Topic: teaching (11 posts) Page 2 of 3


As I wrote about approaching the end of  40 years of teaching  (A Dual Career) and what it was like to carry on two separate threads over a whole career I thought it might be helpful to discuss what it feels like on the other side of the employment divide, what is commonly referred to as "retirement". If you are young be careful that you don't dismiss retirement as irrelevant. It will happen to you. For many, retirement is almost a dirty word, denoting atrophy, decline and death. For others the word "retire" implies freedom and a life "smelling the roses".

I don't think either of those definitions quite fits what I am doing. I believe, two years into retirement, that I have been set free to do what I wanted for now many years: make pictures. This has resulted in much new work (some might say too much), perhaps as much travel as being at home, some teaching and a few residencies.

What's that like?

Mostly, really good. No deadlines, few meetings, lots of free time and productivity photo-wise like you can't believe.  If you're one of those people always trying to steal time to make art, retirement's for you. I can remember wishing for a day here and there with no schedule, no class starting at 8 am or 1:35 pm, no commute and free time to make art. At times this can be a "be careful what you wish for" thing as there can be too much down time but that simply means I haven't moved to schedule things down the line that will be interesting and allow me to make new discoveries, meet new people and extend my pictures into new realms. Also, it is important to have enough money to do as you wish. If you are early in your career please heed this: retirement could be really bad should you not be able to afford to do what you've always wanted, be it travel, work on projects, obtain exhibition, publish and so on. So, save for retirement, put money aside or plug into your company's or school's retirement plans. Start early, try to ignore it while its building and stick with it.

As I age, my health and ability to do what I want factors in, of course, but so far (knock on wood!) I don't seem to be too limited. I'm not climbing mountains anymore but don't feel so deprived. (BTW: I taught a mountain climbing photography workshop in the late 80's in Colorado's San Juan Range.) My particular kind of photography makes me rely on traveling to make much of my work, so that part has to be planned for. For the past ten years or so, I have tended to rent someplace when I travel. VRBO and AIRBNB have turned out to be mostly good but, if new to these services, it is buyer beware. Do lots of research. If you are like me and need to be somewhere else to make your pictures then think about how best to do that. If you flash through places, as in the the equivalent of 16 countries in 16 days, nothing you will do will be anything more than a first impression. But if you establish a "base camp", a place you call home while you are there, you have wonderful options and opportunities to visit a place or an area several times. I often describe this way of working as a center where you sleep, eat and rest. This is, in effect, the hub of the wheel. The day trips you take to photograph are the spokes and fan out 360 degrees from the hub. Can't get far enough away in a day or find yourself in an area where you want to work more? Stay over a night or  two, then head back to the hub when done. Hotels and motels get old for me after awhile. Restaurant food too. And driving all day every day is no fun either. I did this a whole lot when I was younger but now tend to fly to where I want to go and rent a car. Renting  palace to live and a car makes much more sense to me.

As I am single I don't have any others to consider when working or traveling to make new work. I don' have pets and I don't have plants. That's so I can go away whenever I like.  

I have a tendency to become reclusive, to hide away and do my work, without enough contact with others to keep me out and active. I have learned to search out people, to ask for help, to reach out to what Jason Landry of Panopticon Gallery calls, the"art community". These are the people that can provide support, recommendations, counsel and criticism when needed. I value them tremendously and learn from them often. 

Since what we do (exhibit our work) means very often having things scheduled quite far out it is also important to have short term goals too. Keeping yourself curious and invested is important in retirement. This can be hard to pull off but consider the alternatives: once again, "atrophy, decline and death". Oh boy.

And finally, I believe it is important to give back when you get older. If you've been in a community for many years and have benefitted from it, think about how you can help others in that community. This could be the town or city where you live, but could also be to volunteer for a non profit, serve on a board as a trustee or to give your time and/or your dollars to help others that are newer, younger, or up and coming. Wouldn't it have been great if someone or some organization was there to help you as a young man or woman trying to break into a new profession? As you retire, consider giving back.

Sometimes I get caught up in the day to day, just like I used to when I worked. Try to remember to savor what it is that you do have as someone retired. Keep up your health as being sick is a drag, especially when you don't have to work. Finally, you can't only do one thing all the time. Try to diversify your interests. I play the piano, for instance, not well but I work at getting better and have been taking lessons. 

The other day with my former student's daughter, Rose, in California:

Smelling the roses.

Topics: Commentary,retirement,teaching

Permalink | Posted February 25, 2014

A Story About Graphic Design

This post will delve into teaching a little but more into the politics behind teaching different disciplines in one department in a university. Prepare for intrigue, mystery, subterfuge and even back stabbing (metaphorically speaking, of course).

