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Developing photographers at VHS

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Editor’s Note: October’s edition highlighted student athletes. Over the next few months, the South County News will spotlight the arts in our area and schools.

An interview with Tony Lindeman, VHS photography teacher

How do you develop student photographers?
I look at skill development from several angles: 1) technical aspects in relation to light, cameras, and developing equipment (darkroom/CPUs/software) and compositional aspects in relation to photography. 

What equipment is used?
At VHS we are currently in the process of implementing more mirrorless cameras into our current inventory of DSLR cameras. I have always used digital Nikon cameras. They offer lens sharpness, user-friendly features and rugged body styles. I’ve used Nikon cameras for over a decade now and have yet to have one come back broken due to a drop.

We still have film cameras in our inventory, as archaic as that sounds. I use the Canon Rebel K2 cameras as their multiple exposure features really appeal to our student population. I value the film format in the sense that it truly emphasizes one of photography’s most valuable lessons: Visualize the final image before depressing the shutter, recognize the lighting you’re working with, balance your exposure, frame the subject from multiple perspectives, and fill your card.

What do you emphasize?
With photography I emphasize the triangle of exposure; aperture, film speed, and shutter. Those are the three ways of altering the way light is recorded (on film or a sensor). Understanding how those principles of exposure impact the final image is critical to a successful photographer. When I teach composition to students, the main emphasis is perspective. I tell them to ask themselves this question: “How can I turn an ordinary subject and make it extraordinary?” Viewing angles and how you choose to capture a subject can take a common subject and turn it into an award-winning shot. You also must keep an eye on your background and eliminate unnecessary elements. I also preach the phrase, “keep it simple.” Move in or zoom in on the important elements to tell your story through the photo.

Do you offer independent study?
Unlocking someone’s passion to tell their story or keep creating is my job during independent study — students who are willing to research and put in the time excel. I do guide them, but students who have a great work ethic and sound research skills really thrive. 

What does the future hold for photography students?
Students have always been attracted to the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts High School Area Show in the early spring. Our students have won numerous scholarships from colleges. It is a juried show and always brings out the best of the best. It’s a target show and one that always gets marked on our calendars.

We have had several students become successful photographers. Most will keep it as a hobby. Most keep their love for photography alive by future courses or starting a side business. Trevor Ritsema is a local photographer in Kalamazoo and is highly regarded and successful. Jaymie Gapayao is a very talented and creative photographer. Liz Weddon is now a graphic/web designer and lead photographer at Kzoom. Sami Trimble and a number of other former students still photograph on the side as a hobby for clients. I always tell my students you will be using these skills daily for the rest of your life. 

What do you find rewarding?
What I find the most rewarding is simple — it’s about the relationship. If you want to get the most out of a student, you better be able to talk to that student about subjects outside of your content. It must be genuine as well. If it’s the beginning of bow season, I talk strategies, equipment, and weather with my students who hunt. Yesterday I saw a student wearing a metal t-shirt, and I began singing a tune to her and it turned into a great conversation. I have a passion for sports. Pay attention to a student’s extracurricular activities and their passions is what I’d tell educators. Invest in students and their interests if you want them to take great photos or create extraordinary works of art. I peeked my head into the prayer club (as I recognized a song) after school and a student asked me to pray for them. These things are powerful to me.

What’s most rewarding?
I could easily answer the question with a certain photograph or drawing but it goes well beyond the work…it’s the person behind the camera, paint brush, or pencil.

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