I'm teaching a class called "French and American Cultural Values through Photography." Sounds very red state, doesn't it? "Values" is such a packed word. In the singular it makes me think "cheap" as in "extra value menu." In the plural, it makes me think of conservative political speeches, as in "family values" and "traditional values." The class blog—"valuesphotography.blogspot.com"—sounds like a campaign site, which is not at all the intent. One of the class objectives is to analyze the works of important French and American photographers as part of a cross-cultural dialogue. For example, the obsession of cataloging and preserving French culture in the 19th century (think Atget, Marville, etc.) ended up influencing ambitious American projects such as the FSA (think Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, etc.) which in turn influenced some of the Magnum group photographers (such as Henri Cartier-Bresson) and so on...
The cultural ping-pong (I could say "dialectic" but it's too late for academic speak) is fascinating, but making the connections takes time. And none of my assignments or lesson prep this past month had anything to do with "The Face"—last month's theme here at Take-out Photo. After a little reflection, I decided that my self-imposed restrictions were absurd. Why exclude material because it doesn't fit the "Monthly Special"? It's a photography blog after all. Which leads to my new month's resolution (I don't do "New Year's resolutions"):
Henceforth, I will not aim to make all posts fit within the monthly theme.I'm not giving up on the "Monthly Special," nor am I giving up on the participatory links (even if only about 1 in 5,000of my readers posts a link), but I am going to provide a more steady stream of ideas and inspiration regardless of theme. And I will consider requests.
A new monthly special will be posted tomorrow, and knowing that I won't have to come up with a month of posts on the topic just might lead me to tackle a theme I dread. We'll see...
Meanwhile, if you want a look at what my students have been up to, they just posted a Sophie Calle inspired assignment. Only one of the students is a photography major, so it has been fun to push people to move beyond the academic cultural/historical material and also make them do photo essay assignments. The idea behind the assignment was to do something conceptual about the self and others within some kind of self-imposed set of rules. In Sophie Calle's work, living the project is as important as creating it and text is as important as image (she doesn't always take her own photos). I had more fun reading through these assignments than I have ever had grading student work. Here are just a few examples:
- one student recreated "missed connections" moments from Craigslist personals.
- one student told an embarrassing story to a variety of strangers.
- one student's Julie & Julia-esque endeavor to eat an entire pig actually made me want to try out a few recipes (not the pig feet, however)
- the horribly judgmental spot-on commentary about various BYU students had me laughing out loud