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!
The talk was a neat and tidy 22 minutes long. After, I spent the rest of the morning with Renee Psiakis as a guest in her various photography courses. Every visit has been a little different, and usually dependent upon the school itself and what some of the mutual goals are for the visit. At Laurel, it was heavy on PSD deconstruction. I walked all of the students through each layer of some of my photographs and discussed both the technical pros and cons with each tool used, and the conceptual reasoning behind those choices. During the visit, I also checked out student work on display and was floored by some of the amazing composite projects shown by one of Renee’s classes. Seriously, I sorta wanted to just sit back during the class visits and have them walk me through their own choices, so I could take notes.
By 1 PM, I had to head out of Cleveland. At the start of the trip, I had an open Tuesday in the schedule but managed to fill the gap with a 24 hour notice to North East High School, in Maryland. It was a school I had originally wanted to visit, but scheduling had been an issue before. With that worked out, I started on an 8 hour drive to the opposite end of Maryland. The original drive to Cleveland will probably be the longest stretch of distance covered in one drive on this tour, but I’m pretty sure the drive towards North East is a clear second. I actually didn’t even make it to North East that night. Instead, I decided to surprise my girlfriend, Marian Gaviola, by dropping by the conference she was attending in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and have super late dinner with her!
I had a 7:50 AM start time in North East the next morning, so this meant hitting the road super extra early out of Hershey for a nearly two hour drive down. My only concern was hitting horse and buggy traffic, due to the fact that I’d be driving straight through Amish country as people were starting their day. Managed to miss any delays, but I did pass a handful of horses on the street. I’ve witnessed it a few times, but because it’s probably such an infrequent sight for me, it always catches me off guard.
I arrived in North East with an extra minute to spare. I met Beth Paugh, the teacher at North East High School and jumped straight into leading the first of two classes that morning. These courses were a bit longer than the ones at Laurel, which would be beneficial since the duration could sustain both a talk and a software demo. I introduced the students to Maine’s various acronyms, such as the MMW usage and what YO stands for, and gave similar talks to both classes that bookended an educational-fused artist talk with student work from a variety of my former classes. If you are reading this and were in a former class of mine in Maine, yes I might be talking about you. In a super positive light, as always! And I change my talk sequencing up for each stop, so it stays fresh each day and I get to revisit old gems from throughout the years that students made.
For a software demo, I used images from back during my professor days and walked the students through the Photoshop steps for creating a portraposite, the combining of multiple faces to create a new human. For efficiency of time, I stuck to discussing the software end of things because it also directly tied into a project Beth had just assigned them a week earlier.
By noon, I had visited with two classes and met tons of young artists. It was awesome seeing how quickly they gravitated to the project, and it was decided in class that if they created a new one of their own, it would be extra credit in class. I asked them to send the images my way, so looking forward to seeing how they turned out.
The rest of the day was a big reunion for me. I first had lunch with Kristi Eisenberg, emeritus professor at Cecil College who I originally replaced when she retired from Cecil. It’s been a few years, so we were able to catch up on life and how great she’s doing now! The Cecil connections continued throughout the day. I dropped by the college and saw a lot of familiar faces and was able to check out new projects everyone is working on. I saw Andrew Vox, who spent his summer last year in the Digital Service Department at MMW. I ran into Alexis Mpaka, who will be the new Marketing Intern at MMW this summer. I also managed to catch tons of folks who are preparing for ventures to New York City, Rochester, Baltimore, and on and on. Andrew, Kit, Kyle, Laura, Mary, Jennie, Brandon, Jacob, Heather, Andrew, Joe, Lou, Adam, and so many others! A large group threw a get together for me at Pat’s Pizza, my favorite restaurant back when I lived in the area, and eventually continued into the night with everyone before crashing on a couch offered up in Newark, Delaware. Fantastic times to get to catch up with so many wonderful people!
The next morning, I was off to Elkton High School. I’ve spoken there once before, years ago when I worked for Cecil. Jennifer Fox is the photography teacher there. For the first class, she introduced me by referencing something I had posted on a personal social media account a few years back. One of the summers back in Maine, I ran into Joyce Tenneson and she joked about how the Workshops don’t start until Andy arrives. Feeling pretty honored, I shared that quote to my friends. Jennifer pulled a Tenneson book off her shelf and used that quote to introduce me to her class this past Wednesday. No pressure.
I met with three classes nearly consecutively. I have a basic plan when I step into the class, but I also just want each visit to be organic. This might mean that some talks vary from one hour to the next. The first class was small but lively and talkative. They asked so many questions, some related to the Workshops, and some just plain personal, that I had one girl create a running list of everything they should ask me at the end. This also means that when students are vocal and engaged with each slide, the talk can run much longer because it turns into a conversation. This is also the most fun to be had! The next two classes were bigger yet still engaged. We discussed photography and the Young Artist program, and then I demonstrated software approaches they could do as appropriate for their current assignments. Instagram became a big thing at Elkton. My phone started blowing up from all of the adds, but then they all wanted to make sure I’d follow them back. I agreed, so now my Instagram feed is full of Cecil County content, specifically from throughout Elkton!
