Teaching on the go

We are in the final few days of our time here in China. As the last blogger, I have been given the task to sum up this whirlwind last three weeks in 750 words or less. Here we go.

Our course is a bit different from many other j-term classes. If you have been following the students' blogs, you may have noticed that they spent a lot of time roaming the streets of Hong Kong in groups, cameras in hand. Of course, we toured some major sites together and spent many mornings engaged in either technical lessons or discussions, but the majority of their time was spent on their own.

In these last few days, we've settled in at the Mei Ho House in Sham Shui Po where the students have begun sorting through thousands of images, looking for themes, commonalities, and most importantly, photographs that move beyond the simple tourist shot to say something--anything--about Hong Kong, about China, about the world beyond the confines of the classroom.

It isn't easy. As Aaron and I remind them, you may have a great story that goes with an image, but if the composition fails to come together, it doesn't make the cut. You might have a beautiful image, but one that could have been taken anywhere. These images have to go also. Formal qualities and content have to work hand in hand in street photography.

Because they have honed their critique skills over the last three weeks and have grown to trust one another, much of this final culling was done collaboratively. Now Aaron has 280 final images loaded onto his hard drive, representing the best twenty photographs from each student.

It would be a fallacy to say that these fourteen students have any kind of deep understanding of what it is like to live in this new China. That kind of knowledge takes a lifetime of study. But they do know what it's like to wander the streets and catch the rhythms of a neighborhood. They've had to tune out the sounds and distractions of the city as they worked through an assignment, but to tune back in again when assignments dictated.

They know what it is like to be hopelessly in the way of people just trying to go about the business of their lives. They understand the awkwardness of trying to communicate across significant language barriers. But they also have grown to value the smile or slight nod of someone who pauses momentarily to have their portrait taken.

Perhaps the most important lesson learned, is how to be a traveler and not a tourist. As Aaron reminded the students, a traveler is open and brave, and jumps at a chance to immerse him or herself in a new culture. Although their final portfolios may be incomplete and imperfect records, they reflect each students' personal experience encountering the complexity of modern China. The results are pretty spectacular. We hope you can see it for yourself. Join us for our opening reception, Saturday, February 7 from 6 to 8pm in Union Gallery.

The classroom
We love coffee
Group Critique