Tilly Sanson, one of my former college photography students, asked if I could contribute some college advice for her younger sister, Kara, who will be a freshman this fall. Tilly has collected a great range of contributions from current undergrads, college alumni, and current or former professors. I decided to also share my contribution here. Your mileage or experiences may vary, but these are some things I gleamed through my stages of undergrad, grad school, and academia.
The best advice I received during undergrad was from a psychology professor, Dr. Lamar Wilkinson. He said “Truth is relative and reality is an illusion.” There are so many ways that can be interpreted and appreciated. I’ve often put new experiences within this filter to process the information.
I lead with his advice, and then offer my observations for navigating college…
Enjoy the moment
Ideally, college won’t be the best or the worst time in your life, but it is a unique experience. Don’t forget to pause and acknowledge each day for what it is. It’s good to always be thinking of your future, but 5 minutes from “now” is also your future. Enjoy it. Make the most of it. And give yourself a chance to take in the experience.
During a lecture, if your classmates seem bored, there’s a good chance your professor is bored, too. One can influence the other. If there’s a topic in class you’re excited about, speak up! Interact. It will make the subject way more interesting to yourself, it will inspire your professor because he/she will realize someone is actually giving a shit, and it has a direct influence on the quality of the lecture because more passion comes out. Teacher/student is a collaborative dance. Continue reading ›
That is a good summary for the second half of the #mmwYOtour! In the last post, I summarized the first week that took me from Cleveland to Amherst while speaking at high schools each day about photography and the Young Artist program at Maine Media Workshops. It was good to catch up for a little bit that weekend, but on Monday morning, I was back on the road!
My first stop was Williston Northampton High School, in Massachusetts. I didn’t know anyone at the school, but the photography teacher, Edward Hing, reached out to me about stopping by while on the trip. Turns out, Edward has been in quite a few workshops in Maine. This past summer, he was in Susan Bloom’s digital collage course. Back in 2008 during my first summer at Maine Media Workshops, I worked as a teaching assistant. Susan’s workshop was one of the courses I assisted. It’s a fun, connected world.
Alex Bilodeau, who co-teaches a course with me in Maine, dropped by to also say a few words to the first class I met with. It was awesome to get to bounce comments back and forth. The courses at Williston were a variety, ranging from filmmaking to photography to an anything goes art course. The classroom was sort of like a cave within a general student center. Outside the doors was a convenience store and lounge area. In many ways, the school felt like a small liberal arts college.
Once I concluded the talks and grabbed lunch with Edward, the drive to Falmouth, Massachusetts was only supposed to be a couple hours. That stretched into 6 or 7, because Rhode Island happened. My GPS was directing me around Rhode Island for the quickest route to southern Massachusetts, but while on the Interstate I saw a turnoff option for Providence. On a whim, I decided to take it. Until that day, my only experience in Rhode Island was a quick drive (ironically, another detour) a few years ago into the edge of the border so I could step out and check the state off the list. But with this new opportunity to venture in, I decided to go for it. My girlfriend went to the University of Rhode Island. Nearly everyone I hang out with in Burlington went to URI. Half are from Rhode Island. With so many connections, I felt like it was my duty to venture in. Continue reading ›
It’s been a wild week! I’m almost halfway into my road trip tour of high schools across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. To recap what I’m doing, each day I’ve stopped at a new school to chat with different classes about photography, discuss the Maine Media Workshop’s Young Artist (YO) program, and when classes are long enough, I hold a small demo or software tutorial. It’s been great!
On Monday, everything kicked off at Laurel School, an all-girl private high school just outside of Cleveland. When I was originally making plans for this trip and lining up places to visit, I asked my former YO students where I should go. Almost instantly, I heard back from Sophie Schwartz who told me I had to visit her old high school in Cleveland. Sophie was a student in the very first YO course I ever taught, and a couple years later, was also responsible for telling me there should be a class at Maine Media devoted to just the fun side projects we normally do in our “free time” in workshops. Laughing, she said the class could be called “Making Shit with Andy.” Awesomely enough, a week later I found myself making a teaser video and the next year, teaching a course in Maine called “Making (___), with Andy and Alex.” Alex Bilodeau, a filmmaking YO instructor, co-taught it with me. So by finding myself in Cleveland, I was once again at the start of a good idea thanks to Sophie!
