It has been quite an interesting past two months. I’m off the road for a bit, will be back on it soon, but let’s recap recent events…
In March, I set out on the 2016 #mmwYOtour, a speaking tour I’ve done for two years now for the Maine Media Workshops. Last year, I spoke to ten high schools through New England and the Mid-Atlantic about the Young Artist (YO) program that I teach in every summer at MMW. There are a wide variety of workshops available for high school students, ranging from filmmaking to the darkroom, alt pro to digital and more. For my part, I’m teaching Advanced Young Digital Photographers and Young Studio + Advertising Photographers. To promote this upcoming season of YO workshops, I decided to do the new speaking tour through Florida, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
The trip started in West Palm Beach. For a fun personal tidbit, upon arriving to the region a day before my talk, I stayed with my father’s friend from back in the Vietnam War. They haven’t actually seen each other in about thirty years, but it was pretty incredible to meet someone I’ve heard of for years, get to check out parachuting photos from the war, and finally get to interact with this social circle that has always been part of my life but never in person until now. Also, he and his wife’s next door neighbor was Vanilla Ice. No, I didn’t get to meet him. I’ll just sing “Ice Ice Baby” at the next karaoke event (but that’s what I do anyway).
The first school I visited was Dreyfoos School of the Arts. When I was originally planning out this trip and where I should stop, I inquired to former YO students where I should visit. Two students’ responses led to actual visits. One was from Victor Paytun, who was in the Scholastic Portfolio course last summer in Maine. This was his high school. It was a great kickoff location. Their media classroom was something really special, where they dove into a variety of formats. They did photography, animation, video, motion graphics, everything. Fantastic stuff. I spoke to two classes, and gave them what would be a fairly consistent talk across all of the schools I visited. The presentation consisted of an artist talk overview, collaborative work made within the classes, presentation of YO student work, and also information about signing up for one of the many workshops available and opportunities to do so. I also showed them a variety of videos made either as part of or in support of the workshops we have going on, such as this video:
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 ›
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 ›
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 ›
After posting the previous essay on the Magic Cardboard, Tim, who assisted on the camera during the shoot, contacted me on Twitter to suggest creating a newsletter option for the website. It was a wonderful idea, and something I should have included within the site from the moment it relaunched.
So, it’s now available! If you’d like to keep up with interesting things posted here in the future (for example: tomorrow, a big essay on early creativity will publish), and don’t want to miss out on new essays, projects in progress, or exhibition and speaking news, subscribe to the newsletter. This way you won’t have to rely on the luck of social media to see that something new has popped up. I promise not to send out more than one every week or so. They’ll be recaps and tidbits, with links to essays and etc.
I intentionally avoided any popups or annoying methods most websites try to use when they want your email address. It’s entirely chill and purely optional. Subscribing is now a checkbox when you use the contact form to send me an email. Additionally, at the bottom of the menu on the left side, you’ll now see a section where you can put in your email address. When you click Subscribe, you’ll receive an email to confirm that it’s you and not someone pulling a nasty newsletter prank on you. Once confirmed, that’s it! And if later on you change your mind, you can also unsubscribe at any point.
Can you pinpoint one small, seemingly inconsequential decision that altered the course of your life in a big, positive way?
When I was a kid, I wrote original superhero fiction all of the time. Growing up, I received a Polaroid camera for Christmas and used it until I couldn’t afford anymore of that expensive film. From an early age, I wrote and directed plays in school and the community. In high school, I taught myself graphic design and coding so my band could have logos and a web presence. In college, I made a half hour comedy film rather than create a presentation in class. I fully acknowledge that this forward momentum was very important, but I made a single decision that channeled all of this background into a focused path.