What’s it like to create a photographic archive of plant seeds and tissue samples that could one day ensure humanity’s very survival?
What about travelling the world to capture award-winning images of the rapidly melting polar ice caps or soldiers in conflict zones?
Students in Brock’s Introduction to Digital Photography class learned all of this and more, directly from creative professionals this past semester.
Thanks to an Experiential Education Teaching and Learning Innovation Grant, Assistant Professor Amy Friend was able to invite six professionals in the field of photography from around the world to visit her class via video chat.
Visual Arts students researched and subsequently interviewed guest speakers one-on-one, before ending each session with a group discussion.
The exercise provided valuable insight into the artistic process and the challenges involved with working in different areas of photography, Friend said.
“The students responded quite well; you could see a sense of excitement,” she said. “They heard interesting stories about how artists work through their processes and different insights about how and why specific choices are made, and the methods used to get this work out into the world.”
Participating artists included Dornith Doherty, a professor and Guggenheim Foundation Fellow from North Texas who documents and collages plant seeds and tissue samples in her Archiving Eden project; Cig Harvey, an artist whose work has been exhibited at major museums and collections in the United States and Europe; Spanish artist Alfonso Almedros; award-winning photojournalist Louie Palu, whose work has been featured in National Geographic and numerous international collections; Jacqueline Bates, Photography Director of The California Sunday Magazine; and British-American mixed-media artist and author Phillip Toledano.
Fourth-year Visual Arts student Rachel McCartney was tasked with interviewing Toledano, whose work is similar to what she aspires to create herself one day.
“Interacting with visiting artists in a classroom setting was an extremely useful and gratifying experience,” she said. “It allowed for direct one-on-one communication and to dissect the brain of someone who is a successful future version of what I aspire to be.”
The grant was one of 18 that were awarded in 2018-19 to support the development of new experiential learning courses and experiential opportunities within existing courses.
The Teaching and Learning Innovation Grants were supported financially by Experiential Education at Brock and external funding through the province’s Career Ready Fund.
Sandy Howe, Associate Director, Experiential Education, said the new interview series went “above and beyond” expectations and offered a “highly impactful” experiential learning opportunity for participating students.
“It’s always amazing to me to see faculty members trying something new in their courses and how this impacts their own learning and engagement with their teaching,” she added. “This is an excellent example of how different types of experiences can be used to improve both teaching and learning.”
Friend said the calibre and range of artists who participated also exposed students to the range of career opportunities that exist for someone with a Fine Arts and Photography background.
“It was one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in my teaching strategies,” she said. “I was stunned by how much information the students were able to learn in a short period of time.”
For McCartney, the experience armed her with more confidence as an artist and a wealth of advice for ensuring success in her future career.
“I find it really important that we constantly look for new ways to teach and learn because it promotes better student engagement,” she said. “Actively changing the curriculum to integrate new ways of learning creates a more personalized education that is beneficial to students. I’m very thankful to the artists who participated and immensely thankful for Professor Friend for organizing this experience.”