I am a 1.0 Lecturer in the Communication Department at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, California. This is my 12th year in the department, though last year I was on sabbatical so technically I wasn’t “there”. A 1.0 Lecturer is a unique position, at Cal Poly there are only two people with that appointment level. It’s in-between an adjunct and assistant professor position. Along with teaching there are assigned and related duties related to contributing to the department. In the past I have been an academic advising, participated in departmental committees, and maintained the department website, for example.
My practice as a photographer comes out of the fact of my being adopted. I am interested in how people see themselves in different contexts. My first book,”The Michael Jacksons” was an ethnographic monograph on Michael Jackson performers who perform professionally in the United States.
A Habit of self deceit
Bad faith is a concept in existentialist philosophy coined by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir describing the habit people have of deceiving themselves into thinking they do not have the freedom to make choices for fear of the potential consequences of making a choice. Commonly it is understood as to mislead or deceive another.
In the past year, I have experienced a great deal of upheaval in my life. My mother, from whom I have been estranged, became ill with dementia; her 86 year old husband, my father, started confronting his own end of life insecurities, and for the first time in 30 years I started to spend time with them both. Out of this has come A Habit of Self Deceit.
The title refers both to decisions made by my parents throughout the course of their lives, and how their orientation to their lives have impacted my relationship with my self. It’s a kind of visual metaphorical meditation on the emotional emptiness associated with absence.
Why Cal Poly Pomona?
I teach photography in a journalism context in the Communication Department at Cal Poly Pomona. The department has three different tracks of study - Journalism, Public Relations, and Organizational Communications, all at the undergraduate level. Most of the students I work with are seeking a degree in either Journalism or PR. We have a black and white dark room with 18 enlargers, as well as digital darkroom facilities. There are about 300 students in the Communication Department, about 3/4 of them are in Journalism and PR. I am the lone visual communication instructor there, my colleague, a full professor, retired from the university over the summer.
What courses do you teach?
Teaching at Cal Poly gives me the opportunity to merge my experience as a journalist and my education in fine arts. I teach all the visual communication courses in the department now - basic black and white photography, Photoshop, a photojournalism course, a documentary storytelling class (which incorporates sound, film and photography), and this year I started teaching a class that my retired former colleague created called “Understanding and Appreciating the Photographic Image”. I am making it a kind of visual literacy/criticism/history/theory course. This quarter is my first teaching it, so I’m making it a kind of adventure in terms of developing themes and threads in which I can built two hour lectures around. I’ve become so accustomed to teaching applied classes, that this experience is proving to be extremely fun.
How does your program bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary photographic practices?
We are not particularly progressive in our department, meaning our objectives are not geared towards moving students into innovative methodologies of information gathering and storytelling. Our classes serve as an introduction to the subjects we teach. The Cal Poly student population is made up of primarily first generation Americans, this means that many students in the Communication Department are the first in their families to attend a university. I have the extremely unique position of being able to introduce them to new ways of applying and discussing their ideas; so many students start my classes by saying,”I am not creative at all.” If I can get them to see how untrue that is in ten weeks, then I have done my job.
In terms of what we do in our program - since we have a wet darkroom, I have the opportunity to show some of them film developing and printing, but, honestly, I wish more students were in a position to take it. Two years ago taught six sections of it a year, now I teach two. The immediacy of digital imaging (especially with the cell phone), has made film seem like an extraordinary (and unnecessary) expense, and the class, which was once a requirement, now is not. We do have a number of DSLRs in the department which I encourage my students to learn how to use in the Photoshop and Photojournalism classes, but then again, DSLRs are moving towards being an outdated technology. Cell phone cameras are actually quite good for how I have students use them, and my objective then becomes to teach what their limitations are so that students can work around them.
Describe the process of output for photographs.
We only have the ability to make black and white silver prints in our department. We don’t have the budget to buy and maintain digital output, even though I would really like to have available. In the past we’ve had the discussion about getting printers, but it always comes down to money and then keeping up with technology. I think my students would really benefit from seeing their work printed - there’s nothing like holding a finished print in one’s hand or hanging it up to change, or develop, one’s relationship with their work.
Describe the critique format.
The classes I teach serve as an introduction, critiques are done in a very supportive and constructive way. Given that I am not working with students who are establishing a photographic practice and that the experiences that they have in my classes are singular (we don’t have any advanced classes in visual communication), my feedback needs to be encouraging and more about the tools and their application than the artistic or conceptual expression.
When I first started teaching at Cal Poly, about 50% of the photography classes were made up of art students. But in the economic crisis of the late 2000s, the art department was closed so that kind of cross-fertilization that comes from interdisciplinary interaction is, sadly, no longer a part of what the Communication Department students experience in their education.
Where can we keep up with your photo department online?
We will be starting an Instagram page for the basic black and white photography course this quarter. It’s called “com131.cpp”.