Put a picture next to a picture and all of a sudden you are making a comparative statement. In adding more than two you are diminishing the importance of each picture a little bit with each added picture. Frustrated with a single picture as a print on a piece of paper? Grids are your answer. But keep in mind that a grid forms a pattern and patterns very quickly reduce the importance of your individual pictures to a graphic. Add type to your pictures and all of a sudden you are in the design business. I learned this very quickly when I played with placing a title on the same big print where I'd made a grid. What had I just done? Made a poster.

What are the implications of this? I had just stepped into a very different discipline. Posters are not a photographer's domain. As an artist/photographer I deal with design every day in my work but have no training in combining type with an image. This is what graphic designers do.

Know this: Danger! Danger! Danger! Have no training in graphic design? Tread lightly, my friends. Graphic Designers can be a militant group of people. For good reason as many live in the world of poster design. Many have been to graduate school and have MFA's in GD. Some have even gone on to receive PHD's. OMG!

The story:

In fairly early digital days at the school I taught at I we were teaching classes using scanners, early digital capture and inkjet printers capable of 44 inch prints by however long we wanted. If students had the funds, they could print massive images. And some did. At one point in an intermediate class I gave my students an assignment to make a large print with a title on it. The results were mixed but a few were very good. I decided to display them in a hallway gallery we had. This is where Danger! comes into play. It seems this offended many of the graphic designer professors in our department as we had crossed over the line and my students were making truly egregious errors with their posters. A colleague and friend of mine was teaching animation and it seems his students had committed a similar error in displaying their storyboards, this being the way an animator or film maker will plan out the sequences in their film.

We were told to report the next week to a meeting to discuss this. Two tenured professors being called in to receive some "justice", presumably.

My colleague and I huddled before the meeting as we knew all too well we were going to be told not to ever do that again, meaning make a poster. We had stepped on many toes and offended sensibilities and were going to be given a talking to. So, we developed a plan.

The day of the meeting came, a Friday after morning classes were over. We entered, sat down, faced our colleagues across the table and were told why they wanted to meet with us. They wanted us to explain our actions. We asked if we could read a couple of prepared statements.They said all right and so we did. First my friend read his and then I read mine. In it we explained the rights and privileges of tenured professors, that what they taught in the classroom was sacred and untouchable, that what tenure conferred on a professor was: job security and freedom from outside constraint or intervention. I looked at my colleagues across the table as my friend read his statement. Their faces were now locked and frozen, tolerating this unplanned for line drawn in the sand with no room for negotiation. I then read mine, which duplicated my friend's tone and substance. In effect, we were saying "Hands off my classroom!" This, of course, came as a complete shock to them. We weren't allowing them to take on the issue of bad design or whether we were qualified, we were saying that no matter what we did, that our classes were hands off.

When I finished my statement we both stood up and walked out, with cries from the professors back in the conference room pleading with us not to leave. We both left the building, walked out to the parking lot, got in our cars and drove away.

What was the result of this dramatic move? The meeting and the issue about posters was never discussed again. My friend and I continued to teach as we saw fit and occasionally, yes, there were bad posters made by students that were not graphic designers in our classes. 

Topics: Commentary,teaching

Permalink | Posted December 12, 2013

Portfolio Workshop 2

Quick Post to say that there is still room in the Portfolio Workshop I am teaching tomorrow (November 16) at Digital Silver Imaging in Belmont. Call them to sign up.


9 Brighton St, Belmont, MA

(617) 489-0035

The workshop starts at10 am.

See my first post on what is covered:

Portfolio Workshop

Hope to see you then!

Topics: workshop,teaching

Permalink | Posted November 15, 2013

A Dual Career

In replying to my post about whether there were things you'd like to hear about from my career as an artist/photographer (Response Time) I got several requests to address my teaching career and how that did or did not work with being an artist. This is a post most likely helpful to those of you that teach or are thinking of teaching as a career.

First off, anyone outside of teaching in academia in the professor ranks that assumes it is an easy ride is wrong, at least in my experience. My teaching bio is this: I started teaching photography at a private day school while I was a second year graduate student in 1971 and taught photography every year through the end of 2012. A few years out of graduate school I taught at New England School of Photography in Boston, then at Harvard University for thirteen years and then at Northeastern University(NU) for thirty. Most of the teaching at Harvard over lapped with the early  years teaching at Northeastern. I was hired at NU to form and head a Photography Program, to expand it in all ways, which I did. I also was hired in a tenure track and was promoted and tenured and eventually achieved the rank of full professor in 2003.

