Learning from my students

One of my art classes, circa 1976

I have been extremely fortunate to have been not only only a photographer, but a teacher of photography. I have found that, by observing how my students see the world around them, I myself learn more about seeing.

It all began in the mid 1970’s, when the Minneapolis Public Schools hired me to run a K-12 program to integrate the Arts with the general curriculum, hoping to show improvement in students’ performance in all disciplines.  I taught photography, video production, and some interesting art classes!  I also hired local artists to work with teachers. A film maker worked with the Science teacher to illustrate principles of chemistry; a mask maker worked with the English teacher to help students learn how to step into the life of a character in a novel, and so on.

I took groups of students on photo journeys through the streets and alleys near the University of Minnesota. My approach at that time was to teach kids the basics of how to use their cameras, develop film, and print pictures. As we discussed their work, I used some of the concepts I had learned studying photojournalism a few years before: The rule of thirds, filling the frame, balancing elements, framing, leading lines, point of view, etc. But what i came to realize as i worked with them was that as we spent time practicing in the field, seeing what worked, comparing with one another, their skills improved much more rapidly than when we had been looking at the work of other photographers, and discussing the concepts academically.  It seemed that they developed a sense of what worked without knowing exactly why. In other words, through practice and self-evaluation they developed skills to which we could then attach labels, rather than first teaching the concepts then having them do exercises in illustrating those concepts.

I still enjoy teaching people how to make images that make them happy.  I like to see them find what inspires them, and discover how to create images that express their inspiration.

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