Department of Visual and Performing Arts

Photography instructor Stephen DiRado uses peer critiques and robust class discussions to inspire his students and their work. Here, DiRado and his students, Tristan Dimmick '07, John Haught '08, Annie Cohn'09 and Alexis Millett '08, discuss photography at Clark.

How can you teach someone to be a good photographer?

Prof. Dirado: My mission as a teacher is to help students see the visual world from a unique perspective. Whatever they choose as a profession, my goal is that they take this experience and apply it to enrich their daily lives. This can apply to fields outside the arts in the sense that a future doctor can momentarily leave stress behind on their job to escape into the world with a camera and find solace. A Zen experience of sorts, with the camera and personal time acting as a form of therapy.

Do you have a particular teaching technique?

Prof. Dirado: I want each student to be an individual in the classroom. We bring in their ideas, their ideologies, and their philosophies and make a self portrait. I also push them to learn from each other. My classes include peer critiques. Every week students put their work up on the wall and we talk about it. I'm very proud of the fact that every week the walls of our classroom are just imploding with material.

We're also very lucky to have Frank Armstrong to help teach some of my classes with me. He's an accomplished photographer who I pulled out of retirement a number of years ago. Frank is a great asset to the class adding old world experience with our new world techniques. He's incredibly passionate and has more energy than all of us in this room put together.

Annie: Steven and Frank are really amazing professors. You can tell they really love photography. They make you think about your work, and let you take it as far as you can--always making you want to strive for the next level. They want you to succeed no matter what your goals are. There are people who are doing photography as a hobby. Then there are people who want to go into it professionally. Either way, Stephen and Frank are willing to help you reach your goals.

Alexis: You get so much private attention. When I started studying digital photography and printing a little bit differently, Frank set me up with my own color-head enlarger and taught me how to use. That's the kind of attention they will give you to help you do your best work.

Why learn black and white photography when you can do so much with digital photography and computer programs like PhotoShop?

John: There's something classic about black and white. It's harder, so you appreciate it more. I have a digital camera, and it's easy to snap pictures at parties. I have 800 pictures on it. But for this class, I only have 36 pictures to make the photograph you want, so it makes you pay attention to each shot.

Tristan: Digital photography just doesn't have the same substance as something on a piece of film that I take in the darkroom and actually print. With black and white you are part of every step. You take the picture, meter it, figure out what kind of angle and frame you want, and then you process it in the darkroom. You put the chemicals in and see it appear, and that's just all of you. There's something so fantastic about that process. It's all in your hands so you have complete control. And when you walk out into the light for the first time and you see the black and white image that has been completely crafted by you every step of the way, it's just a fantastic feeling.

What are the class assignments?

Tristan: We're really free to pursue absolutely whatever we want. What is expected of us is progressive work every week; we are expected to come in and put up new work on the wall, not just something we've done weeks before, but something we did that week.

DiRado: I always tell my student that at the end of the semester, what's expected of these guys is the best of their work all semester long. They're editing hundreds of photos, some folks thousands of photos. From those, they select and hang up 10 or 15 of their most beautiful, opulent, and shiny little pearls for their final presentation.

Do photography classes integrate with other V & PA classes?

John: I'm a studio art major and have taken a lot of painting classes. I think there's a huge crossover with art, photography and painting. It's similar to how you create your masterpiece—you need to have a balance of darks, lights, shadows, highlights, what's popping out, what's not. It's the same thing when you're looking through your camera lens.

What do you think of the Traina Center?

Tristan: The photography facilities in Traina are great. There is never a time where there aren't enough enlargers, or you're waiting in line to process film. The hours are really exceptional. You can come here early in the morning and stay late at night.

John: Last semester I was here as a full-time student. People would ask me where I live, and I jokingly said 'Traina.' It was then I realized what a great community feeling there is in this building. There is a lot of that harmony in the building. It's an incredible environment for a student body with an art focus.