Hug Your Teacher
If you've been here before you know that my career has been as a photo educator at the university level (Northeastern University, Harvard University, New England School of Photography, in descending order). When I first started writing about photography in this blog over two years ago I was eager to share my own work with readers. It was an opportunity to deepen readers' understanding of my projects and to widen my audience as well. Clearly it was too good to pass up and , if you've been following, it is something I approached with a great deal of motivation and drive.
But the other side of the coin is my life as a photo teacher and program head. Far less glamorous than a solo show or one's first monograph and often fraught with major stress and political battles, the career of a photography professor can be complex, demanding and risky.
If I am going to go down this path, and I am, I need to separate myself from my colleagues for there is no need for self aggrandizing. I would place my work as a teacher of photography somewhere mid pack; not one of the greats. And I want to praise most in the profession for I believe they are the unsung heroes of photography. Think about this: where would you be in photography if it weren't for that first photo teacher, or the teacher that opened your eyes to the possibilities inherent in a lifelong vocation or avocation in photography?
Let me list what photography teachers do:
-they work in relative obscurity and almost always are only known by their former students
-they launch photo careers
-they live a positive lifestyle and teach by example
-they promote making art at the highest of levels
-they share their love of the medium
-they provoke discussion
-they mentor young people in positive ways
-they teach history and context
-they set a high example by almost invariably making their own work
-they extend the medium with their research
-they advocate for improved conditions with their administrations
Is it: full professors with tenure and all the perks? Generous travel and research allowances, a supportive administration, multiple internal and external grants and funding sources, job security and excellent health benefits, a free ride for children, tuition free classes, time off for research, sponsored sabbaticals and fully funded pensions?
More likely it is: teachers hired as adjuncts, underpaid and under supported, hired out of a large job pool that is highly qualified and therefore very competitive, no job security, no pension or health benefits, not eligible for internally funded grants, little possibility for promotion.
Finally, there is this dirty little secret: adjuncts seldom move up the ladder into full time professorships. Why? Because search committees charged with the job of placing a position are star struck with outside applicants' credentials and tend to ignore the people they've work with sometimes for years as adjuncts.
We all know there are too many injustices in this big cold world. While not life threatening, this is one of them. It is also the primary reason that there is a movement afoot to unionize adjuncts in the Boston area as universities have taken advantage here for far too long. Of course, unionizing won't solve the problems. Universities have been and will remain reliant on adjuncts because professors are very expensive. I will stop here with this line of thought as this is close to getting us into what's wrong with our higher level educational system in this country and I have neither the space not the knowledge to argue this issue effectively.
What's the point? If you did study photography in college, think back through those teachers and how they influenced you into becoming a photographer. If nothing else, give them some credit for being a positive force in your life at a time when you were lost. If you can, shoot them an email or give them a call, saying thanks for what they did. And, at least in your heart, give your teacher a hug.