I know you’re probably excited to be coming back to school for the next semester. I know you’re excited to be taking your first photography class, or continuing your educational career with your 3rd, 4th, or last photo class. I know exactly where you’re at right now. I’ve been there. It’s exciting, and kind of scary. You’re looking forward to new photography assignments that you’ll love to hate. That you’ll curse your instructor for assigning under your breath, exploring concepts that push you beyond your comfort zone, like photographing strangers and taking their names. Ya, I know. I’ve been there. I’ve sat in that same seat. I’ve probably done those same assignments. Now, though, I sit on the other side of the table. Actually, I stand at the front of room giving those assignments. Watching students like you squirm with surprise, excitement and grief as the homework is announced each week.
Some assignments are going to be really fun. Some might be interpreted as boring. Some may challenge you to step away from your self-proclaimed style and explore a new one. Some may ask you to work within certain parameters under very strict deadlines, while others challenge you to step out of the box and work without boundaries. Whatever the case, here are some words of wisdom for you from someone who’s sat on both sides of the table:
1. Realize and understand that you’re going to fail. Miserably. This is good. Failure is the engine that drives success. If there was no failure we’d have nothing to gauge our success on. So while in your classes, go ahead take risks, explore, and fuck it all up! School is warm and cozy, the perfect place to make as many mistakes as possible. So make them now so you can realize and understand why you might be making them again later with a paying client in order to correct them gracefully.
2. While you’re in school your instructor is your client. Treat them as such. Present the best work you can. Before you submit any work for critiquing ask yourself, “If I was paying for this assignment would I be happy with what I’m seeing?” Changes the game doesn’t it? Also, Do not turn in just anything. The way it works in the real world: If its not your favorite or strongest work your client WILL more than likely pick it. So, only put up your best.
3. Each day you enter the class room conduct yourself professionally DO NOT BE LATE. Being late is being selfish. When you walk in late you disrupt the class. Everything is put on hold so you can find a seat and catch up. This a horrible habit to adopt. Again, think of your future clients: The talent is on-site, the client is there, make-up artists, etc. and you only have 5-minutes to photograph the CEO and you show up late. Late will lose the job.
4. DO NOT BE LATE TURNING IN ASSIGNMENTS. And, for God sake, ‘DO’ YOUR ASSIGNMENTS. If you’re not doing your assignments—learning something, then what the hell are you even at school for. The instructor did not create these assignments for the hell of it. They are put in place to challenge you. To teach you something. Once again, think about your future clients. In the real world time is money. If you’re late turning in work to a client this will make them late getting their product or message out. It creates a horrific domino effect. You do not want to be the one who causes that.
5. Don’t get so overwhelmed with earning your piece of paper (degree) that you lose sight of your goal (a kick ass, bullet proof portfolio.) Remember its only a piece of paper. An expensive one at that. Though some people will say its worthless at any level for artists, I must disagree. It is worth having. It shows that you dedicated yourself and completed a long term task. And, if you have a mind blowing portfolio to go hand-in-hand with that degree. Even better.
6. If your instructor shows you examples of previous student’s work, DO NOT immediately assume that this is exactly what the instructor is looking for. You’re in school to learn. You’re also there to learn to find your voice. Learn to identify your own personal vision. If you are given rules or guidelines to work within for an assignment it is important to follow them. I’m not going to say that you break them or explore the outside edges of the box. But DO NOT, and I repeat DO NOT do assignments based on what you think your instructor may want. Or what may earn you a good grade.
7. DO ask questions. Ask a lot of questions. If you don’t understand something ask. I guarantee you there’s someone else in the class who wants to the ask the same question. THE ONLY STUPID QUESTION IS THE ONE THAT ISN’T ASKED. Remember the class room is warm and cozy.
8. On the first day of class, look at the people around you. Go ahead. You may very well be coming into a room full strangers. By the end of the semester plan on leaving the room with as many friends and acquaintances as you can. The business of photography is really all about who you know. These people may some day be your client, assistant, and/or, gasp, your competition. So get to know them. The world sucks without friends, family, and a sense of community and belonging. So build it now.
9. Learn how to critique. Yes, it is an art form. Yes, it is scary to give it and receive it. Yes, you can learn how to do it and still earn respect and keep friends. The more you practice better you get. And, when you can make pretty pictures and discuss them intelligently, that is a great talent that will serve you well. If you want some advice on how to give one click here. How to receive one click here.
Finally, and I’m not going to number this one. I didn’t realize this one until after I became an instructor. I am probably so damn guilty of this, so if any of my previous instructors are reading this, I totally understand now. I only wish you would have told us. Ok, here we go.
Look, shit (life) happens. Every human being who has a pulse knows this. As instructors we are often times one against many in the class room. We stand up there each week sharing our knowledge to a room full of students of all ages who might come to class tired, mad, sad, upset, depressed—experiencing life—just spent the last two hours stuck in traffic. You all have lives—families, jobs and in some cases multiple jobs, partners, husbands, wives, kids, lovers, dreams, and expectations. We as instructors orchestrate our class room around all of your lives, sometimes so seamlessly you wouldn’t even notice. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE remember that we are also human. We experience all of the same things you all do. We may not always be on the top of our game on a given day. We will make mistakes, we will forget things we assigned you, or might have told you. We might forget the words to our lecture, might get your grades out late, or just may come into class once-in-a-while from waking up on the wrong side of the bed. Be patient. We really are there for you. Each and every single one of you. The student-teacher relationship in the classroom is a two-way road that involves giving and taking. You expect certain things from us and we expect certain things from you in return. If you give 100% in class you will get 100% in return.