Christopher W. Weeks



Knowledge. It is at the foundation of our evolution as human beings. Certainly this is true of such disciplines as science and technology, but with art? Emphatically yes! And especially within the realm of photography. Not only is photography a highly technical medium, but it is also one of the more "democratic" mediums within the arts. The spread of cameras and photographic technology through the populous has led nearly everyone to have had some sort of experience with photography from Polaroid cameras to the disposable point-and-shoot cameras found on the shelves of nearly every mega-mart and convenience store. This saturation of photography and photographic imagery throughout our culture poses a challenge within the realm of academia, because since so many are so accustomed to experiencing it, there is the tendency to believe that anyone can become a successful photographer. This is not to say that becoming a successful photographer is solely the realm of academics or an elite few, but it does require a certain amount of training and knowledge in various ways of thinking, of seeing and of understanding, not only of technical process skills, but also of conceptual thought process and historical precedence.

Art is not created in a vacuum; it is both a result and a reflection of the society which creates it, influenced as much by historical and political events as artistic creativity and experimentation. It is a barometer of cultural values, mores, priorities and struggles. It provides both social insight as well as cathartic release. Would Dadaism have been what it was without World War I and the onset of cultural "Modernity"? Or think about the interconnection between Pop Art and the cultural/social shifts of the 1960s, the explosion of television and the mass media, and the general interest in the vernacular. Or what about how the invention of photography as a technology affected the future of painting? Everything that is made, be it consciously or otherwise, is a by-product of its surroundings. Therefore, as visual professionals, it is essential to be aware of what informs our work as well as what has come before us. So, for these very reasons, it becomes important for students to have not only an understanding of art and photo history, but also history in general as well as other academic pursuits such as philosophy, science, sociology and so on ...

And now with the onslaught of digital technology into the mainstream of art, the need for strong technical/conceptual/historical knowledge and skills is ever increasing. However, this encroachment of digital media into the photographic realm has also raised questions about the future of traditional silver-based photography. Will it be replaced/displaced by this new arrival? Within commercial and journalistic circles? Most likely. In many ways, it already has. But within the Fine Arts? Doubtfully so. To claim that digital media will lead to the death of traditional photography is like those who claimed that photography would be the death of painting. Eventually, digital media will find its proper niche within the arts, and wet/silver-based photography, like painting before it, will survive, albeit changed in some manner from the experience.

That being said, my teaching philosophy revolves around the idea of being as well-balanced of an artist as possible. Technical skills must be mastered as well as conceptual skills and historical knowledge. As I attempt to ingrain within my students: No matter how accomplished you are technically, if your ideas are weak, then people aren't going to want to look at your work, and, conversely, no matter how good your ideas are, if your presentation and technical skills are lacking then people aren't going to want to look at your work either -- for no matter how innovative the idea is, it is not worth showing if it is done poorly. And with that philosophy in mind, I teach within a structure which I believe both introduces the students to a wide range of genres, styles and conceptual approaches while at the same time allowing them a significant amount of flexibility to explore their own interests.