8 AM at Laurel, I kicked off the tour with the entire Freshman/Sophomore/Junior student body by leading their morning address with a talk to introduce myself, discuss my work and photography philosophies, and dive into student work created in different YO courses. I remember when I walked up to the microphone after being announced, I confessed to the crowd that it was my first time to ever speak at an all-girl school, and with over 200 students looking back at me, it was just a bit intimidating! Continue reading ›
At this moment, I’m sitting at a desk in Cleveland. Monday will launch a series of photography and video discussions I’ll be doing with high schools across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. This is a road trip in conjunction with Maine Media Workshops (MMW) and their Young Artist (YO) program. For over the next two weeks, I’ll be dropping into schools to speak to classes about my projects, the industry and MMW course options, and sharing YO student work from a variety of workshops I’ve been involved with.
This past weekend, I had the awesome opportunity to visit Edmund Burke School, a high school in Washington, DC. My visit to this school wasn’t by chance. The connection to Edmund Burke has been growing for the past few years. Back in 2011, during my Advanced Young Digital Photography course at Maine Media Workshops, Nate Palmer was one of my students. During the school year, he went to Edmund Burke.
The following year, in the 2012 version of the course, Enti Mooskin was in my class. During our initial class introductions, she mentioned how Nate was a classmate of her’s and suggested the course to her. Every so often, I’ll get a student one year who is high school classmates somewhere with a former student from previous years. What made Edmund Burke even more pronounced as a high school crossing my path, was that it happened again in 2014. This time, Emily Karzon and Emma Tchen were in my course. Both mentioned Enti and Nate, and how they all went to school together (or at least previously… Nate and Enti are now rocking it at college!).
With such a reoccurring group of students from the same school, there had to be a central source helping this, so I remember asking Emma and Emily who their photo teacher was. They told me Allen Jackson, and then immediately came up with the idea that I should come visit their school. These girls’ spontaneous ideas became quite common during those two weeks… if you’ve ever seen my rhinestoned sandals in the past year, that was their doing. Once my summer in Maine concluded, intrigued by their idea, I contacted Allen about the possibility. Turns out, he has been sending students to Maine long before I ever taught there, and in the past, has held film festivals that gets students into a workshop course. Pretty awesome! Discussions with him developed into the possibility of doing a workshop event at Edmund Burke. At the repeated recommendation of Emma and Emily, he decided to bring me down to DC! Continue reading ›
In a previous essay on process, the main focus was the desire to transform an environment into a stage for the camera. The majority of time, this is what I prefer. However, sometimes this can’t be done.
I’ve been photographing Sophie and Ellie for years. Their dad, Karl, was the head of the architecture program at LA Tech. Back in 2007, he saw the portraits I was making of faculty and students around campus so he and his wife, Shannon, asked if I could do the same for their twin daughters. At the time, the girls were about 3-4 years old. The portraits were a lot of fun to make, so we decided to keep it up every year. Eventually, we also started incorporating a fictional photo every year. All total, I think I’ve made about 8 portraits and almost the same number of narratives.
This past summer, a few days before I started a three-day road trip from Louisiana to the Maine Media Workshops, we were able to schedule a time to meet up and make photos. The portraits went great. We also wanted to squeeze in a fictional setup but there were a few problems. First, the photo was meant to be inspired by Christmas with a wintery scene. This was June in Louisiana. Second, I imagined the story happening while being surrounded by a vast, mountainous landscape. Louisiana is flat. Lastly, it was getting dark so none of that mattered anyway.Continue reading ›
We all have one thing(s) or another that may, or may not, hold us back from our goals. It could be stage fright, fear of spiders, being alone, being in crowds, certain people, or anything else. There’s no limit to our personal obstacles. Through the use of self-reflection in a class project called “Facing Fear,” I used this as an opportunity to get former students to think about the camera on a personal level. They had to identify two things, either physical or emotional, and come up with a way to use the photographic process to ideally overcome the fear.
With a project like this, context is helpful. Luckily, there have been numerous instances of facing fear in the history of photography. Some photography fields require photographers to step into war zones. Other fields are the interpersonal struggle of politics or etc. But no matter which, the utmost importance is learning how to deal with the inherent fears.Continue reading ›
Since being in Vermont, I’ve done some design work with Vermont Teddy Bear. One side challenge I set out for myself was to see if their stuffed bears could be photographed in such a way that they would take on an anthropomorphized dimension to them. Challenge accepted, yet I had no idea how I’d even approach it.
