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John Willis

The emphasis on photographic studies at Marlboro is fine art in nature, although photography is ideally suited for interdisciplinary work in all fields of study. The course structure emphasizes the study of the medium as a form of personal vision and visual communication. The courses accommodate individual needs and interests and are technically, critically and historically relevant to contemporary culture. Students explore seeing artistically, the production of imagery and the possibilities for presentation most appropriate to content. Courses throughout the liberal arts tradition assist students in exploration and development of personal vision.

Photography provides us with a means to explore the world and our existence within it. I continually strive to heighten my sensitivity in life, and when I photograph, I choose subject matter that is important to me. The photographs themselves, as with the process of seeing, must strike me on a personal level in order for me to appreciate an image. As Frederick Sommer liked to say, “It is not subject matter, but a subject that matters.”

I have always attempted to find a balance between aesthetic and communicative concerns. At times, I feel like a modernist in a postmodern world. When I consider myself a postmodernist, it’s due to my concern with the social and political implications an image presents from the conception through creation and on to the presentation’s final expression. When I consider myself a modernist, it’s because I am more invested in the metaphorical interpretations in each step of the process and the image that is ultimately created, and I am always searching to be moved by the image’s aesthetic beauty.

Areas of Interest for Plan-level Work:

  • Photography and its relationship to other areas of study through its various genres, techniques and theoretical approaches.

Starting Points (Basic and Introductory Courses)

This course provides an introductory foundation to black and white photography and a select introduction to digital photographic processes. Students will learn basic camera operation, film exposure, black and white film development and enlargement printing, along with some digital skills such as negative scanning and inkjet printing. Through the course of the semester students will complete photographic assignments, give an artist presentation and produce a final project of their own design. Student work will be discussed regularly in critique where visual communication will be emphasized alongside technique. Materials fee required. Having use of a camera with full manual operation capabilities is required, although the school has some to loan out. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

This course provides an introduction to black and white 35mm photography. Students will learn basic camera operation, film exposure and development and printing. Student work will be discussed regularly in critique where visual communication will be emphasized alongside technique. The course will also introduce some of the fundamental issues and movements within the history of photography. Materials fee required (manual 35mm camera will be helpful). Prerequisite: None    Introductory | Credits: 4

THE COMPLETE DIGITAL WORKFLOW (ART2237) This course will be a hands-on step-by-step course of the complete digital workflow from the digital capture in cameras and scanners to camera raw processing, use of Photoshop, color management and the fine print. Prerequisite: Introduction to B/W Photography or permission of instructor     Introductory | Credits: 2 Pursuing Interests (Intermediate and Thematic Courses)

MORE THAN ONE: VISUAL NARRATIVE & EXPLORING DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY WORKFLOW (ART931) Any image juxtaposed against others takes on new meaning. The content-based discussion in half of the course will explore the possibilities and transformations created in visual imagery when presented in combination with other imagery. The work may incorporate text and literal narrative or may be based in more abstract and formal relationships. The other half of the course, on alternate class days, will explore digital photography techniques including: digital photographic workflow, cameras, scanners, color management, Photoshop and fine art printing. Prerequisite: Intro to Black and White Photography or permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

PHOTOGRAPHIC PROCESSES FROM HOMEMADE AND TOY CAMERAS TO DIGITAL (ART2228) Through a series of exercises we will explore photographic methods and processes, beginning with handmade and toy cameras, right on to advanced digital cameras, view cameras, and studio lighting. Printing processes will span some work in 19th-century techniques, analog darkroom and digital lightroom. Intermediate | Credits: 4

THE CONSTRUCTED REALITY (ART701) The histories of photography and, more recently, sculpture/ installation art, are rife with examples of artists who are not content to simply observe reality as it exists but who find it necessary to construct their own. This course will focus on the conjunction of the disciplines of sculpture and photography and provide a venue for students to make work that reflects their own constructed reality. The end product of the work of this class will sometimes be photographs and, in other projects, sculpture. Both skills will be employed in each. Objects and spaces will be transformed and become the subject of new work. Students will be encouraged to work collaboratively. Prerequisite: Introduction to Photography or permission of instructor Intermediate | Credits: 4

THE NARRATIVE IN PHOTOGRAPHY (ART2274) This course will explore the use of narrative in photography, with and without inclusion of text. We will research and create narrative works in various forms from constructed fiction to the observed non-fictional and documentary. Prerequisites: Introduction to B/W Photography on the college level or permission of instructor.     Intermediate | Credits: 4

This course will examine the history of photographic documentary in the U.S. from post-Civil War era through the present. Focusing on work by Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, Robert Frank and several contemporary photographers, we will attempt to become familiar with the basic contours of the documentary “canon” and with the shifting meanings of the term “documentary” itself. We will approach the photographs as both formal texts in an evolving photographic tradition, and as documents of cultural history—that is, as texts that are densely interwoven with the social, economic, political and cultural dimensions of the period in which they were viewed and made. Team-taught with Kate Ratcliff, professor of American studies. Prerequisite: None     Introductory| Credits: 4

Two semesters required. Art Seminar Critique is a two-credit course required of juniors and seniors on Plan in the visual arts. It meets weekly and provides an opportunity for students to share the work they are doing on Plan and a forum for discussion of pertinent issues.     Advanced | Credits: 2

This is a seminar for all students on Plan in photography. Prerequisite: Submission of Plan application or instructor’s permission     Advanced | Credits: 4

Intermediate/Advanced Level Tutorials

Typically tutorials may be given to students who have taken photography courses and have a specific need that does not fit as well into the existing course curriculum. Students interested in having a tutorial with John Willis should submit a written proposal including the purpose of the tutorial, a syllabus, their goals, needs and expectations for the tutorial. Once the proposals for coming term have been submitted they will be considered and discussed with students.

Sample Tutorial Topics

  • A Study in Portraiture Techniques
  • Advanced Darkroom Technique & Exhibition Preparation
  • Advanced Photographic Processes
  • Documentary Fieldwork Intensive
  • Independent Study of Landscape Photography
  • Photography: Controlling the Frame
  • Social Documentary Project
  • Web Design for the Visual Artist
  • 19th-Century Process Internship at Renaissance Press
  • Advanced Portfolio Creation
  • Advanced Studio Photography
  • Designing and Implementing a Cross Cultural Youth Class
  • Large Format Photography & The Zone System
  • A Sense of Place: A Documentary Photography Tutorial