Teaching Winter Session, Week 1

Writer and photography / Nancy Breslin

Nancy Breslin is teaching alternative photographic processes at the Uni. Here we can follow her five week course.

Since 2001 I have been a part-time  instructor in the Art Department at the University of Delaware. My favorite course to teach, no surprise, is Alternative Photographic Processes. Before last spring I had always taught it as a 5 week course. UD has regular spring and fall semesters but also 5 week winter and summer sessions, designed in part to accommodate the popularity of its study abroad programs. Last spring was the first chance I had to teach Alt Photo as a full semester class, and that was great. But this winter I’m back to the task of squeezing those 14 weeks into 5.

Nikon vs. Cat Camera
Nikon vs. Cat Camera: no contest!

Fortunately (for me and the students) I have a small class of eight. Fewer students mean more time with each, but I suppose that this week most didn’t feel they had enough of my attention, since we had so much to do. I started the first day with the history of photography, with both slides and a show-and-tell from my collection of historic prints such as stereocards, tintypes and a daguerreotype. I then introduced them to the processes they’ll be learning: cyanotype, VDB, and gum printing, working with pinhole and toy cameras, and some alternative silver gelatin approaches (solarization and lumen printing). The next day focused on the digital negatives they will need for some of these processes, as well as how to coat paper and load 120 film. Today everyone made an initial cyanotype, which we did outdoors despite the cold weather and the access to UV units (I want everyone to feel empowered to continue some these processes in the future without having to invest in pricey equipment). I demonstrated how to mix gum chemistry, and wrapped up with a visit to the camera obscura. After 10 minutes in the dark they came out smiling. Today had an added complication, as a local paper is doing a story about winter session classes, so we were joined for part of the class by a journalist and a photographer. My head was spinning, and the last student and I finally left over an hour after the end of class time.

I love all sorts of alternative approaches, so can’t help showing the students some things that aren’t formally part of the class. Yesterday I showed some anthotypes I had done (along with Malin’s great new book), and today I brought in two fun cameras – my Blackbird Fly (most of them had never handled a twin lens camera) and my Necono Cat Camera. The newspaper photographer was taken with the latter, and wanted a good shot of it. I used the cat camera to shoot him while he shot me.

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