Monday, November 29, 2010

MSU Photography Students to Serve the Community

Today I am pleased to have a guest post from one of my former professors in the School of Film & Photography at Montana State University, Alexis Pike. In her post, she talks about something that is close to my heart: community service. She is working with one of her photography classes to host a service-oriented photography event that will be held this Saturday in the photography studio at MSU. This event is being held in conjunction with the Help Portrait movement which was started by photographer Jeremy Cowart.

MSU School of Film & Photography Portrait Project
by Alexis Pike
The photography students enrolled in Advanced Studio Lighting (MTA 342) course at Montana State University will be photographing families from the community who could not otherwise afford this type of opportunity. The event will involve students meeting and greeting families, making them feel at ease in the studio, capturing their image, helping families chose their favorite photograph to have printed, and archiving images to cd for use by the family. Families will receive a free portrait session and F-11 has been extremely generous in offering to donate a 5x7 print (following the event) for each family from their cd of images.

This is an opportunity for my students and myself to work with our community. In my previous teaching position, my classes were involved in various service-learning events. Note the word “service-learning”. The students provide a service (typically to the community) and the students learn from that opportunity; it’s a perfect partnership—everyone involved benefits from the event. In the past, when I’ve pitched the idea of service-learning in classes, many students seem hesitant to participate, probably because they don’t know what to expect. But, I’ve always found that the students involved find it very rewarding on both a personal and professional level. It’s a positive experience; it places students in a real life situation where they learn from the experience and they want to continue to find ways to serve others. Since Montana State University is a land grant institution, I feel it is especially important that students at MSU learn about community outreach. Students need to understand that learning is a life-long process and part of that process is discovering how one can share their “gift” with others.

This week will be full of preparation so we can make sure we are fully prepared when that first family walks into the studio on Saturday. Over the past two weeks the students have been doing a wonderful job in arranging the event. On their own, they’ve contacted various businesses to solicit donations for the event (food, coffee, gift bags for kids). The students' involvement and enthusiasm has been like a snowball rolling down a hill, it’s getting bigger and picking up momentum. We’ve also been working on making sure the information about the event is distributed to families. The Bozeman based organization, Thrive, has been very helpful in passing on the word. Since this is the first time we are holding this event, we are only taking appointments for twenty-five families. My guess is by the end of the day, we will have worked with roughly 100 people. I think it’s important to consider this is an event about “quality” and not “quantity”. We want to make sure that every family who leaves the studio is happy and has had a pleasant experience. When it comes right down to it, the event is just a day in our lives, but the photographs from the event can be something that lasts a lifetime. I believe I speak for my students when I say that the event will provide a service that spotlights the families in front of our cameras, it’s not just for those behind the camera.

  • When: Saturday, December 4th 
  • Time: 10:00am-3:00pm, by appointment only
  • Location: Montana State University, Visual Communications Building-VCB Building, corner of 11th and Grant, Room 211 (Photography Studio). (Parking is free on Saturday.)
  • Contact Information:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Look!

Today I launched a new look for my blog including a new logo with my name. I'd love to hear your feedback as I anticipate making a few tweaks here and there in the future. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting if you have ideas or suggestions!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Goodbye Fall, Hello Winter

I had planned to post a new image today, something that I haven't already posted online somewhere, but I am in a very pondering and reflective mood today. This image was taken last week, not long after our very first snowfall of the season. Since we moved to Bozeman, MT at the end of September 2005, we have had the first snow every year in September or October. We had a couple of very warm weeks this fall, so the late snow seemed to really usher in winter for me. When the snow starts earlier, I know that the real winter is still a long way off so it's sometimes harder to digest. I am happy with both the warmer fall weather we had as well as the beautiful first snow (although it is a bit wet and mushy). I chose to post this image (recently posted to my Flickr account) because it just seems to match my mood today. I'm thinking about things past and the future to come. I'm thinking about today and the gifts I've been given in my life. 


Monday, November 8, 2010

Art & Fear - Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

The words "required reading" usually evoke feelings of dread and/or dismay for me rather than excitement and eager anticipation. However, there was one such book in college that caught my attention as soon as I saw the title: Art & Fear. Just by joining those two words on the cover captured my excitement about what this book might hold for me. I was recently reminded of this book and decided it was time for me to revisit these "Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking" that the subtitle mentions.

