Hannah Cooper McCauley received a BFA from Jacksonville State University in 2012 and an MFA from Louisiana Tech University in 2016. She works in narrative photography, both digital and analog, and her work investigates the curious nature of transition encapsulated within the genre of magical realism. Cooper McCauley’s work has been exhibited in group and solo shows at various venues internationally, including the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Vermont Center for Photography, Photo Beijing 2014, and the 2014 Pingyao, China International Photography Festival. Hannah has been published in Photo District News as well as Aint-Bad Magazine, and has been awarded numerous grants and fellowships from such institutions as the Society for Photographic Education and Louisiana Tech University. Most recently, she was named a finalist in Photolucida’s Critical Mass Top 50 competition, as well as a winner in the 2015 Lensculture Emerging Talent Awards. Cooper McCauley currently lives and teaches in San Antonio, Texas with her husband Zachary, and their dog Albert, the world’s longest photo assistant. 

A Singular Sense of Urgency 

2013 – present

My father’s job as a Baptist minister afforded me an early understanding of faith as both a mysterious and steadfast component of my world. My adolescent life often seemed to be invaded by events similar to those I was taught in the Bible—too strange to believe, but real all the same. I befriended a surly armadillo on the construction property between the church and our parsonage home. I burst my head open on a church pew and left a sea of red in the lush carpet below, my father pausing mid sermon to carry my limp body out the front doors. I spent most of my formative years playing in and around church property, skinning my knees in the parking lot and exploring hidden crannies underneath the baptistry.

At 17, I experienced the strangest event of all, the beginning of which was not unlike a passage on miracles you would read about in the book of Matthew. I learned I have a hereditary, degenerative eye condition called optic nerve head drusen. My eyes are unable to dispose of waste properly, causing gradual visual field loss and sometimes blindness. Unlike a miracle, however, there was no one to rub mud in my eyes and make the ailment disappear.

This ongoing body of work is about coming of age—made in response to my radically shifting perception—and exists for me as an attempt to maintain lost innocence, both biological as it relates to my failing vision, but also the sort of erosion that occurs when transitioning from one state to another. I use the camera as a tool to measure the weight of the loss I am experiencing, and I am looking at the past—my family mythology and the nature of my upbringing, to decipher my own identity. 

Q&A: The Episcopal School of Texas – San Antonio

What is the Episcopal School of Texas?

TMI-The Episcopal School of Texas is a private college prep high school in San Antonio, TX. Our photo program offers several classes that are primarily digital, with opportunities to explore analogue and alternative photographic methods for more advanced students. We have 2 incredible labs for students interested in pursuing photography: a Mac Lab with 14 newly purchased 21.5” iMacs, and a Print Lab that houses an Epson Stylus Pro 7900 printer, and 3 smaller Epson Stylus Pros: 3880 and P800. Additionally, our Print Lab also houses a full lighting studio.

My curriculum is focused on helping students develop a strong photographic portfolio which they can include with their college applications. Students are also required to submit their work to exhibition opportunities throughout the year, and seniors create, print, and mount their own solo exhibition in a small gallery space located on campus in the spring of each school year. 

What courses do you teach? 

I teach 3 sections of Digital Art, which is a digital literacy class that introduces students to the Adobe Creative Suite. It’s sort of a hybrid class where we spend a semester focusing on an introduction to digital photography, then we switch gears the next semester and move more towards photo based projects. We make zines in Adobe Illustrator, we do a stop motion project using Adobe Premiere Pro, etc.

I also teach Photography I and II, where we cover more advanced topics in photography, photographic theory, and we even do some analogue and alternative process photography.

Since it’s high school, I teach all grades in the Upper School—9th-12th! 

How does your program bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary photographic practices? 

We don’t have a traditional darkroom at TMI, but I still encourage students to explore alternative methods to digital photography. My advanced photography students are working with Holga cameras right now—for many of them, it’s their first introduction to film. Most of my students have never even seen a real negative before—how wild is that!? I love being able to share the history of photography with them, and I make sure that they know there is another world out there beyond just digital. We work with a Polaroid camera and instant film, we have show and tell days where I bring in my 4x5 camera and tintype collection, we’re going to do cyanotypes this year. It’s awesome to be able to share with them the more alchemical side of photography—it really is like magic to peel the back off of an instant print for the first time, or pour a bit of hydrogen peroxide on your developing cyanotype to see it burst into life. The kids love it as much as I do! 

Describe the output for photographs. 

All my students are required to generate lots of images throughout the course—we focus on quantity to get to quality.

Students in my advanced Photography I and II classes are required to print their work for each assigned project. Photo II is a portfolio intensive course, where we focus on building a strong portfolio to submit with college applications.

We have a pretty sweet Print Lab like I mentioned earlier where students print and hang their work for critique. We also have 2 Epson flatbed scanners for students to scan their film. We don’t have a traditional darkroom at TMI, so if students want to shoot film we send it off to be developed, scan the negatives, and output digitally. 

Describe the critique format. 

These are great questions! So critique always happens during school. We are on a block schedule, so I reserve critique days for 80 minute block periods. All students in the class attend the critique, and I often invite guest critics to attend so that students get the benefit of multiple critique styles/viewpoints. Sometimes these guest critics are other Fine Art faculty, local artists, or even faculty from other disciplines across campus. Our critiques are a lot of fun, and one great thing about teaching a year long course in high school as opposed to a semester long college course is that we really get to know each other and become a true family over the course of the year! 

Where can we keep up with your department online?