I love that romantic age of exploration when folks like Audubon and Darwin traveled around making scientific discoveries and creating incredible¬†artwork.¬† Travel has been an extremely important part of my photographic career: I‚Äôve spent about six years of my life workings as a photographer while living abroad.¬† I‚Äôve always romanticized Darwin‚Äôs journey on the¬†HMS Beagle,¬†I think Semester at Sea is as close as I‚Äôll get to that. ¬†Since receiving my MFA in 2011,¬†I‚Äôve been teaching at a wide variety of colleges and universities in the US… From a private art school to a public community college, a large urban university and a rural liberal arts college, it‚Äôs been fascinating to experience such a broad range of educational models.¬† Here on Semester at Sea, it‚Äôs education amidst epic¬†adventure, which has it‚Äôs own challenges to be sure.
I firmly believe that¬†interesting¬†photographs can be taken pretty much anywhere, and certainly we don‚Äôt need to travel the world to teach the technical aspects of using a camera. But one of the most interesting aspects of teaching photography for Semester at Sea has been watching how self-conscious students are when photographing in¬†new¬†places, and how that opens up their mind about how to use photography. Yes, they‚Äôre excited to go out and observe new things, but I aim to challenge students to think about their relationship to the world through photography and the camera. The point-and-shoot mentality can create a photographic experience that becomes overly focused on consuming the world.¬†Instead, many of my students are using their cameras to slow down the experience or as an excuse to interact with the locals. Through their photographs, they can create and then share¬†the¬†cathartic experiences of realization, celebrating¬†the beauty but also considering the difficulties of their experiences of interacting with these different places.
In addition to teaching, two of my long term photographic projects have really benefited from this journey: my¬†Ornithological Photographs¬†and¬†Post-Industrial Edens.¬† I‚Äôve been working on each project for several years now, and they both require quite a bit more travel than a junior faculty member can normally afford.¬† Since they‚Äôre both shot on film (as opposed to digital), I can‚Äôt share my new photographs from either series yet; there‚Äôs no darkroom on the¬†MV Explorer, after all.¬† If you check in with my blog in early 2015, I‚Äôll be posting all the new images there; and in the meantime I have a lot of blog posts of more casual photographs from ports we‚Äôve visited.¬† I can also tell you a bit about the work and share some previous photos‚Ä¶
I‚Äôm excited to be putting¬†the final touches on my series of¬†Ornithological Photographs,¬†because next autumn I‚Äôll be publishing a monograph of these photographs through Daylight Books.¬† These photographs depict birds that have been caught in mist nets as part of scientific surveys and ornithological research. This series brings together my interest in bird watching, community ecology, and conceptual photography.
And I‚Äôve also been working on my¬†Post-Industrial Edens¬†series.¬† This is a very long-term project: a global survey of urban gardening cultures.¬† I started the series over ten years ago, actually, and now I‚Äôve photographed these gardens in almost every port we‚Äôve visited.¬† It provides a really interesting way to see these cities as well: instead of going to the center of town where most of the tourist attractions are found, I normally end up wandering around the margins and edges of the city, where I get to see everyday life in these towns.¬† Previously I‚Äôve also photographed gardens in places like Cuba, Mongolia, Japan, and a bit of the European Union.¬† I‚Äôm also really excited to head back to Cuba, where they have an incredible slow food movement, one of the most impressive I‚Äôve ever seen.
Travel has been crucial for me as an educator.¬† It has made me a much better communicator: when dealing with different¬†languages¬†and cultures, you need to learn to identify when and why people don‚Äôt understand¬†each other.¬† That‚Äôs also so important as an educator: being able to mediate miscommunication, and facilitate exchanges that reconcile and confront¬†differences of opinions.¬† Most of all, traveling has given me something more simple, though: endurance. I like to tell my students, in photography it‚Äôs stubborn endurance that pays off most.¬† Keep at it.¬† There are so many incredible opportunities for artists out there.¬† But, you have to find the right fit for you. ¬†For me, Semester at Sea has been a great fit‚Ä¶¬† You also have to be persistent.¬† Throughout the past ten years I have led a marvelously open life that has kept me free enough to chase quirky opportunities around the globe.