Learning How to See with a Camera

Learning How to See with a Camera

Victor Stekoll, Middle School Teacher

It's that “vision thing.” When new photography artists enter the photo room, they are ready for a new, fun challenge, and by the 7th and 8th grade, their intellect and passion can be intertwined to produce outstanding fine art. When we give them a highly structured environment like a film darkroom, they thrive because it is a new, interesting game they can master. When we give them the open playground of Photoshop CS-6, they find new tools and techniques to experiment with that have few bounds. 

Photography opens up young art students to get in touch with their interests, vision, and creativity. They learn that creating art takes both imagination and perspiration; one must create from within, but creating art also often requires technical effort to see the project, in this case, a photograph, through to completion. 

Photography requires rigorous organization as students maintain their images in film folders as well as in folders on the school server. Success also requires cleanliness in the darkroom. They also must follow an order of operations, which in the darkroom is composed of no less than 22 discrete steps. Photoshop, on the other hand, rewards experimentation with effects that can enhance photos or make them nearly unrecognizable from the original image. However, one can always go ”back in history” and take different routes, and students learn that they are allowed "instant replays" in art, as sometimes they are in life. 

New professions will reward creative thinking, and photography is a useful tool for practicing creative expression and developing graphic art and design skills. One can see 7th and 8th graders developing their own "style" in creating images that interest them, while they are making something unique to the world. 

Photography presents students with a set of rules and then offers the possibility of breaking them in producing fine art. Working with film is truly a hands-on experience, as they shoot the film, put it in tanks in total darkness, develop it, print contact sheets for editing, print larger images up to 11x14 with enlargers, and then dry-mount the finished piece while also naming their final work. It is a long and creative process that fits right in with progressive education values. 

Some people ask me if I am “still working with film?” Isn’t that so old school! I usually respond that they will have to peel my cold dead hands from the enlargers. Black and white fine art photography is still alive and well at Green Acres! We always say that we are involved in a process that is perhaps the highest level of human expression: that of creating art.