What Photography has Taught Me.

This week I am continuing with my biographical posts. I hope you enjoy learning about my adventures in photography!

I was sitting here thinking and about to write something when I realized it was not true. I was about to say I was surprised I started these series of biographical posts discussing both photograph and art history and primarily art history. I was going to say I was surprised because I was interested in photography before I was interested in art history. However, that is simply not true. In an earlier post, I mention my trip to the Ramses the Great exhibition at Fair Park in Dallas, Texas as an elementary school student. This is really where my awareness of art came from.

As a teenager I became curious about photography. However, I was exposed to photography in childhood. I had a small camera and I have one specific memory from third grade I think. One of my classmates had brought a camera to school. Every time she took a photograph she removed the film and wound it back into the film canister. Then she would put it back in the camera. So she was basically taking all of her photographs on the same plane of film. I explained this to her on the playground, however, she did not pay any attention to what I was saying. I never saw those photographs, probably because there were not any.

Though I have this antidote from childhood, my real fascination with photography began when I was 14 or 15. I already knew I wanted to take photography as my art class in high school because I did not see myself as an artist like a drawer or painter. So my first intrigue was purely for practical purposes.  However, at about this same time a family friend came to stay with us and he, Lupe Agular was a commercial photographer. He was kind to me and showed me different things. He made photography seem like an adventure. When I entered the high school at 15 I signed up for photography. In the class, we learned black and white darkroom photography and I wrote my first paper about a photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson. I also wrote a paper in high school about Irving Penn. Cartier-Bresson’s ideas and work continues to influence me today.

The next year I took the second photography class. In this class we continued the darkroom practice but I was also exposed to cyanotypes and Photoshop. I found being in the darkroom magical. However, I really wanted to do color photography which I eventually got to. During my last year of high school I was president of the photography club and the historian for German club.

Entering college I knew I wanted to major in photography. Many people thought I was crazy because they saw it as useless. I had a colleague from work tell me that she did not see why anyone would take a picture of anything other than their friends hanging out. She obviously did not understand the impact photography has had on society.

Studying photography at the university was a fun challenge. I learned all sorts of processes. I continued working in the darkroom, learned how to print color photographs in the darkroom and learned more alternative photographic techniques and how to blend these antiquated techniques with new digital technology. I was also exposed to studio lighting and digital printing. In addition to these technical endeavors, I learned how to think about my work critically and how to speak and write about it. I also learned how to talk with others about their artwork. Through all of these activities I was learning how to problem solve. As students, we would be given a broad topic to photograph, for instance, and then we had to decide how we were going to approach the topic and take the photographs. Sometimes we had to re-shoot several times because we did something wrong or we messed up the film in processing. The decision also had to be made about the size of the prints, what size best relates your message and what information would you include in your artist statement and what information would you leave out. All of this requires critical thinking skills. And these skills can be applied to every aspect of your life.

Ultimately, photography has taught me how to think for myself. It has taught me to see things from other people’s perspectives. Art and photography is always about a question or a statement the artist wants to put forward. So photography has taught me how to be more precise with my statements, with my thoughts.

To further hone these things listed above I decided to go to graduate school. Graduate school is altogether different than undergrad. In graduate school, the focus was on the ideas. It was expected that you knew technique and if you wanted to learn something new you have the capacity to learn it on your own. Graduate school for me was both beautiful and disastrous. I do not really have the personality for constant criticism. However, the work I did in graduate school remains a testament to my overall education. In my theses work I question photography’s role in art history. It is amazingly satirical, quizzical, and conceptual.

Outside of academia, photography is teaching me new lessons about how to persist. It is much harder to pursue artwork when you are working multiple jobs. Hell, it is hard to think and I love to think. Now photography is teaching me about stamina and never giving up, also great life lessons. And so I continue the journey I started 20 years ago.

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By |2018-10-12T16:36:05-05:00February 21st, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

About the Author:

Betsy Williamson is an assistant professor of art in the state of New Mexico. Before coming to New Mexico for this job she was an adjunct professor throughout Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, teaching photography and art appreciation. Between September 2015 and May 2017, she took a break from teaching to pursue art, research and life in India. Now she is back to teaching and part-timing it in India.

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