I initially read this book during my second year of photography school. Just to be real honest, it took me a really long time to call myself an "artist". I still struggle with that term at times. This book lays it all out there - the fears I have about myself with regards to my work, the fears I have about others, fears about the lack of creativity, etc. I must mention that my re-reading of this book comes during a time when I am learning about/realizing/contemplating the creative nature of all humans. Although this blog is not focused on my belief in Jesus as Lord, this belief informs every area of my life, including my life as an artist. I mention this because I guess I missed the verses that state very plainly that we (me, you, your Mom, your best friend, your worst enemy) were all created in His own image (Genesis 1: 26-27). These verses come right after a description of God in the act of creating. As a former science teacher, I am continually amazed at the way He designed things in His creation. I'm amazed at the way He created things to work. So anyway, I was created in the image of the Creator. 

I was like many people who believe that you are either creative or you aren't. "They" (the painters, musicians, writers, and OTHER photographers) were born with the ability to create, but not me. This book is helping to remind me that "creativity" is not some elusive trait given to a select few, but something that we all have. Whether or not we grow and cultivate this trait, however, is up to each of us.

I wanted to share just a few things from my re-reading of this book so far that I believe are worth dwelling on for a few minutes:

  • The point is that you learn how to make your work by making your work, and a great many of the pieces you make along the way will never stand out as finished art. (p. 6)
  • Artmaking has been around longer than the art establishment. (p. 6) In other words, people (cave painters, potters, etc) have been making art from the beginning of our existence but the earliest people probably never thought of themselves as artists.
  • Quitting happens once. Quitting means not starting again - and art is all about starting again. (p. 10)
  • What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don't, quit. (p.14)
  • Fears arise when you look back, and they arise when you look ahead. (p. 14)
  • Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the pre-requisite to succeeding. (p. 21)

If you struggle with "Art & Fear", I highly suggest you pick up this little book. It's very inexpensive and it's a pretty short read but packed with great insight. You can buy it here.

Have you given up on a creative pursuit? If so, what was it? What made you quit? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Two Camps

There are often two camps in any creative field. In the first camp, you have the people who don't like to share. And by "don't like to share", I mean they aren't willing to share anything. These people will not help newcomers (or "emerging artists" as they are often called), they will not share information about the industry, and they certainly will not answer the "how'd you do that" question. I'm sure you've encountered this type of person so you know what I'm talking about. In my experience, those who are in this camp also seem to come with a superiority complex. Do they feel as if they need to act like they are complete experts in their field to cover up for any possible gaps in their knowledge?

In camp two, however, are those who are gracious with their knowledge and experience. They willingly take time out of their schedules to help others. They share their knowledge of lighting, their experience in the industry, and their own resources for learning and improving. Rather than an attitude of superiority, it seems as if these "camp two" people will readily admit that they may lack knowledge in certain areas and they have no problem seeking out experts to help them fill the gaps. I have met MANY who reside in this camp over the past few years and I am extremely grateful to them for their willingness to share without any expectation of a return.

One such photographer in the gracious sharing of knowledge category is Chase Jarvis. I have watched many of Chase's videos and I consistently read his blog. He points out that he was not looked upon kindly when he first began sharing the "industry secrets". I watched him speak live (online) via ChaseJarvisLIVE at last week's PDN Photo Plus Expo in New York. The topic of his talk was "The New Creativity & the Social Art of Photography". If I remember correctly, I believe he mentioned in this talk that he was at first ostracized for simply offering information. Why are people afraid of sharing knowledge? Perhaps they're insecure and afraid that someone else will take their place. Chase also began CreativeLIVE, what he calls "the world's first live creative education internet channel" (view the reference for this quote on Chase's blog post in where he announced this endeavor in April of this year). Go ahead and check out Chase Jarvis' blog and website. Chase no longer has to contend with the naysayers since he pretty much has his pick of work these days.

I personally believe that sharing and helping others will ultimately help us all. I am indebted to those who have helped me, and I feel the need to not break the chain by passing on what I know to others. Therefore, I am not afraid to have guest bloggers on my blog. Even though it brings attention to others who are in the same field, I am not threatened by this. I offer this space to these guest bloggers in an effort to expand our collective knowledge.

If you would, comment below with the answers to these questions: Has anyone in your industry taken you under their wing as your mentor? Who has taken the time to share valuable information about your field with you? To whom can you pass along what you know? In which camp will you reside? You may not fall at either extreme of the continuum, so what can you do to start moving towards camp two?