Last month we introduced you to Olivia Crawford, an alumna of Saturday High, Art Center’s program for high school students (grades 9 through 12), who shot images for Nike Sportswear’s Look of Sport: Los Angeles campaign. Olivia spoke very highly of the “Day in the Life” projects she completed in Saturday High’s Photography 2 class, saying they were important in shaping her experience with photography.
We wanted to learn more about “Day in the Life,” so we chatted with David Sotelo and Evah Hart, who co-teach Photography 2, to learn more about the project, the process of discovery, and teaching at Saturday High.
Dotted Line: Tell me a bit about the “Day in the Life” project.
Evah Hart: We start almost all of our classes with “Day in the Life.” It’s important because it establishes the recognition that our student’s lives are important and a valid place to be pulling from to create work. In the project, we have them shoot three disposable cameras in one day. And we ask them to include the time stamp on the prints. The fact that they’re shooting a lot of pictures really forces them to recognize things in their life that they wouldn’t otherwise see.
Dotted Line: These disposable cameras aren’t the digital kind, right?
Hart: Yes, and that’s important because we’re not editing. We actually have them cover up the viewfinder, too. We want them to react to their life rather than trying to make beautiful pictures. The project diminishes the expectations of beauty and the ideals we’re confronted with on an everyday basis.
David Sotelo: We try to teach them that photography is about awareness. A digital camera supposedly has all the inherent ability to take a great picture, right? By removing the tool from the experience, students realize that, in fact, it’s really one’s own awareness that creates great work. Once they’re done, we help them edit the work, and of course it comes out absolutely inspiring and beautiful. It convinces them in their first three weeks that photography is not about aperture setting, but about awareness.
Dotted Line: Are students coming into the class receptive to this concept?
Sotelo: Definitely. We get students who take our classes over and over again, because we really challenge them. They know the responsibility of making is up to them and their awareness. They embrace it and celebrate it. And really, it’s a validation of themselves and of their potential. As an instructor, if you dismiss your students’ potential and try to make them all into clones, they’ll just tune out and say, “forget it.” But when they feel they’re being validated for their own individual potential, they blossom.
Hart: “Day in the Life” is like sketching. It’s a practice to create ideas that we can then elaborate on further. It’s a process in which we try to instill in them lessons about shooting their own lives and awareness. From there, we can dissolve those projects they’ve stumbled upon into more formal projects and teach them how photography works.
Dotted Line: Are there assigned projects in class, or do students choose their own?
Sotelo: It works on two levels. The first level is learning how to discover. How do you interact with your discoveries? Well, like any artist, you make sketches. You sketch, you play, you do “Day in the Life” and similar exercises. It becomes a constant process of exploration. The second level is we try to teach the students that a photographer needs to be articulate. It has nothing to do with whether you like the work. It’s about responsibility and accountability. The real questions are, “Is the work articulate? Did you articulate your discovery?” We have them work in very formal genres—objectivity, confessional and what we call fictional—and focus on very specific skills. So we teach these skills to articulate, but we’re also teaching them about the process of discovery.
Dotted Line: You both co-teach the class. How does that work?
Sotelo: We play off each other. We keep each other honest. As a teacher, you can make mistakes. And the kids see that we do make mistakes but that we’re willing to correct each other. So I push . . .
Hart: . . . and I pull. David focuses on the overall perspective of the class, and I focus on a more one-on-one level. I sit down and get to know the students and help them individually. David and I are also a good balance between the technical and the not-so-technical. And that’s really nice for students to see that there are different ways to approach photography. Having us both there is good for them.
Dotted Line: Besides Olivia, have you had other student success stories?
Sotelo: We get some kids in class sometimes that really have no identity because they’re not supported. But they manage to come to class, and Saturday High becomes both their art education and their social community. It gives them a place to blossom. We’ve had kids who were going to drop out of high school suddenly realize that the arts can provide them with a life, so they’ve buckled down and gone on to college. It happens quite a bit. So whether they’re doing a shoot for Nike or just feeling a sense of identity and community, it’s all a success. That’s the most important thing about these classes.
Weeklong Saturday High summer workshops begin June 27. Sign up today!