Photographic Education is at an exciting yet sometimes frustrating crossroads. The way we teach is evolving – we’re experiencing a time where the role and definition of what we do as teachers is challenged by emerging technologies as well as long-standing traditions.
Photographic education begins with deciding what photography actually is. Do we teach photography as an art, science, documentary medium, as a set of techniques, a field or even as an industry.
I tend to think of photography as a humanistic enterprise -- an experience that emphasizes storytelling.
However, against this backdrop is the reality of technological change. We’ve now entered an era where we have to teach within the framework of two modalities – visual practices and attitudes toward photography handed down from the days of the darkroom as well as from the standpoint of the digital turn. In the later, students must grapple with a myriad of technological choices that affect content. Teaching to post-production processes found in computational photography today can be a bit overwhelming. How much information do students need to be photographers in the 21st century? Should they be taught High Dynamic Range photography, video, or complex time-based editing programs such as Fina Cut Pro in addition to the industry standard Photoshop?
As a teacher, the problem comes down to finding ways reconcile, philosophically, the technological consequences of the digital turn in photography.
As Arthur Ou observes, pictures are no longer just “taken”; they are computed and predetermined by premade software like Photoshop and processed with an auto-everything mode of digital camera or smartphone.
I still believe, though, that teaching is a process where skills and theory intersect.
For me, visual storytelling remains central to pedagogy. Students must not only be concerned with shutter speed but also the cultural and personal agency of the images they create.
Teaching photography should be a process with three main precepts: technique, composition, and content. Each area should be addressed as a student progresses from one set of skills to the next. At the same time, not every student taking a photography class plans on becoming a professional photographer. Nevertheless, it is important for instructors to engage students as if they can be. Moreover, we have an obligation to introduce students to a discipline that enriches all of society and not just the individual.
Today, there are so many exciting innovations headed our way in computational photography that we need to address them from many perspectives -- personal, cultural, historical, technological, sociological and ethical.
We already have cameras that can stop the camera's shutter from releasing if it senses that one of the people in the frame blinks. We also have point and shoot cameras with “slimming” features – in-camera programs that can take off body mass – slim down – the subject. Consider, as well, the hyper-reality of post-processing offered through High Dynamic Range images.
How can we envision what the culture of photography will look like in the future – a time when human vision is increasingly structured by mechanical means? I think Ou's argument about how we must consider society from the totality of the images made is absolutely right. We are not only creators of images, we are, visual consumers. How often do we really sit down and think about the images we consume? Paul Martin Lester, in Visual Communication Today, suggests that the aveerage American views about 5,000 visually mediated images each day.
Photo education must be innovative and engage in teaching methods that foster critical thinking as well as creativity -- things we can do through varied assessment strategies, both formative and summative; and meaningful advising and mentoring during informal as well as regularly scheduled times.
Setting high standards for myself as well as my students means that I am constantly in a process of assessing what I think students need to know. For example, I recently gave a guest lecture and demonstrate on how to photograph art work for painting students in the fine arts program. I thought I knew what I was doing. I didn't come to class as prepared as I needed to. I forgot to bring my level and my T-square. Right away I noticed how truly complex making images of art can be. The work is technical and needs to be approached methodically since the paintings, drawing, and ceramic pieces vary so much in size and the treatment of the surfaces. In the end, I realized that what I was trying to share with these students was how to solve a problem.
Setting high standards for my students by engaging in critical and creative thinking, communicating expectations, as well as providing innovative learning experiences establishes means that even though we don't know exactly what the future of photography will look like, at least we are facing it straight on.
Teaching must be an active and collaborative learning for teachers and students. We must dedicate ourselves to providing our students with learning experiences in a rapidly changing media environment.