What is the “big question” for photographers? I once had a student ask this during a class discussion on Hollis Frampton’s Incisions in History/Segments of Eternity. He was a dancer taking alternate processes of photography as an additional creative outlet, and he told us that in the dance world, where one’s art is the performance and performance is ephemeral, the “big question” was always “Will I be remembered?” The other students and myself agreed that this question was also particularly poignant related to the history of photography, and indeed the motive for making a photograph itself. However, in today’s image-saturated world, we leave so many traces that living forever through memory seems inevitable. So, I posited that perhaps an equally pertinent “big question” for the contemporary photographer is, “Does it (the photograph, the image one chooses to create and put out into the world), matter?”
Images are powerful. They communicate subconsciously and have the ability to influence, even manipulate, without awareness. Though we are constantly bombarded with images in our society, visual literacy is much less pervasive. I believe as photographic image-makers we must not only acknowledge the power of images, but also make efforts to understand their visual language. While it is not necessary to fully comprehend how photographs communicate before making strong images, I feel that students must have a grasp of this language before they can truly realize their own artistic vision. As a teacher of photography I am in the unique position to not only share my passion for the craft of image-making, but to also educate generations of students in the visual language of photography.
My initial aim as an educator is to incorporate visual literacy as an extension of the conceptual aspects of art making. For me it is the concept that gives purpose to a photograph; that which makes it worthy of creation; that which determines why it matters. I teach in a way that is meant to cultivate these ideas and help students discover their individual voice. But the process of image making is two-fold. Though it is the meaning that creates depth of any work of art, without a practiced technique, the idea would have no frame to present itself. As artists, the choice of media with which to apply our message is endless. I believe in cultivating and honing a variety of skills for this aim, beginning with analog photography, film and physical prints, then branching out to experiment with alternative and historic processes, installation, and digital and time-based media. A successful work of art must find the perfect balance of concept and craft. As an educator, my ultimate objective is to facilitate artistic growth through the formation of researched and reflective ideas and the application of those ideas through specific and adept technical skills.
To this end, I believe the critique is the most valuable tool we have in the classroom. Visual literacy develops through these communal conversations and critical observations responding to works created by oneself and one’s peers. Diversity within the classroom is essential in this respect, for what makes us unique as creators is the same depth of life experience that makes us individuals. Bringing together students from a variety of backgrounds and experience leads to richer conversations, deeper understanding, and ultimately stronger work. Just as my dance student illuminated, ideas and interpretations of artwork extend beyond medium limitations. Thus, in welcoming intermedia and cross-disciplinary aspects in the curriculum, as well as pushing the boundaries of photographic technique, I encourage collective and individual growth of students as an artistic community of unique and thoughtful image-makers.