Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Photography of Koo Sung Soo: How Do We See The World

I am convinced that how we are shaped culturally influences what we shoot and how we frame the world.  While much our influences in the West have been that of white male photographers and as a result this has skewed how we appreciate photography produced by other cultures.   In my recent research I have sought to answer this burning question:  How does who we are from a cultural and ethnic perspective influence the images we create?  In my quest to answer this question I have expanded the photographer’s work I look at to go beyond that of the canon prescribed to us via western dominance and hegemony in the world of photography.  To this end I have found the work of Koo Sung Soo to be very refreshing and eye opening.

Koo Sung Soo was born in Seoul, Korea in 1970.  He creates large-scale photographs that have the canny ability to make see the familiar in new and interesting ways.  He has a creative edge to his framing and use of color.  He shoots with a large format 8” x 10” camera and I am sure this choice of camera influence how he shoots and what he shoots.  You can see that his images are well composed and thoughtful.  His use of color and light are exquisite.  The images present a tension that mesmerizes invites the viewer.  His work clearly has a deeper message than appears at first glance.  His work demands that you sit with it.   His images are thoughtful, visual strong and intriguing.  The compositions use light, symbols and color to create relationships that begs further reflection. 

You can see in Soo’s work the influences of his culture as he interrogates his culture like only he can.  His familiarity with his culture empowers him to see it in unique ways and his work exhibits this uniqueness.  What is your thing?  What do you bring to your work?  What makes your work stand out?  How does your cultural / socialization influence your work in a good way?  Are you conscious of how your cultural background frames what you see and what you shoot?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Reframing the Future: The Power and Purpose of Sabbatical

“I believe in living with the camera, and not using the camera.  Suddenly, if you are working a lot, it takes over and then you see meaning in everything.  You don’t have to push for it.  That’s what I mean by visual life.  Very rare.”
Dorothea Lange

I just finished a year long sabbatical.  I returned to the classroom at Columbia Theological Seminary this July and I realized how much I missed this place that I love.  I missed my colleagues and students more than words can say.   I return seeing the world differently after spending this past year working fulltime on my MFA in photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

The faculty and my student colleagues at SCAD pushed me to live in the visual world.  For one year I was immersed in a world that demanded that I see and experience the world like I had never done.  My eyes were opened and I now see my world, the classroom and my teaching vocation in a totally different light.  It was through the viewfinder that I saw the world and myself in a new light.

I return to the classroom as an artist who teaches.  Teaching is not what I do but rather the classroom becomes a darkroom where light enters and we see what emerges from the developing process.  I come back to CTS and I am approaching my teaching as an art and my students and I are the artists. SCAD helped me own my calling as an artist.  I was forced to look inside and ask hard question about the stories I was called to tell through still images, video and my blog.  This was hard work but work well worth it.

I had never had the privilege in all my years of higher education to be able to focus fulltime on my studies and not also have fulltime job responsibilities. My sabbatical allowed me to focus fulltime on my work at SCAD and as I result I was transformed.  I also saw what an advantage it is for students to be able to commit fulltime to their schoolwork and not have to worry about how they are going to eat.

I return to Columbia Theological Seminary sharing what I have learned at SCAD.  I return to teach Evangelism, Photography and Social Media.  I have an energetic class who has jumped right in and they doing great work.  My sabbatical served to help me reframe my future at CTS and my work as a socio-theologian who is also a visual storyteller.  SCAD help me see the world and myself in new ways and I am eternally grateful to my professors who pushed me in each and every class. I will take what they taught me and share it with my students. 

What about you?  Where are you going at this phase in your life?  What is that thing or experience that has the possibility of helping you reframe your future?  As hard as the work has been at SCAD, and the party isn’t over yet, it was worth every minute.  What challenge awaits you with the promise of transformation?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What A Difference a Year Makes: What is working in you?

For the past year I have been a full time student!  Yes, a full time student at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) working on my MFA in Photography.  While I have been at SCAD for two years this year I was full time and on sabbatical from Columbia Theological Seminary.  This was the first time in my educational career that I wasn’t working full time and in school full time.  For all of my previous degrees I had to work full time to put myself through school.  I can’t tell you what a privilege it was to be able to dedicate myself to the work of working on my craft and me.  I was able to immerse myself in a visual world and as a resul I see totally different.

What I have found is that it takes giving yourself fully to something if you hope to be transformed.  I had to let go of how I saw the world through the viewfinder and allow the images and the work to find me.  I had to let go of trying to make a picture and let the picture make me.  I spent as much time studying photography as I did making pictures.  These two go together, doing the work and mastering the intellectual and visual history of the field work in tandum. If you don’t give yourself fully to understanding the field you want be involved in you have no base to work from and you need a base. 

