Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Some work from my photography students...

From a photo essay about students sleeping on campus (hopefully not in my class)

 I'm teaching a class called "French and American Cultural Values through Photography" to upper division French students this semester, and even though they are not photography majors, I'm making them do photo essays. I think you learn more by doing. When I teach a "Theater as Virus" class, for example, I give my students a crash course in method acting and make them perform monologues and scenes to compliment/counterbalance the literary and theoretic content of the course. And when I teach brain surgery....just kidding. It's a good thing that only aesthetics are at stake when I make people dive into other disciplines.
A student's essay that started out as a Brassaï-inspired project and ended up looking more like Leiter (who we haven't studied)

Three times during the semester, my students have to do a photo essay inspired by the work of the photographers we are studying and then post their essays on the class blog. The text is in (not always perfect) French, but even if you don't read French, you may want to check out some of their work. Prior to the class, most of the students have only used photography in the way most people do, that is, posting photos of themselves, their friends, their vacations, etc. on social media sites. In class, they have to get inspiration from the various photographers we study (which, for this assignment, includes Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Robert Frank, Brassaï, William Klein, and William Eggleston).

From a Robert Frank-inspired project. I love the expression on this guy's face.
It's fun to see people taking pictures of things they never would have before—like strangers, common scenes of daily life, etc.

Diptych from a project about refrigeration
One of the more difficult things to do is to work within the limitations of whatever camera you are using. If you try to make your camera do something it can't handle (like low-light situations for cameras with noisy sensors), then it just doesn't work. But that doesn't mean you have to have great equipment to do interesting work. Most students are working with simple point and shoot cameras. One is even doing everything with his cell phone.

Project about a student's dog, shot with his cell phone.

One of the hardest things to do is to assign grades. Most teachers hate grading, and I am no exception. How do you assign a score to photography. It's incredibly frustrating to a student to have their teacher say it's a "B" or a "C" and not know why. For me, using a rubric is the best way to handle the grading conundrum. If you know how you are going to be graded, it becomes less of a guessing game about what the professor wants.

I love the color in this small town Utah series.
To create a rubric, I scoured the internet to see what photography teachers are doing across the country. What I found was that there aren't many rubrics online suited to my class. I borrowed some wording from an art rubric I found, but mostly I had to decide exactly what I hoped to see.

An essay about public transportation

Just in case this might be of use to some teacher out there, I'm pasting my rubric at the end of the post. I can't insert a table in the blog post, so this might be a complete jumble, but here it is:

10Technical Merit 8-10 pts Works thoughtfully within the limitations of the camera, and exploits lighting, crop, sharpness/blur, grain, etc. in a way that supports the concept/message/theme.  5-7 pts Does not always work within the limitations of the camera. Technical issues sometimes detract from what the photo is trying to convey. 0-4 pts Multiple technical problems that in now way contribute to the integrity of the photo essay. 
10Composition 8-10 pts Shows strong internal integrity of the visual elements and purposeful visual organization. i.e. nothing needs to be added or removed. 5-7 pts Shows some problems with the internal integrity of the visual elements. Framing (crop, perspective, etc.) needs some adjustments. 0-4 pts Image lacks visual integrity. Framing/perspective, etc. needs serious reworking. 
10Sequence 8-10 pts Sequencing of images greatly contributes to the flow/narrative of the essay. Purposeful authorial intent creates a cohesive work. 5-7 pts Sequencing of the images does not always create a purposeful visual narrative. Lacks flow and cohesion between some of the photos. 0-4 pts Disjointed sequencing that contributes very little or not at all to the photo essay. 
10Text 8-10 pts The use of text complements the images and enhances the overall experience without merely explaining or describing. 5-7 pts Text does not always contribute to a cohesive essay and may at times lapse into mere description, apolgetic explanation, or inadequate and/or unnecessary verbiage. 0-4 pts Text demonstrates little or no creativity. There is a disproportionate balance between the quality of the photos and of the text. 
5"je ne sais quoi" sorry, but you just can’t boil everything in art down to a rubric. I reserve the right to give you 0-5 points based purely on my affective and intellectual response to your work. 4-5 pts I wish I had thought of that. wow! 2-3 pts good. you clearly put work into it and I can appreciate that. 0-1 pts sorry. no offense, but it’s just not speaking to me. 
Total: 45