Friday, 29 June 2012

Can photographers teach educators anything?

Next week Grant Scott and I are in conversation for ClickClickJim in Brighton , it's free and we'd love you to come, but if you can't make it to the seaside then in the spirit of the open classes - we'd like you to shout down the interwebular tubes instead, either by chipping in here (comment) or tweeting (please use the hashtag #PhotoEd ).

We'll then add your comments/tweets into the mix on the night and it'll be like you were in the room with us, fightin' the good fight.

So, here's the question:
"Can photographers teach educators anything about "teaching", about "photography" or about "teaching photography"?


  1. Of course! Among many things, the ideas of composing a photograph and become a better noticer of the world around us is a skill photographers can not only demonstrate but teach by narrating the process they use.

    I also suggest that the practice of doing daily photography shows one can improve something they do by continues practive, experimentation, and reflection.

    I've tried to use metaphors of understanding the interplay aperture, shutter speed, ISO with learning (might be a stretch but it works for me)

  2. has been suggested that I could lecture at a London university, but I don't have the required masters degree! ANON

  3. 1. "Can photographers teach educators anything about "teaching".
    Yes. Photographers (ie working professionals) daily devise ways to overcome problems that arise from various factors (such as client ignorance). They often have to 'educate' their clients, they may also have to educate their subjects too. The best photographers have this ability imho and this is one of their key skills which sets them apart from the rest. For an educator to have some insight into these differing strategies is pretty useful I think.

    2. "Can photographers teach educators anything about "photography".
    Yes I think so, in a broad sense. Many of the educators I've met are not necessarily working at the sharp end of things eg software development for photographic uses, or other such 'unsexy' stuff which is easily missed, but which can have far more impact on a photographer's business and productivity than the latest Canikon body.

    3. "Can photographers teach educators anything about "teaching photography".
    Yes. Possibly by default, by going "Eh? You what...? " and promoting the devising of alternative teaching strategies that elicit the "Ah yes!" response..... (insert smiley here)

    John MacPherson

  4. From @emily_macinnesh (via Twitter) I definitely think photographers can teach educators something! Hence why guest lecturers are so beneficial in academia.

  5. From @looklooklukala (via twitter) I loved Uni but feel like I would have learned more from assisting 3 years. This is moons ago. Maybe time for an MA : )

    1. I think things have changed somewhat since I did my degree, but I do think it is really important that the teacher/photographer is in touch with what is going on in the industry and prepare students for the real working life. I left uni totally confused and with no guidance what to expect or where to start. It was a tough learning curve.

  6. The difference? RT @ASAInfinity: quite simply, that very often, even in creative industries, some people rate an education over experience.

  7. Re me on twitter: It seems that academia can be a powerful platform for learning but its often out of touch with the industry. That's where photographers play a big part. Having guest lecturers come in, talk about the routes they've taken, the decisions they've made, the people they've contacted... benefits students on the professional side of photography. But academia is vital in teaching us about the conceptual and contextual side of photography - which photographers, who've bypassed education, are often unaware of.

    1. Photographers who've bypassed eduction....... ummm - hands up ?

    2. Haha. You've bypassed being on the recieving end of education but not the giving end...
      I think both educators and photographers have something to give and if, as a student, you can recieve both then its a wonderful and powerful combination.

  8. @Jonathan_Worth Are you a photographer who applied for a teaching job but were told you're lacking academic qualifications?

    Hi Jonathan - have been teaching photography in various ways for nearly 30 years. Although working professionally as a photographer for 35 years I have always undertaken other jobs concurrently.

    As well as being a qualified carpenter, I am a qualified Social Worker (in Disability Services) and have taught photography to clients with learning difficulties and physical disabilities for years (devising adaptive equipment to allow this). Some of the projects I devised in SW won major arts awards for the participants.

    I have taught photography on one and two week workshops for the public for 20 years, leading people on boat-based trips, land-based trips, traveling to various foreign locations etc - very much hands-on stuff, and devising teaching material to enable this.

    I've run numerous community photography projects and documentary projects where communities record their lives, and have been running photography night classes in the community for a decade (as well as night classes in Stained Glass window design and construction, and woodwork) so I have had lots of teaching experience.

    The point of all this is that recently I was asked by the local FE College to run photography night classes paid for by the Scottish Union Learning Fund. This allows participants of the various trades unions to have a 6 or 8 week course all paid for by the Union. I've delivered these to well over 100 people over the last three years. I have been able to devise course content and structure to suit myself because this is not a certificated course. Each week I deliver a lecture with specific presentation material covering eg exposure, composition, etc and this provides the key input for the photography task to be undertaken the following week. We review the class work as a group for the first hour of each two hour session. This routine has been really popular with every class. An anecdote and example of class work here on duckrabbit:

    Feedback from these classes has been (without blowing my own trumpet) astonishingly positive. In fact the College inform me that feedback is the best they have had for any evening class they've ever run, and demand to do more is huge. order to do another photography class for any of the previous attenders it must be run by the College as a properly certificated course as the Union rules only allow one paid-for training experience, and subsequent education that builds upon this foundation work has to be 'the real thing' with recognised qualifications.

    So the College were asked to deliver this but are unable to use me to deliver it because............I don't have a teaching qualification, and certainly have no photography qualifications of any sort!

