All Images, reflections, memories and fabrications ©2011 Tony Hernandez Photography

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The real world, college photography and, J.C. Pennys

High school was over. It was time to get a job, or go to college. I decided to do both. With a "not so stellar" academic record in my hands, enrolling at Phoenix College would be the first step. I was tired of the same old people and the same old stories. Everyone I knew who wasn't going to some prestigious school was going to Mesa Community College, the "default school of choice" for my high school. I figured Phoenix college would be a good change. It was far enough away as to add new people in my world, without having to change my life completely. Phoenix College, or "FK" as it is know to the ASU crowd, is a small community college in the downtown area. The demographic of the school is a bit older but, the overall crowd is still students fresh out of high school, with a generous dose of adults looking to change things up a bit. It would be here, that I would take some basic classes in order to attend the Art Center school of design in California. That was my plan at the time so, English, psychology, art and history classes were on the agenda. I figured since I was there, a photography class might be interesting while also giving me access to a darkroom if I needed to do some printing. The school was kind of known for it's photography department because of it's teachers. A couple were professor types and a couple were actual working professionals who supplemented their income by teaching part time. My first "teacher" was a crazy, distracted, boob obsessed professor type who had published a book or two so, he "was the man" in FK's photography department. He was a very confusing guy when it came to his critiques of student work. Some of the photographs he raved about were terrible technically, and visually, but he liked them and that was that. While other photographs he panned outright were some of the nicest shots I had seen to that date. He once got into an argument about a students "opinion" on a photograph which led to the guy walking out of the class, never to return. I was shooting a lot of skateboarding at the time. [It was the "new fad" that kids of the late 70s were doing all over the country.] When I wasn't at home, school or work, I was at the skatepark or an empty pool with my board and camera. The photos I would submit for class were shots of my friends skating. The class thought they were great. They had never seen anyone ride a swimming pool on a skateboard before [it was a very new thing at the time] so the shots would amaze them. My teacher, on the other hand, "didn't understand" what he was seeing. "Why is that boy in the air?" he would ask. "It looks like he's balancing on one wheel" he would say. I would just roll my eyes in the darkened classroom as my photos flashed on the screen through the slide projector. His idea of great photographs seemed to revolve around topless women with animal heads riding rhinos. Or, just topless women with animal heads ... period. A noble choice for him but, not exactly the kind of instruction I was looking for. As an adult, I now "kind of get" what he was going for as an instructor. He was less about the technical side of photography, [which is why I enrolled in the class] and more about the artistic side. During one of our classes, he was trying to convey a concept of thinking that no one was getting. Frustrated, he blurts out, "it's kind of like when your on acid!". At that moment, one of my classmates looks at me right as I look at him. We both begin to laugh out loud but tried to turn it into a cough so he wouldn't get pissed at us. Instead, he looks right at us and says, "See! those guys get it!" We again look at each other and bust out laughing. We didn't get it. We just thought it was a funny to imagine this crazy guy on psychodelic drugs. While it did explain the topless women with animal heads for me, it didn't add the photographic knowledge I was seeking. With frustration in the teacher growing, I found it harder and harder to make it to class. I finally just stopped going about midway through the semester. While still making it to my other classes, I had taken a part time job at J.C. Penny's camera department and I was starting to pick up more hours of work. When my report card came to the house after that semester, it was very good for me. Much better than my high school grades except for one class, Photography 101. There, on my above average report card, was an "F". It was the first time I have ever gotten an F in anything. And of all things to bag out on, it was photography.

After 30 years in the photography business, I still look back on that F with pride.

Why? Because people told me time after time, over and over, about my "high school dream" and how it would never work. How it was time to forget about being a photographer and get a "real job".

                                                                    ©2010 Tony Hernandez Photography