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Teaching Photography

Notes Assembled

Philip Perkis

Publication Year: 2005

Philip Perkis, the accomplished photographer and educator, now presents the second edition of Teaching Photography, Notes Assembled—the slim, unassuming book that has been an unexpected hit in photography circles. This expanded edition features an additional chapter and is co-published by OB Press and RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, both affiliated with Rochester Institute of Technology. RIT offers one of the nation’s oldest and most-respected degree programs in photographic arts and sciences. In Teaching Photography…, Perkis draws from four decades of teaching experience at such institutions as Pratt Institute, and Cooper Union, as well as School of Visual Arts in New York. He has distilled his knowledge into this volume of thoughts on visual perception, successful photo lesson exercises, and practical teaching advice for photography instructors. Perkis expresses his acute observations as a means of provoking discussion and inspiring the younger generation of photography students and educators. Carefully typeset with ample margins and devoid of photographic images, the reader is encouraged to exercise the mind’s capacity to visualize—a vital tool for the art of making photographs.

Published by: RIT Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 9-10

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pp. 13-14

I have taught photography for nearly four decades. Having given countless lectures, assignments and critiques, I felt a need to write down some of my thoughts about the practice of photography and teaching in order to have a sense of completion. These writings have come together in the form of a small book. ...

Exercise #1: Looking

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pp. 15-16

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How to Take a Picture

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pp. 17-18

To simply see what something(s) looks like: the light, the space, the relationship (visual) between the distances, the air, the tones, the rhythms, the texture, the contrasts, the shape of movement ... the things themselves ... not what they might mean later, not socially, not politically, not psychologically, not sexually (a cigar is not even yet a cigar). ...

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Short Takes #1: Idea

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p. 19-19

The intelligence is pre-logical. This is why it is not possible to separate form and content in a successful photograph; they occur simultaneously. There is, in fact, no difference between them. ...

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Photography and Poetry

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pp. 20-22

The photograph is at once funny, sad and frightening. I think it’s a masterpiece. This picture could only be a photograph. This kind of metaphor, this poignant taste, comes from the unique directness of the medium. ...

Home Work

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p. 23-23

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Photography as the Cause of the Downfall of Western Civilization

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pp. 24-26

In his essay The Human Universe, Charles Olson postulates that since the Greeks, our system of language has become more and more about description of intellect and concept and has lost its ability to express experience directly. ...

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Exercise #2: Pushpins

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p. 27-27

Put two pushpins in the wall about six inches apart. Sit 15 feet away and relax for a minute or so. Look at the pushpin on the right. Look hard. Now shift your attention to the pushpin on the left. You will notice the pushpin that you are not paying attention to appears less distinct. A bit out of focus. ...

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Exercise #3: How to Look

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pp. 27-29

Sit back and relax the muscles of your eyes so that you see the ‘field’ more completely and your eyes jump from object to object a little less. This requires a purposeful effort, but it helps photographic practice a great deal. ...

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pp. 30-31

When my daughter Rachel was about two years old, she became obsessed with elephants. There were some elephant books with pictures and a record with an elephant song. This went on for several weeks, which is a long time for a small child. ...

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Exercise #4: Intention

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pp. 32-33

Many years ago, the painter Raymond Parker wrote an essay on the idea of intention in art-making. As I remember it, his basic thesis was that without intention there can be no art. Makes sense. If I want to build Chartres Cathedral or make a dramatic film then it is clear that my intention must precede the execution of these projects. ...

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Photography and Art

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pp. 34-36

From the beginning, photography has occupied a maverick position in relation to the art world. Many of the greatest pictures have been made by professional photographers on assignment. The intent of the assigners was not that transformative images would be created. Just a few examples to make this clear: ...

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Hector Garcia

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pp. 37

There was a keyhole in the door that quite by accident functioned as a pin-hole lens and projected the activities of the street onto the wall opposite. That became Hector’s world of impressions. He said it was this experience (he did not say how long it lasted) that was his first photography. ...

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pp. 38-39

On a whim, I taped a piece of white paper to the front of the television set and used that as a screen. After looking at the slides and editing them, I took down the paper. Later that day, I turned on the television. I had a strange feeling. I put the white paper back and projected the slides again. Then, I watched television again. ...

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Exercise #5: First Assignment

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pp. 40

It is commonplace to think that photographing involves finding something interesting, taking a picture of it, putting away the camera until something else interesting is noticed, taking a picture of that, and so on. This may not be the most profound use of the medium. ...