    As it currently stands the college is trying to establish if my Social Work qualification will be acceptable as an equivalent.

    I'm waiting to see!


  9. Photographers, no matter what level they're at, tend to be passionate about what they do. None of my friends who regularly engage in photography get up in the morning and say "damn it, I better go out an photograph something. Photography educators may say that, I hope not. Photography educators often have another facet to their work, practice. They can practice their art anywhere; a colleague/friend of mine studies active plate tectonic boundaries - local field trips in Leeds are a bit limited. I'd like to think that photography educators have always got a camera with them, they can practice anytime, anywhere. Finally, research. Even before the advent of 'open', with the onset of digital and the web, photographers can both publish and access a rich source of material for research.  And whilst I recognise all of these facets in other subject educators, not all of them can be a practicing, research led educator, which in some cases would lead to a loss of passion.  In photography  a convergence of passion, practice and research led teaching is within grasp of any educator who cares to reach out and take, possibly more than any other subject.

    What can this teach other educators? I rarely see teaching practice case studies at the general conferences, SEDA, HEA etc, I once had a great conversation on the way back from the Solstice Conference with a photography lecture who showed me a couple of tricks for photoshop. He was still passionate and teaching even after two days of a hard conference. I think photography educators can show passion in teaching, they can certainly teach other teachers the value of open resources for both practice and research. 

    There is also an opportunity for photography educators to bring in photographers to engage with students, even if it only through their images. No matter what level, skill, or even if you hate the photos, students can learn from others... Open courses, MOOCs for photographers they are second nature. Mine are the myriad forums and Blipfoto, bit there are plenty out there. As I write this I think a second question is what can photography students teach students?

  10. Being a photographer and being a teacher are different jobs. They do overlap but I know brilliant photographers who can't teach. I also know some teachers of photography who can't take very good photographs. It's probably worse for the student to have the former than the latter.

    To use the trusty football analogy the manager of the team doesn't need to be the best striker in the world to be able to instruct the team on their game play/strategy. Yes, he needs to understand the principles but it is leadership/instruction/management that are the more important qualities.

    In a more difficult economic climate for photographers I suspect a few will turn to the academy in order to acquire a relatively steady income. However, years behind the camera do not train you for years in front of the class. They are two different things. I believe that educators should be good at teaching and photographers should be good at photography. A few people will be good at both and will find work in both sectors.

    The problem with working in education is that inevitably one is "in education" and not "in photography" so teaching students about the industry will present a challenge which needs to be met in part by bringing in guest lecturers with real world/commercial experience (if this is what is missing).

    The FE comment above references educations need to professionalize and therefore the requirement that tutors are qualified as tutors as well as having their own area of expertise. In principle this is a good thing but it can lead to the issue outlined above where a good tutor is prevented from teaching because they lack a certificate in teaching.

    Passion has been mentioned and I completely agree that without it we have only bad or average photographers and teachers. But passion comes with no certificates or awards.

    I believe photography can help us see the world and articulate it differently. It can also be a useful for method for teaching or instruction. Good photographers know this and can tap into these skills. Can they easily teach them to others, perhaps, but not without training, monitoring and support.

  11. From the experience I've had from speaking to photography students is that the standard of 'teaching' is terrible, and that the students learn more from an afternoon with me than they would in a term of photography. The tutors seem to be out of touch with with the practical side of photography or indeed the real world of photography. They want to teach the students the 'arty' side of photograpy, leaving the students devoid of how to use a camera outside of the 'P' mode (totally automatic). The images that are often seen as their final work are nice and arty, but in no way commercial, and the students haven't been prepared for the realities of working in the photographic industry, so when they pass their exams they are left with a worthless piece of paper and portfolio.
    On the few courses I have seen where local professional photographers are brought in to share their knowledge the students get a lot more out of it, and this should be encouraged.
    The saying 'those that can, do, and those that can't, teach' was around when I was studying photography, and it probably holds strong now

  12. My personal experience, if thats ok- I got my degree in the 80's- I was a young working class woman in love with photography, plunging deep into a very theoretical degree (Poly Central London) it was so text based and tilted heavily towards semiotics etc, at the end of it I had lost the passion and did not seriously pursue my passion until the last 5 years or so. Most the time I felt self conscious and not clever enough. I would have loved more working photographers to have been involved in the course, amateurs even, who were just driven about their photography, who were supportive of finding your voice, who were conscious of every day life impacting on your art. I learned a lot and am grateful I was able to be a photography student, but in terms of life 'on the out' it was out of touch, and unless you were 'in' with the lecturers, conformed or reflected their approach, there was a palpable sense of derision, and I left Poly clear that my future was not in photography as those contacts had not been available to be, as they had others. I think academia is a bubble and still a 'privilege', and even more so will be for those who can afford it. It needs role models and needs to encourage people from all walks of life to develop their skills and art in a way that everyone understands. Therefore working photographers are essential to look at how they began, the day to day challenges, especially for women who are still under represented, how to balance family life with your profession, how do photographers start off when they don't have financial support. life is indeed the best teacher, so lets get more of it into the classroom. There are some great teachers, but the mix should be balanced.

  13. Interesting that the degree question should come up. The Media Lab's director Joi Ito has one amazing bio but it does not include a degree just a lifetime of thinking, writing and implementing global technology policy. Of course I may be biased - not having one myself.