Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blogs Appropriation

I was just stealing blogs to follow from Miriam Levine. I know that they're free for the taking, but I haven't really found my own blog, on my own, yet, except the one by a photographer in somewhere like Argentina who photographed exotic bison and I wasn't smart enough to grab it.

But today I was reading a blog that Mim reads, a section about teaching in a writing program which was very interesting. 

The form of teaching that I've done, the photograph as a visual statement equivalent to a poem, essay, a short story, often accompanied by words, usually documentary, isn't written about all that much. I was extremely lucky that I taught in an urban university, that the students were often first generation in their families to go to college, generally  had poor primary educations, sometimes had language difficulties so that I could emphasize the process, rather than the product, and what a person might learn from doing a project. 

I was always curious to watch some students start the semester with little to show but technical failure, one ruined roll of film after another  (before we got to the important stuff -- what a person wants to say with images), but then catch on and move ahead like a house a fire. Or the super critical person (usually a woman) who could do nothing that pleased her, even if I was dancing on my toes with enthusiasm. 

I liked the easy interaction, looking at contact sheets to find out what might be curious or unusual in those 36 images. For instance, today I saw two contact sheets of photographs taken for the 1st project. This young woman had started photographing some guys who live in a ratty apartment in Mission Hill. Here are these fellows making hideous looking food in their scrubby kitchen, a neon sign that probably advertised beer as the main decor. Interesting, even though the lighting was terrible. But she wasn't pleased with those photographs and had settled on Beacon Hill as the subject for her project. Now, I'm not a fan of Beacon Hill which has been beaten to death by photographers, lodging predictable images in all of our minds. So, she had all the predictable images that are fine, actually, even better than adequate. But she also included photographs a friend of hers wrapping a gift in some store in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. So, here's this rather neat sales person, in a very clean environment, carefully folding paper, cutting string. These photographs seemed like such a wonderful comparison to those taken of the fellows in Mission Hill and more interesting than the perfectly successful, read conventional, images from Beacon Hill.    Yes, I influenced her, by supporting and emphasizing elements from the work she'd already done.....   But hopefully I'm broadening her ability to take risks, to go for the least likely project.

I try to emphasize that it's better to fail at a project that's just too hard to accomplish (too subtle, or amorphous, technically difficult) than to succeed at one that can be done well with almost no effort.

I'm lucky not to have taught at an art school, not to have helped produce more intending-to-become-artists who will almost inevitably not become them. Art schools usually have fiercely competitive students which is probably to the good because you have to have a thick hide once you get out in the art world. 

The fact that few students I've taught have wanted to become serious artists has allowed me to encourage a far more supportive class environment, help foster a sense of safety within the group and during critiques.   

Actually, many artists are not particularly nice people. I know that's an awful thing to say and I once lost a job I needed desperately because I said it. I was one of three finalists who would teach at some alternative school. If I remember correctly, many of the students were pregnant and young. All had had poor educational experiences and none had many advantages. Just the sort of group I really like to work with. 

I was supposed to think of some group project on the spot. Though I don't normally think well on my feel, I immediately imaged these young woman working with a group of elderly folks, taking photographs with the elderly women, each group doing interviews, collecting stories and writing. I fell in love with the project on the spot because it, too, was what I'd like to be doing.    
Unfortunately, the woman conducting the interview happened to say something like: "Oh, this has been so wonderful. Artists are just the most interesting, open and generous people." And, even though I had a daughter to support, needed that job desperately, I could not help saying something like: "Are you kidding me? They're selfish, self preoccupied and stingy."  Now, that's not entirely true. I know that. 

But many artists are single minded, narrowly focused, preoccupied, often jealous and certainly competitive. Unless they are blessed with a fierce social conscience or remarkable curiosity. 

I'm not sure if my sour opinion was why I didn't get the job. Perhaps it was because they preferred a male photographer as a role model. Or maybe he had a stronger project idea. Or maybe I seemed too passive. 

1 comment:

  1. You've made me remember all the good things about teaching! That's a super photograph.