Saying my goodbyes to Jennifer and a brief stop back by Cecil College, I departed for Baltimore. I stayed with Jay Gould and Bess Bieluczyk for the night, friends going all the way back to when Jay was a photo professor at Louisiana Tech University. I get to see Bess usually when I pass through Baltimore, but I see Jay more frequently, especially since he also teaches at Maine Media Workshops in the summer. We discussed the upcoming YO location workshop at Acadia National Park and how radical of an adventure it will be for the students.
The next morning, I dropped by Friends School of Baltimore. Gus Baganz goes to high school there. Ironically, Gus has never been one of my students before, but last summer in Maine he just sort of hung out in our classroom a lot. He even made his way into a class photo. He was Jay’s student the summer before, and will be back again this summer, although he’s still deciding on which workshop he’ll be in this time.
Erin Hall is an art instructor at Friends, and whose classroom I visited for the day. The campus felt like a little Ivy college. It was wonderful. I met with three classes in a row, all under an hour with a few minutes break in-between each. Each class was unique, and afforded opportunities to chat with students on a one-on-one basis about what they were looking for in their summer. For two of the three classes, the casual nature of the talks led to the chats extending for the entire duration of the classes. For the other, I was able to demonstrate a Photoshop breakdown on a photograph one of the students referenced from earlier. Gus sat in on the final class. I mentioned how the courses in Maine go all day long, but let Gus explain to them what that meant. He took an alternative processes course last summer, and described how it just feels like a normal day to be photographing, working in the lab, off on a random field trip to the edge of the continent, or some other adventure. What was even cooler was that his description is also accurate of my experiences at the Workshops, even as an instructor.
Before I knew it, my day at Friends was wrapped and I started planning my next drive. There was a scheduling problem for the school I was supposed to meet with on Friday, so this created a big opening for the day. Kevin Carragher, a friend and coworker from Maine Media Workshops going back to 2008, hooked me up with his buddy, Tom, to crash at his place outside of Philadelphia. I started driving east to Tom’s house, not really knowing where I’d end up the next day. I tried to schedule something on a super fast turnaround out of nowhere, but nothing panned out. So, once I arrived to the great Philly area, I ended up having a free day on Friday. Luckily, it looks like I might be Skyping in later this month to the school I wasn’t able to visit, so not all hope is lost!
Friday, I decided to drive up to Enfield, Connecticut. I didn’t know anyone there, but it was fairly close to Amherst, Massachusetts, where I’d be meeting up with Alex Bilodeau, of “Andy and Alex” workshop classes, on Saturday. Aside from the ridiculous traffic from Newark, New Jersey, all the way through New York City and up to nearly Hartford, Connecticut, the drive wasn’t too bad. I stayed the night in a motel and then popped up to Amherst to meet up with Alex. This is where I still am, in preparation for next week’s activities!
Tomorrow, I head over to Northampton High School. Then I travel to Martha’s Vineyard for class visits on Tuesday. Wednesday has me meeting with students from Mount Desert High School in Bar Harbor, Maine. Thursday is fairly close by in Farmington, Maine, where I’ll speak at Mt. Blue High School. Friday will finally let me pass by the MMW campus on my way into Camden, Maine, to speak at Camden Hills Regional High School. The weekend will still involve a decent bit of travel as I prepare to speak at Fayettevile-Manlius High School on Monday, in Syracuse, New York.
This trip has been amazing, honestly. I’ve met so new young artists and seen some really great work. It’s been a perfect mix of interaction, discussing photographic concepts, talking software approaches, and sharing my and students’ experiences at the Maine Media Workshops each summer. Not a bad way to spend part of May! Hope to see some familiar new faces once the summer YO season rolls up at Maine Media!
Lastly, during my free day here in Amherst, I decided to launch a competition for high school students everywhere, with the winner receiving an MMW sweatshirt, tshirt, hat, and other goodies. I posted the details on social media earlier, with the following:
Want some free Maine Media Workshops gear? While on the #mmwYOtour high school road trip, I’m opening up a contest for any student currently in high school. Submit your best single image, regardless of the process (digital photo, darkroom, iPhone, 3D render, video still, illustration, etc). What have you created that inspired, surprised, or impressed even yourself? Show it off! The winner will receive an MMW shirt, a sweatshirt, a hat, plus some other little goodies I’ll toss into the box. This contest is open to anyone currently in high school, no matter where you live, regardless if I am able to visit your school or not.
To enter, either photo respond to the contest thread on my @bloxham Facebook account, or upload your submission via Twitter or Instagram, tag me (TW: andybloxham, IG: andy.bloxham), and use the hashtag #mmwYOtour. Include your name and which high school you attend. Note: If your account is private, I may not be able to see the submission.
That’s it! No purchase required. You can submit up to three times. Deadline for this contest is May 29, 2015. I’ll enlist the help of a few other Young Artist (YO) instructors in choosing the most compelling image, and then when I am in Maine to start my YO workshops, I’ll contact the winner directly so they can select the precise MMW gear options they want me to send them (there will be a lot of options!). Or, if you’re taking a workshop, I’ll just see you in Maine and we can go down to the store and pick up your stuff!
So even if I can’t stop by your high school while on this trip, it’s still a way to be involved with the cool things going on! Really looking forward to seeing what folks submit!
Okay, this was really long, so I’ll stop talking now and finish getting a new presentation prepared for tomorrow. Take care!