This past Sunday, S. and I decided to drop in G.’s photography class. I was expecting a small group of students but when I walked into the old elementary school classroom, where the lectures were held, I was wrong. The windowed classroom with an old chalkboard and an overhead projector screen overlay, housed around 30 or more photography students. In the front was a petite, Vietnamese man in his 70s, wearing a dark brown sweater with a simple crisscross white pattern and black trousers. As we snuck in, I was a bit taken back by the words I overheard the teacher spoke. It wasn’t the broken Vietnamese that I usually sputter out when I spoke to my parents. It was fluent Vietnamese. His spoke with poetic phrases and imagery that I could “see” the things he was explaining. I was drawn to his monologue. As I struggled to understand the new Vietnamese words, I would be thrown off course occasionally by the spontaneous English words that would be cleverly hidden in the Vietnamese sentences from time to time. To show in reverse language, he would say something like, “to learn photography, you must “hieu” the basics.” I would be like, wait, what? Oh, that’s Vietnamese. (By the way, “hieu” means “to understand.”) Even though I could only understand about 2/3 of the lecture, my poor friend, S., had trouble understanding the ENTIRE lecture. She’s not Vietnamese, but half British, half Irish. 🙂 ( G. and I didn’t leave her in the dark. We explained to her what was going on from time to time. )
Occasionally, I would do a quick glance around the classroom. These Asian photography students were twice our years in age and wisdom. They filled the room with high spirits and zeal for learning. This comfortable and enthusiastic atmosphere reminded me of how little enthusiasm I had when I was a college student. I wondered if it’s the topic or maybe these students REALLY enjoyed learning…even on a Sunday? Eh, possibly both?
From the lecture, I learned that Conceptual Photography is an effective method to convey an idea to the audience. It is very powerful if used well. One of the questions the professor asked was, “Should our photographs show what we took or what we feel from our hearts?” We all quietly waited to hear his answer. He explained, we should let our hearts guide us through taking the photographs and communicate the ideas or issues to the viewers. He also said that the challenging parts in doing conceptual photography are picking a topic and coming up with ideas on how to take the photographs. “If the audience doesn’t understand the photograph, then you fail to convey the idea to the audience. Don’t just take a picture of a toilet and expect others to understand.” the professor stated. Photography is like drawing,or painting, or writing, all need us to creatively and cleverly express ourselves to others.
One of the interesting images he showed us was this one beautiful, abstract looking photograph. My first thought was silk cloth in water? What do you guys think?
Believe it or not, it’s a plastic bag!! If you take a second look, you can see that this is a ripped, and EXTREMELY old plastic bag. Who knows how long it wandered aimlessly on this earth before this photographer rescued it? Huang Xu, the photographer, had transformed this old, trash bag into a beautiful piece of art. The teacher pointed out that this addressed the issue of pollution. Something as permanent like this plastic bag can stay on this earth “forever.” We can throw these plastic bags out in five seconds, and their existence seem to disappear from our lives, and yet, they are still here. Perhaps I should reconsider throwing out plastic utensils and bags…and recycle them… ( my guilty conscience is now nagging me, thanks Huang Xu. Just kidding. )
After this class, I want to take conceptual photographs of my own! I will post my work up soon!
I hope that these images can inspire you to go out and create your own conceptual photographs!
I must admit, I’m addicted to Facebook.