An event earlier this week got me to thinking about my experiences with photography in the classroom; how I have approached it in the past, and how I would like to approach it in the future. In my previous classrooms I have always had groups of students who were devoted to photography as a media, and also those who saw photography as an easy way out of what they viewed as more difficult art assignments. After all, it is easy enough to push a shutter button on a camera. I always explained to those who thought photography was an easy option, that good photography is nothing like easy. Though I was also willing to admit to them that sometimes even a bad/mediocre photographer could get lucky and produce a compelling image. I just didn't want them to base their grade in my class on a stroke of luck. I needed to see evidence of thought, planning, problem solving, composition, content, technique.....you know, all those things we art teachers work so hard to instill in our students.
With all of this inner reflection floating around in my head, I found myself wandering into the photography section of my local Barnes and Noble Bookstore. Most of the books I picked up were the expected technique driven tomes that I have perused over and over again when I have photography on my brain. These books are interesting and useful, and often visually appealing, but they all fall short as an aide in helping to explain the difference between a technically good photograph and an exceptional work of fine art in which photography happens to be the media. That distinction is the hardest thing for most burgeoning photography/art students to grasp.
Just before giving up and wandering off to another section of the bookstore, a title caught my eye. "The Photographer's Vision - Understanding and Appreciating Great Photography" by Michael Freeman. Aha! This one sounded promising. As I started leafing through the pages I quickly realized that it was just exactly the kind of resource that I was hoping to find. Mr. Freeman's book looks at a lot of excellent imagery throughout the history of photography and goes into details about why these images are accepted as significant contributions to the world of art and photography; what the artist was thinking, what was their process, their "vision." And even better, right next to this book were two more on the shelf by the same author titled " The Photographer's Eye- Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos," and "The Photographer's Mind - Creative Thinking for Better Digital Photos." I can only say that I felt like I was in a state of photography book euphoria. :) All of these beautiful image filled books, while touching on technique, focused more specifically on the intent and creativity of the artists within the art form; just exactly the concepts I feel are most important to convey in an art classroom. Technique is very learn-able and can be developed with time and practice, but the development of technique requires lower order thinking skills. Developing a mental construct for creating content, meaning, composition, and artistry requires a student to not only use but to stretch their higher order thinking skills.
Thank you Michael Freeman for filling an important void in the book market. I love your books!