As I have followed the transformation of Auburn Avenue I have been transformed.    I finished this year ready for my thesis exhibition, which will be:
Faith in Sweet Auburn: The Next Chapter
Friday, October 16, 2015 @ 7:00 to 9:30 p.m.
Apex Museum
135 Auburn Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30303
(404) 523-2739

This was a lot of work and it was more about me than it was about the images, videos and blogs I produced.  I was transformed by doing the work, letting go and allowing the process of study and making work transform me into a photographer.  While this has been hard work it has been very rewarding.  What is that challenge you need to take on at this point in your journey that has the potential to transform you?  Where is the creator trying to develop you and grow you so that your work at this phase in your life will have a greater impact than your former work?  What is going in you that has the promise of re-inventing you?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

This Is Not New: The Police and the African American Community

In April of 1967 (and here we are in April of 2015) the Black Panther Party found themselves in Richmond California to address the murder of Denzil Dowell who had been killed at the hands of the police.

The Black Panther Party ten point plan #7:

7.  We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of Black people.

The Party organized police patrols to monitor police action in the community using cameras to record the police.  They were organized for action to stop what had been happening for years.  We shouldn’t be surprised by the actions of the police but rather we should proactively look back at the organizations that have been undermined who fought to protect us.  We need to resurrect the principles of some of our most enlightened freedom fighting organizations and tailor them for a new era.  We don’t have to reinvent the wheel but just update the engine.

The Ten Point Plan of the Black Panther Party

How the FBI undermined the Black Panther Party

While we remember the guns and how this organization was portrayed as a violent organization this was not the root of the Panthers.  The Panthers were not violent but rather they were trying to find a way to respond to the violence they were victims of at the hands of the police state in which they found themselves.  As we move forward let us look back and remember our history. 
Some Questions

What organizational tactics and organizations might inform how we organize and move forward? 
What can we glean from the ancestors who stand with us today?
How can we sit with the elders and let them teach us and walk with us as we empower the next generation freedom fighters?
How do we work to empower young, indigenous, grassroots leaders in our communities?
Who should be the leaders of these organizations? 
How are the masses to be involved in organization and leadership of such organizations?
Is the church, as it is presently configured, the natural place for this plan of action to germinate?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Doing You Makes All the Difference in the World: The Transformative Power in the Excellence of Teaching

Dr. Karcheik Sims- Alvarado and Dr. Sarah Cook
Historians make sure we don’t forget to remember.  As I work on my Faith in Sweet Auburn project I am amazed by the hard work our local historians are doing.  They are telling the story and bringing our ancestors back to life.  Yesterday I attended Honoring the Herndon Legacy an Honors College presentation at Georgia State University.  The students from the class of Dr. Karcheik Sims-Alvarado presented their research on one of Atlanta’s the greatest citizens, Mr. Alonzo Herndon.  Dr. Sims-Alvarado’s class was HONORS 3260: Alonzo Herndon and the Business of Civil Rights.  The students learned how Alonzo Herndon connected his business enterprise to the work of freedom.  For Herndon it wasn’t all about money but rather it was about how his work could support the freedom of his people, his city and his country.  The students did an outstanding job sharing their research findings and how this particular class had transformed them. These students weren’t history majors but they took this class and they were amazed by what they learned.   They stepped out of their comfort zone and as result they learned something that will forever shape their lives and how they see Atlanta.

Dr. Sims-Alvarado had done what all of us who are teachers hope to do. We hope that our students will fully engage the subject matter, own it as their own and allow the work of education to inform and liberate. In this case we saw the power of quality teaching in action.  Not only were the students exposed to great teaching but they were also in touch with local historians like Nasir Muhammad, Herman “Skip” Mason and living legends like Lonnie King, Roberta Phillips, Rev. C. T. Vivian and so many more.  She brought the stories to life and the students talked as if they had come in contact with Alonzo Herndon and the period in history in which he lived.  As a fellow professor I sat there in utter amazement.  The power of contextual learning with innovative pedagogy, learning goals and outcomes was evidenced right before my eyes.  I wanted to shout, “Now this is good teaching!”

The support that Dr. Sims-Alvarado has gotten from Dr. Sarah Cook, Associate Dean, has been outstanding.  Dr. Cook is committed to the work of Dr. Sims-Alvarado and making sure we don’t forget our local history.  This partnership inspired me and I am sure with the work of these two great scholars and so many more in our city we will not forget to remember.  As I continue to work on my project I am continually inspired by the great people I meet along the way who are doing the work of making sure our city remembers the blood, sweat and tears those who came before us.  We stand on their shoulders.  Yesterday I was called to remember the Herndon Legacy.  Who should you be remembering?  Who paved the way for you to enjoy what you are enjoying today?  What ancestors name should you yell out today and tell them thank you?
Rev. C. T. Vivian and Mr. Lonnie King (PhD candidate at Georgia State University)
“If I thought that anything with which I was connected would always be small, I would not want to be in it.”
Alonzo F. Herndon