In there, of course, was my new job, a new marriage, a baby girl, a new house we renovated, a very big dog, travel to Europe where my wife's family lived, a divorce and so on. Making art while teaching and starting a family can be very difficult.

Did I succeed? Was I able to somehow balance this intense schedule of building a new program, teaching at two places, starting to make a family and making pictures? While I can't blame the failure of my marriage on my professional and/or artistic requirements I can say that I wasn't able to do it all. I believe my marriage would have failed under any circumstances but if I look back at my productivity as an artist it really improved after 1986 when I was divorced. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

There is a really important part to the components of making art while being an art professor and it is this: we are hired as artists, perhaps young ones starting out as assistant professors, but degreed and credentialed as artists. Coming in as one, I was required to make art as part of my position. Furthermore, facing any promotion or raise, I needed to validate my request with proof of exhibitions, my work being published or other forms of professional activity. This is tremendously affirming, to understand that the university, benign though it may be due to its size and complexity, is supportive of creative activity. Go on a trip and make pictures? Good. Go shooting for a few hours on a Sunday morning during fall semester? Good. While holding office hours for students, work on an artist statement for your next show? Good. Write a grant proposal to travel to the Southwest for a month next summer to photograph? Fine. Don't go in to school on a day free from teaching, blowing off a curriculum development meeting because you are driving to the Berkshires to shoot with a friend? OK. This "going out shooting" equates to a research scientist working in the lab to find a cure for cancer. Well, that's a reach, but you get my meaning. Once tenured, you in fact are free to express yourself and the university is there as a structured system to support it. Amazing. When asked about this by students I remember seeing their eyes glaze over when I would explain this all to them, trying to comprehend the essential incredibleness of this working situation. No wonder people want the full time gig in teaching so badly. I was blessed with the good fortune to have this position.

Downsides? Oh yes, many. Low pay, high stress, cynical and disgruntled colleagues, a "deaf ears" administration, countless and useless meetings and committee assignments, departmental and univeristy-wide politics, whining and lazy students, low respect and, at times, very long working hours, among others. Faculty burn out is real and not just true for senior people.

How did I keep the glass half full instead of cynically half empty? I loved the students, for they kept me young, flexible and centered on them and their work. And I was in an environment where my work was valid, where my being an artist was expected and supported. I always said "I am a better artist when I am teaching and a better teacher when I am shooting."

One more point about balancing these two careers: teaching needs to be essentially selfless. Teaching is not about you but about the students.  I would tell new hires "leave your ego at the door." This counters the fact that making art is egotistical,  self serving, narrow minded and even narcissistic. I always felt that one  balanced the other quite well. Teaching always kept me humble, for the students didn't care who I was, they just wanted to learn all about photography. My contract with them was to do just that with no unnecessary complications associated. Artists do have big egos, but teaching is a help in tamping it down to a manageable size, I  believe. 

Packing up my office a few weeks before I left my teaching position of thirty years. I'd had the same office since 1987.

and being photographed by Gustav, a photo student:

And finally, at one of the parties we had after I left with students, present and past, this one at Woody's, a favorite haunt of ours over the years, close to school:

Balance these two somehow compensating careers? Yes, I believe that is possible. I actually think I managed this tight wire act pretty well. During my last few years at NU it was tempting to become cynical, pessimistic and bitter as the administration was not very supportive, our department was going through some really awful upheaval and moral was very low. I am very glad I retired when I did (January 2012) and was relatively unscathed in leaving. And I had my work, which was going wonderfully, with new pictures, new processes and new discoveries right around the corner.

I will write soon about what you all have to look forward to in your own careers at some point: retirement. 

As always, thanks for coming along and reading what I have to say. You know by now, but just in case you are new it is easy to subscribe to this blog and entails no penalties whatsoever. I do not sell your names, or try to sell you anything at all. I  hope you will consider adding your name to the growing list of subscribers.

Topics: teaching,being a photographer,Commentary

Permalink | Posted November 6, 2013

Portfolio Workshop

For those of you that are local I am teaching a Portfolio Workshop for Digital Silver Imaging in Belmont Saturday, November 16. This is the second time I've done the workshop and I know first time participants felt they really benefitted. If you are close to presenting your work or are preparing to show it in a portfolio review or to a gallery or curators this workshop is for you. 

Here's the website and contact info. Hope you can join us: DSI Workshop

Topics: teaching

Permalink | Posted November 4, 2013