PDNEDU

Project X: A Taste For Images

By Ellen Wallenstein


SCREENSHOT FROM WEB SITE © ROMKE HOOGWAERTS
IN SEARCH OF THE GOOD ONES: A section from the Web site students created as a final project for the SVA course Photo Editing/Curatorial Projects.


SVA course in photo editing and curating generates intellectual practice and real-world skills.

According to noted collector and photography strategist W. M. (Bill) Hunt, a photographer’s ability to be able to talk intelligently about his or her work in a professional situation is not to be underestimated. To that end, since 2008 he has co-taught the course Photo Editing/Curatorial Projects I & II with industry colleague Alexandra Brez at New York’s School of Visual Arts.

Brez, former photography director and now managing editor at Inc magazine, brings her editing experience, knowledge of the marketplace and incredible enthusiasm to the class. Hunt, who directed two Chelsea galleries and sits on several photography organization boards, has a very particular collector’s viewpoint. Both are generous with their photo world connections and personally invested in their students.
Yet, in spite of the title, this is not just a class on how to edit one’s own portfolio.

The course was initiated ten years ago by Brez and Stephen Frailey, chairman of SVA’s BFA photography department. “The class has a dual purpose,” says Frailey. “It’s about the business of editing and curating, but also about how the subject matter of an image is flexible depending on its use—it is vocational as well as about content. That was the original impetus of the class, but Alexandra and Bill have morphed it into their own take.”

In addition to relevant field trips to galleries, museums and magazines, students spend the year looking for, reacting to and writing about great work by other photographers in order to develop and improve their capacity for intelligent, articulate thought. By presenting more than just their own personal work, they learn to conceptualize and write about images objectively. They are offered intellectual practice and real-world skills.

The professors demand presence, attention and homework. Weekly assignments—essays describing both historical and contemporary images—are due by e-mail the night before class and are verbally presented the next day. Students must recap their writing assignments in class to persuade others that the images are worth viewing. In so doing, they learn to find their own meanings and opinions and to trust their own taste.

To end the first semester, students compile a selection of 25 great but unknown photographs, providing a historical context and interpretation for each one. Student Romke Hoogwaerts notes, “It was quite a laborious assignment, but I loved every minute of it. [Trying to figure out what it is that intrigues me in photography was an introspective experience]. It was hard work, but all of it was totally rewarding.”
 
In the second semester, the class is split into pairs to edit sequenced PowerPoint displays of each other’s photo projects. Each student is tasked with discussing the work as if he or she were an art buyer recommending talent to an editor or corporate client, in a class presentation before an invited audience of photo professionals. Hunt describes this exercise as “a chance for students to get honest feedback before leaving their comfort zone.”
For a final project, the students decide on a group effort, and in spring 2011, they invented the International Center for Fictional Photography in Contemporary Society, immortalized in the Web site.

Fernanda Bonilla curated a group of images by noted photographic artists under the title Places We Cannot Visit. “Photography is supposed to be an honest medium,” she writes. “Cameras are supposed to show the reality of what lies in front of them. We assume that what we see in a photograph is real; furthermore, we assume we know what it is. But the truth is, photographs are often deceiving.”

It’s apparent from this course that Brez and Hunt love working together to mentor their students, pushing them toward what Hunt describes as “an elegance of presentation and some confidence about their work.” But along with this encouragement Brez notes, “it’s still important to be a student. To make art—to make it wrong—take chances, have fun. After all, it is art school.”  

W.M. Hunt/Alexandra Brez portrait © Ellen Wallenstein

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