SABBATICAL

More accurately: sabbatical leave. As a professor for thirty years I was fortunate to have four one semester sabbaticals and a year-long one.

Very often people outside of academia don't know how it works to be a professor. Sabbatical leaves are commonly awarded to professors in universities to conduct research free from teaching responsibilities. Eligibility is determined by rank, therefore adjuncts are usually not able to apply. Applications for leaves are handled by a committee which reviews applications and awards sabbaticals on merit. They are one of the perks of the job. Frequency varies but commonly, it is every seven years.

Outside of academia sabbaticals also occur occasionally in business and, of course, some people give themselves a "sabbatical" to take a leave to do something they can't do while working. The traditional sabbatical, however, is different in that it includes getting paid while you do it. Like I said, one of the perks.

It is difficult for me to express what these leaves meant for me for the years I ran the Photography Program at Northeastern University. Having the sabbatical in the fall or spring semester meant that I was only at school one semester for that year as it butted up against the summer when I usually didn't teach. Making pictures, practicing my discipline, was always a struggle while I was working. Squeezing in the time to go photographing or the endless hours needed in the darkroom was hard when the job and my family needed my attention. Sabbaticals freed me from one whole large component of my life and were proposed and awarded to support my making art.

Got something you'd like to do? Someplace you're dying to go? Feeling hemmed in by work? Part of being the creative person you are is to be creative in all aspects of your life, not just in the art you make.  Think about how you can make things happen, get a project funded and/or supported, there are many ways. My first sabbatical was called a "pre-tenure" sabbatical in that it was designed so support assistant professors in their efforts to publish or do their research before applying for tenure, a critical time. I applied, got a one semester leave but was not awarded a grant I applied for. So I had no funding to support my rather elaborate plan to travel around England and Northern Scotland with an 8 x 10 view camera making pictures. So, I ended up driving through the American West in my parents motorhome for two months. Although I did fine and made good pictures I learned from that one that a sabbatical leave with no funding isn't so great. Work out the support for your sabbatical before you take off.

As I got tenured and became more senior and knew the system at my university better I was able to be away  more on various projects. It helped that my daughter was away at school by then as well. No longer married, I was free go more often. Funded research trips to study other photo programs, or study new technologies, give lectures, talks, presentations, have exhibitions of my  own work and go to conferences became things I did more. In each of these situations I would photograph wherever I was. I had a discretionary budget, travel stipend and a network of internal grants I could apply for, and did succeed frequently. This meant I needed to have someone back at school holding down the fort that I could trust. Luckily, I had someone for many years in Andrea Raynor in that she exuded capability and excellence in all that she did. In fact, she's still at Northeastern and is the Department Chair.

Did I work the system? I did. Did it benefit me and my work? Yes, it did. Was I dishonest, lining my own pockets with my school's funds, or travel elaborately off the school, buy gifts on their dime or provide these perks to colleagues? No, I did not. 

I also learned this lesson. One of my colleagues, a senior graphic designer, told people she would be in Hawaii the whole time she was on her sabbatical. In reality she stayed home and worked on new projects. She knew she'd get called in to avert some crisis in her discipline if people knew she was close by. Smart. I learned that you must go away in order to cut the thread. 

My first big trip away to photograph was in 1979. I wasn't a professor yet, and told NESOP (New England School of Photography) I wouldn't be teaching in the spring. As I was  teaching at Harvard too, after the fall semester finished  in January I was free to take off for the Southwest. This was a self imposed sabbatical of indeterminant length to go make work. I needed to get south from Boston as it was winter and I had friends I could stay with in places like Santa Fe and Houston as this was a trip on a shoestring. 

Can you picture this? A 33 year old 6'2" Neal crammed into a loaded and aging bright yellow mid engined 2 liter Porsche 914, with rusting heater boxes and paint peeling off the hood, gone for three months, driving endless hours first to New Orleans, then to Houston meeting with Anne Tucker, then Santa Fe staying with my friend Ed Ranney, then Tempe and Tucson to visit with Harold Jones and Todd Walker,  Prescott to see Fred Sommer, photographing daily, back home again with a few days in DC. Me, a box of prints, camera gear, tripod and some clothes. And bags and bags of exposed film when I got home.

Want to see some of the work I made from that trip? On the site: here.

Sabbatical. Take one if you can.

Topics: Black and White,Commentary,Road Trip,Analog,Vintage

Permalink | Posted May 2, 2017