xmlns:fb='http://ogp.me/ns/fb#' Kate Farrall: Marin Academy Students Make Mail Art Photograms

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Marin Academy Students Make Mail Art Photograms

...And What We Can Learn From Them

MA Student Photogram

Last week I was bowled over by the intelligent students at Marin Academy, a high school in San Rafael, California. I visited to talk about my alternative photography work to students who, up until that point, were used to treating film and photo paper with a traditional approach.
I walked them through the process and concepts behind the photos, van dyke prints, glow-o-grams and photograms that I’ve made over the years. As I moved along, the students really engaged, asked smart questions and with each new project we discussed, I could see a whole new world of photography was being revealed to them.
MA Student Photogram - Detail
I love the catalog kid image and interesting folds/shadows.

LESSON #1: Express Enthusiasm

As they visibly leaned forward in their seats, I could see virtual light bulbs glow brighter and brighter over their heads as the new ideas entered their thought process. They were excited about learning and they weren’t afraid to show it. The interest was infectious and could be felt by the whole room. By sharing and expressing their enthusiasm, they showed a genuine side which was positively received by the larger group.

So adults, the next time you see something you really like, I dare you to share your excitement about it with your family and friends. It will spread positivity and help you to connect with like-minded people.

Photogram Packages Out of the Changing Bag
The concept of taking a piece of photo paper, crumpling it and exposing it to light without a negative to create art was new to them. For many this was out of bounds (I lived in fear of ripping photos for a long time) but I could see the students would be able to embrace the new idea and try it without the idea ruining their world.




LESSON #2: Embrace Change

Photography has always been a medium with many transitions from one format to another. Changes in technology constantly modify the medium and migrate the popular concept of what it means to make a photograph.

When you get what I call a “technology smack down” that totally changes your art process, say your camera dies or you can no longer get the materials you are used to, I suggest you grieve it but find a way to move on and embrace the possibilities of the new. Adults have a harder time letting go of what they learned in the past than kids do but if we all allow our minds to be a little more tolerant towards the change that comes at us each day, including art making changes, I assure you, you will feel happier and less stressed.
Photogram Packages Head Off, into the Wild PO Yonder

We all headed into the darkroom and gave making photograms a chance. The project: put light sensitive, unexposed photo paper in a package and send it through the mail. When you get it back, develop the paper to see the resulting photogram. This is one of my example projects I shared with them in the talk so we decided to try it.

The students manipulated the images by creating unique packages with many layers of paper that allowed the light to pass through to produce a photogram. Everyone put one chunky envelope in the mail hoping it would come back and be developed into a photogram. Usually, there are a good number of papers that are fully black and over exposed or just didn’t create an image that you like. If you are lucky, you get one that looks good. A lot is left up to chance in this process but that’s part of the fun.

LESSON #3: Experiment More

If you are thinking about doing something new or a little different from what you normally do, approach it as an experiment where you give yourself the leeway to review the results, determine if you want to do it again, if it was helpful or if you can simply cross it off the list now that you’ve tried it. Also, consider if you discovered something informative during the process of experimenting that may apply to an entirely different project than the one where you were working.

MA Student's Photogram Freshly Developed
 After several days traveling through the mail, fingers crossed, the students developed the images with much success. Now that they’ve tried their hand at an alternative photography process, they will always have it in their tool box as a way to express themselves. The experiment may have steeled some students against alternative photography, aiming them to stay with the use of a camera and negatives but for some it has opened up a new way of making. In either case it has assuredly broadened their art making horizons.
MA Student's Photogram Detail
Really nice how the kid image and text left marks.
Thank you to the Marin Academy students and to their teacher, Jenny Rosenberg, for having me visit and share my art with the group. While they may have learned from me, I certainly came away with a few lessons learned from them:
  • Express Enthusiasm

  • Embrace Change

  • Experiment More


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