This is my last ‘Studio Problems’.
In 1991 when I created the class, the school was more studio-art focused, and the Photography program had become generally anti-technical. I observed that students had little information about how the medium of photography actually worked, and I wanted to balance that with some hard technical knowledge and skill. As the school evolved and became more design-focused, I wanted to balance the shift in that direction with some poetry, some magic. As years passed, I came to see value beyond the obvious skill sets of the class. Understanding what you are actually seeing rather than what you think you are seeing is a critical life-skill. Literally and metaphorically, this skill applies to everything.
This class, like every other one I have taught over the past 30 years, is about learning to see clearly.
Studio Problems is a production class where students gain a variety of skills generally used in commercial photography for use in their own work. The hope is that gaining the diversity of technical knowledge required for that type of work and the confidence that comes with accomplishing oftentimes daunting problems helps the student accomplish better personal and/or conceptual work in other classes. It’s about learning not only what you want say, but how to make it happen.
There are three re-creations completed per class. The class is broken into three working groups (memberships rotating from within the entire class) with three new ‘Directors’ shooting during each class meeting. The three groups occupy different shooting spaces, each one different in size and negotiated by the students based on need. Each team must build, prop, light and shoot a complete recreation in a matter of a few hours. The (Art) Director / Photographer in each group assigns the other members of their crew the jobs of Assistant (equipment and lighting), Stylist (propping, makeup, soft and hard good styling), Digital Technician (monitors the computer and work flow, checks focus) and finally, the Model. The jobs are flexible, with everyone helping where needed, or perhaps exchanging models from set to set.
The semester begins with the class selecting advertising ‘tear sheets’ (usually advertising torn from magazines, or more currently, lifted from the web), whose lighting, propping, set construction, etc. provide a challenge to re-create. There are no rules as to how this is done, only that the Director study the original image, break down what they believe to be the original lighting and propping, and figure out a way to make their shot look as close as possible (or more interesting) to the original.
After the first three shooting rounds, students may continue to work with tear sheets (re-creations) as long as they feel challenged, or use tear sheets as partial image sources (inspirations). They can also utilize their newly acquired skills to create their own personal work (originals).
The ubiquity of digital manipulation in all media imagery presents a growing problem for this class in recreating images. Many original images are constructed in computers. Alteration of our images by computer to complete re-creations is NOT allowed with the exception of global changes to contrast or color balance. No other manipulations are allowed without specific permission from Linda, and then only reluctantly. The final image must represent what was created in real time on the set. Everything happens in the studio, not in the computer.
Making a perfect recreation is (probably) impossible, but the attempt always provides great problems demanding creative solutions.