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Contrast and Value in Black & White & Color

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pp. 41

In black and white photography the contrast (lightness next to darkness) is created by the amount or percentage of light reflected from any given area as seen from the point of view of the lens. A dark object reflects less of the light falling on it than a light one. Modern black and white films are panchromatic. ...

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Exercise #6: Watching Light

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pp. 42

When I was a student at the San Francisco Art Institute, we had a senior seminar class with Fred Martin. It took place in a large room with a skylight. There were people who worked in every medium and we would discuss our work. We met from four to seven in the afternoon and Fred Martin would not let us turn on the lights. ...

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The Zone System

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pp. 43-44

In the fall of 1958, I began to study photography at the California School of Fine Arts. Later the name changed to the San Francisco Art Institute. One of the classes required of all photography students (there were about 10 of us) was with Ansel Adams. ...

Exercise #7: Photographing Light

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pp. 45

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Developing Film

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pp. 46-47

My aim, as I said in the introduction, isn’t to write yet another book on how to develop film. At the same time, I’ve chosen to include some technical information that might be helpful. Experience has shown me that if I figure out and follow up the development of film in a very controlled way, ...

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Short Takes #2: Big Prints

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pp. 48

Ever since the power people decided that photography is an Art, just as in creating God in man’s image rather than the other way around, a lot of people are trying to make photographs that look like Art rather than enlarging the concept of what art is or what it should look like. ...

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Editing and Printing Black & White Photographs

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pp. 49-53

Over the years, I have met many people who say they love photography, but hate film development and printing. When I ask them about where they work, it’s generally some variation of ‘in the cellar behind the furnace with a plastic tent on a bridge table, no air and water 40 feet away.’ ...

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The Digital ‘Revolution’

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pp. 54-56

Both couples eyes are cast down and they are speaking of their love in shy, quiet tones. Their hands are folded on their laps. This, you must admit, is not an uncommon situation; it could be happening right now on a park bench somewhere. ...

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The Critique

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pp. 57-59

The following is a description of how I try to conduct a critique. I don’t claim that it is either the correct or the ‘best’ way, but simply a system that has developed over the last 35 years or so and suits my thinking and spirit. It is quite effective in my classes. ...

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How To Do a Portrait

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pp. 60-62

If I have something essential to communicate to another person, probably a good way to do this is to sit a reasonable distance from them and look straight at them as they look straight at me ‘eye-to-eye.’ If I am sitting on a lower seat than the other person or if they other person is standing and I am sitting, ...

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Exercise #8: Self-Portrait

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pp. 63

Probably the most useful aspect of the self-portrait exercise is that the photographer has to give up some amount of control (I don’t know what the picture will look like). This can introduce a person to the idea of ‘chance’ as art-making. ...

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pp. 64-67

I began to realize that the content of street photography is often based on a kind of criticism or at least a sense of irony. The photographer is in a superior position to the subject as an observer who can isolate and shift context through choice of frame and timing of exposure. ...

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Short Takes #3: Straight Photography

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pp. 68

The very myth of the ‘straight’ photograph is one of the most misleading aspects in the history of the medium. There never was any such thing. It sets up camps and prevents us from understanding what we have as a medium and what we can do with it. ...

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Digital Revisited

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pp. 69-70

We were speaking of the ‘digital darkroom.’ A bit of an oxymoron, but it’s the term of the day. In pre-digital photography, a person chooses a set of tools and materials and then feels free to push as hard as possible on the limits of that particular medium. In other words, the very limitations create the arena for the struggle to take place. ...

Short Takes #4: Ghetto

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pp. 71

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Content – Context – Influence

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pp. 72-74

I know that my photographs are influenced by photographers, painters, and writers of the past. They are also informed by my genetics, physical type, mental skills, perhaps even my astrological configuration. They are certainly affected by my upbringing, the culture of my youth and the culture of the present. ...

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Neoteny – The End

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pp. 75

When I was leaving my full-time teaching job last fall, I was speaking with John Levine on the telephone. John is a psychiatrist, who teaches at Harvard Medical School. He was in the first photography class I taught and became interested in the relationship between photographic, musical and emotional tone. ...

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9781933360706
Print-ISBN-13: 9780975965115
Print-ISBN-10: 0975965115

Page Count: 80
Illustrations: 3
Publication Year: 2005

Edition: Second