of looking at photographs which is completely based on my own personal experience as a photographer, and the style that I have been building up over the years. The fresh outlook that these students bring often helps me to understand how my photographs are perceived by the general public. That is not to say that I want to change my work in any way in order to appeal to a mass audience, it's just that it allows me to understand why some people like it and others don't.

Lastly there are the teenagers. I mean I like teaching adults but they really don't push the boundaries like teenagers do. Teaching teenagers is opening your eyes to the world. They often make amazing work that I am completely jealous of. They can also be difficult and don't like rules but if you can give them some freedom they will do the most amazing things. It is no coincidence that I make some of my best images when I am teaching teenagers.

I'm not saying that teaching photography is good for all photographers, but I like it!


  1. Nice post!

    I always divide teachers into those whose students' work looks like theirs and those whose students' work does not look like theirs...

  2. Joerg,
    That's an interesting way of looking at it. What does that mean? One encourages free thought and the other forces their way on students? Or is it just a coincidence? In your opinion what does that say about the teacher?

  3. What a great photo! I am so sad I had to miss that class.

    I was never one for reading blogs, but I am quite enjoying your's. Its so refreshing!

  4. Thanks Tatiana. I try to keep it at least somewhat light!