My first thought was to look at how the movie “Ted” displayed the teddy bear. It was a good starting point, although admittedly I still haven’t watched the film. But here’s a clue: the use of eyebrows go a long way for that character. Vermont Teddy Bears don’t have eyebrows. So, more exploration. I remember a quote from film director Steve Barron when discussing the visual tone of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (a film I watched again recently… and then watched last year’s remake a few weeks later. The original is definitely still the best one). I’m paraphrasing, but he said one of the reasons for the dark palette in the film was it left more to the imagination, and it also hid the fake looking turtle suits. So that was my official starting point. Allow just enough of the bear to be clearly visible, but leave enough to the imagination so the viewer can fill in the humanized qualities.
And then I just played with the bear for a week. Seriously. I didn’t want to just start firing off shots without first understanding what kind of toy it was. I treated it like a pillow by performing wrestling powerbombs onto the bed. I had it jumping up to fly into the galaxy. I studied how its body would shift if it started walking. Finally, a week later, I decided to utilize this knowledge.Continue reading ›
After a year of portrait work, I started pondering what type of project to approach next. At the start of the second school year, I quit smoking cigarettes. I used the patch to do so. One side effect most people don’t know is that if you sleep while wearing the patch, you get the most amazing, messed up dreams ever. They’re terrifyingly wonderful. I recommend everyone trying it at least once, just for the experience. The first time it happened, I woke up in a sweat at 4 AM after my dream had me racing through a Mexican vineyard while being chased by an angry pack of dogs. I had to stop periodically, because my hand was in my pants trying to masturbate in a race against being caught in the chaos. Even now, the dream doesn’t make sense to me, but that’s okay. It was wonderful. Now, at least. Back then, I grabbed the nicotine patch and threw it across the room. Slowly, my heart rate returned to normal and I went back to sleep.
The next night, I kept the patch on and went to sleep. In this dream, I was wearing a Halo outfit while running through a cathedral in what was apparently futuristic paintball warfare. Every time my paint got low, I had to take a hot-shoe flash contraption off the top of the gun and recharge it with batteries. It was a jumbled mess of life experiences mixed with subconscious absurdities. In the dream, I walked around a corner to find a young child collecting trash. “Holt!” she said, and raised her hands to offer me some of her collected trash.
Then I woke up.
My instinct was to grab the patch and fling it like the last one, but I paused. It dawned on me, these were vivid short films being offered free of charge every night. I only needed to go to sleep to view them. A few days later, I decided to start writing them down. A week later, it occurred to me that I had the starting elements of a new photo project: collecting dream stories into organized prose, abstracting them, and then use theatrical tactics to perform the interpretations in front of the camera.Continue reading ›
In the fourth grade, my teacher gave our class the option to either write ten spelling words a repeated number of times, or use them all within a short story. This might be one of the most important academic choices ever offered to me. I was 10 years old and had the option to avoid mindless, menial tasks via creative alternatives. I wrote stories for the rest of the year. It’s funny how little things like that carry on with you into adulthood. Years later, as a professor of photography, I welcomed the idea of students challenging part of an assignment or course with a solid argument, and then proposing a better solution. To me, that’s what education is. Not simply showing that one can repeat what is said to them, in that perspective, to come to a “correct” answer. No one learns anything beyond the opinions of the teacher. I’d much rather see a student oppose me with a better idea and see if it changes even my own view on various topics.
When I was a graduate student, I had a lot of freedom within my program. It was a small program, with an even smaller photography area. There was one photo student a year ahead of me, no photo students below me. When I first started, I asked how classes would go. The head of the area at the time told me we’d have two or three meetings in the quarter, but mainly, just make work. What this meant was, no specific weekly lecture classes. No courses full of other students. Have brief meetings with a professor and then I’d be left to just seek out my ideas and make shit. I was coming from a psychology undergrad program where I made and screened short films in place of essay papers, and theatrical psychological theory plays were performed in class during abnormal and gender development course topics. Those approaches were in no way even close to being on a syllabus, but it was where my passions led me. I would skip classes to focus on a film production for a scene in a movie, or to edit video, knowing full well that the project would have no positive impact on my grade but I didn’t care. I had a conviction with my concepts and just so happened to be in a course that spawned the spark.Continue reading ›