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What are we supposed to become? – A glimpse into photography education

Nov 07, 2016 - Salvatore Vitale

Pedagogy is living a time of big changes due to the technology development and the free flow of people that allows moving from a country to another very easily. This brings also new challenges for school in itutions that have to study new ways to improve their programs, attracting students, manage diversity and insert the digital experience in the learning process.
While classical in institutions are still debating the fundamental difference between the “passive” knowledge that is developed through critical analysis and the “active” knowledge that derives from production, facing the problem starting e-learning programs, expanding their campus and offering a broaden choice of courses, art schools still represent the most innovative, yet conservative educational system. That is very interesting as, especially in photography practice, we are constantly facing the technological development and the fast evolution of the media, but at the same time, we are still closely linked to a practice that often lives strictly connected to determined rules and ethics. In this context, teaching photography becomes even more challenging: as we live in a world that is changing – or better, which has changed already – we need to change as well.
There is for sure a lack of alignment between the digital reality of young people’s lives and the institutions they come in contact with, which generates a disconnection between people who make decisions and those who are experiencing them.

How are photography schools responding to these developments? Let me leave you with this suggestion and invite you to consider thinking about it through the page of the tenth issue of YET magazine which is, indeed, about teaching (and studying) photography. With this issue we focus on what it means to study photography today,with the aim to open a critic debate on the growing phenomenon of photography teaching. We explore its lights and shadows from the inside, involving schools from different parts of the world in the making process and asking a number of people in the industry (teachers, students, researchers, school directors) to share their vision on their own business.
Each institution invited to be part of the issue has been carefully selected for its uniqueness and has been invited to present it with the form that better fits with the pedagogical background adopted.
What does it take to make a photography program attractive? What are the strategies adopted by public, private and alternative institutions to attract new students? Why is photography education having a booming time with the birth of new courses and poost graduation programs? We decided to give free voices to the schools involved in the issue. We let them to express themselves using the language and approach that di inguish each of them.

Fosi Vegue at Blank Paper school in Madrid ates that “pedagogical work has to be about the fullness of experience, beyond a knowledge that is purely photographic. Life is more important than photography.” And also when talking with Alec Soth about the main purpose of photography education this “humanistic” motivation comes out. Photography is about stories, so a good photography in itution or teacher or educator is the one who follows the student in the process of finding and telling these stories. It is not anymore about technical skills – even if, of course, you have to learn the language first in order to be able to use it – but the theoretical level and the ability of following and guiding students in the process of creating their own visual strategies.
Donald Weber asked some of his students “Why formal study? If you have an eye and a brain and a camera you can make photographs. Is there really a need today to be within an educational institution?”. Their replies, in their diversity, all shares a common and unique point in the mentoring process you can take advantage of when you are in the protected context of an educational program.
It is not a case if we opened this issue with a smart quote by Peter Wright that I want to propose here again: “As images no longer serve to represent a slice of lived reality, or truth, students of visual culture need more guidance than ever when attempting to make sense of our increasingly visual and visually manipulated world.”

Oscar Monzòn – Blank Paper School of Photography
Stefanie Daumüller – CEPV Vevey
Irina Zadorozhnaya – Fotodepartament St. Petersburg

It is not an easy issue, but it is surely a needed one and we believe it can be an useful attempt to go to the roots and finding / studying / exploring / researching some valid examples of what teaching and studying photography brings and can bring in the future. Education is always the first step of a larger and more complex process of becoming, so exploring visions and perceptions connected to it means being ready to develop and new awareness and deep understanding.