From: Kris Erickson (email@example.com)
Date: 08/20/02-05:54:44 PM Z
Well put, Judy! Reminds me of a little story:
I was recently told a little anecdote by a former photo teacher here at
Ryerson about a current photo teacher here at Ryerson. He said that when he
was teaching here, he got into a little altercation with one of his students
who was doing poor work. He criticized it to pieces (as, in my opinion, poor
work should always be criticized), while the other photo teacher at the
critique, the current one, looked on quietly.
After the critique, the current teacher spoke with the former teacher,
calmly but firmly asserting that what the previous teacher had done in that
critique was "potentially damaging" to the student.
The previous teacher responded to the current one by saying that by NOT
saying anything, or curbing the tone of the critique in any way, ESPECIALLY
to the point of silence, was MUCH MORE damaging---and not just to the
It's been at least a decade since this incident. I have gleaned an
incredible amount of knowledge from the former teacher (who is still a
teacher, albeit not in photography) about not only what he teaches now, but
about writing, art and especially photography. What I have learned from the
current teacher, IN photo courses, is merely technical and could have been
gained under the tutelage of nearly any photo-practitioner with more than a
decade or two of photo experience. I can't help but wonder how much else I
may have learned had the former teacher were he still to teach
From: Judy Seigel [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: August 20, 2002 1:03 PM
Subject: Re: Warning: photographer in training, please reduce speed
Diana, thanks for saying so much better than I was going to some of the
thoughts I was having...
I think one question we could do a little more on is just what IS the role
of the teacher. For instance, every year our schools turn out more MFAs
than there were artists in all of Renaissance Italy. Maybe if they
discourage a few from going on, they're doing the art ecology a favor.
Not to mention that if the student is so easily led and discouraged, they
don't perhaps have what it takes to survive (let alone succeed) in an
artworld that is grueling, corrupt, thankless and totally narcissistic.
The only crueler profession I'd say is dancer -- there, besides the
competition, is the fact that the dancer is *old* at 30.
I myself went to the best schools, or considered so, and then to graduate
school. In all of it I only had one teacher who encouraged, let alone
inspired me. As an undergraduate 100 years ago (at Cooper Union), I was
beaten up & down by teachers who mocked me and made constant cutting
remarks... nothing I could do was praised beyond "this looks like you
knocked it off before breakfast." (Honest, word for word -- and clearly it
still stings.) The worst was in advertising design and another in
illustration. I went on as an illustrator to be in every commercial annual
that existed... Illustrators, Art Directors, Graphis, etc.... At the time
the thought occurred to me that they felt some competitiveness... It
seemed awfully far-fetched, but it did help salve the wounds.
But again, when the children of friends or the friends of my children
asked me "should I be an artist," my answer was always, if you can ask
that question the answer is "no." If you feel you can live a fulfilled
life doing something else, for gods sake run for the exit. (I gave the
same answer when the students the age of my children at grad school asked
if they should have children.)
So whatever their unconscious or even conscious motives, these "that's
been done" teachers may be doing the right thing. Whoever is so easily
demoralized by lack of strokes, is better off at law school.
A couple of other comments:
Perhaps my most talented and successful student ever, says blithely that
as far as she's concerned, if she hasn't done it, it hasn't been done. Jon
says that too... And what anyway is "been done" ? The subject? The
human body has been done. Are we to cross that off? We haven't done THESE
human bodies. I was told "street photography has been done." Not these
streets NOW. And Jack, Edward Weston did NOT invent the naked lady, or
prefigure ANYTHING along those lines. Take a look at Frizot -- or any
history of the nude. You'll find far better by Anonymous. One difference
of course was that those were frankly erotic -- a refreshing honesty,
instead of artsy farce.
Finally in grad school I had one inspiring teacher... he did a lot of
blather, but about 15% was pure gold... which lasts a lifetime without
tarnishing. His comment/question to the class was to avoid photographing
something because it looks lke a "photograph"... That's like what Diana
says about pre-validation.
But Shannon, & company, I sense with all due respect for the brain death
of these so-called teachers, and the idiocy of insisting students do
something "new" whether or not it has been done --- photography of the
self, with cellophane or without, with raimant or without, seems to be
turning into a an attempt at therapy. Watch it. Photography is not
psychotherapy, group therapy, or whine patrol made visible. It's a visual
But I don't need to wait for answers about the class mix. And the number
of female professors.
On Tue, 20 Aug 2002, Diana H. Bloomfield wrote:
> I rarely write into this list, mainly because I know there are people
> here with far more expertise and experience, both in teaching and in
> photographic skills, than I. And there's so much to say. However, I
> just want to focus on those teachers out there who "don't allow" certain
> subjects to be photographed. Actually, I'm going to open myself up to
> criticism and defend them, because I know I'm one of them.
> I think any art class (performing, visual, creative writing), whether at
> the beginning or at the advanced level, can be extremely daunting for
> students. In my experience, students initially tend to bring in work
> that has already been validated for them. The work has already been
> "critiqued" in another workshop and validated by fellow students and/or
> the instructor, or the work resonated positively in some way with
> parents or friends. In fact, they don't really need to hear me or
> anyone else tell them, yet again, about that particular piece of work.
> I think they bring in those familiar photographs, because they know
> they're "safe" with it. They continue to photograph those color beach
> sunset pictures, the color pictures of roses, and the endless portraits
> of their dogs or cats--and sometimes, even, the endless pictures of rock
> bands--not because they don't want to do something different, not
> because a particular subject matter (color beach sunset comes to mind)
> is particularly meaningful to them, but they continue to do it because
> it's easy and it's safe.
> Frankly, I think I would be remiss as a teacher to "allow" those
> students--during the semester they're taking my class--to continue to
> bring in those same easy images. They want to be challenged, and I want
> to challenge them. For the duration of my course, I want them to not
> only experience their own potential (that I know they have) as
> photographers, but to also gain a sense of the infinite possibilities of
> the photographic medium itself. And I would like to think that I create
> a "safe" enough environment in my classroom, that students don't feel
> (after the first week, at least) that they have to continue to play it
> "safe" with their image-making.
> So, Shannon, when you overhear "a teacher tell a student to never
> photograph a rock band" or "another teacher tell a student that flowers
> and children are strictly off limits," it's just possible that those
> teachers know that those particular students are taking the easy
> route--not imitating so much other photographers--but repeatedly
> imitating themselves. I would also venture to say that it's the lazy
> teacher who "allows" them to keep doing it.
> The best teachers I ever had (at Bucks County Community College, in
> Newtown, Pa over twenty years ago) never let me get away with a thing.
> They knew when I was being lazy, and they let me know it. One teacher
> in particular said to me one day, "these are really beautiful images,
> but if you bring in one more of them, I think I'll puke." I thank her
> to this day.
> Tillman Crane wrote:
> > Shannon,
> > I hesitate to jump in here (these waters are way too deep for me) but
> > my teaching philosophy is..
> > Everything has been done..but it doesn't count until its been done by
> > By mastering your craft and stealing from the best, your own vision
> > and ideas will emerge
This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : 09/19/02-11:02:50 AM Z CST