Worth a Thousand Words
Twelve students from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC) and the School of Visual Communication Design (VCD) will travel to Florence, Italy, for Kent State University’s inaugural Photography in Florence program this spring semester.
Led by JMC Lecturer David LaBelle and VCD Assistant Professor Tim Bell, the seven photojournalism and five photography majors will take two new courses to add a global perspective to their portfolios. LaBelle will teach both “Faces of Florence” and “Human Influence on Landscape” and will collaborate with Bell on the latter.
“For at least three years, I’ve been trying to get this to happen,” LaBelle said. “We needed to do this. A lot of our photojournalism students would go over there and come back with images that weren’t what they needed to be. There was no direction for them photographically. Our students need more depth, more variety in their portfolios to be competitive for jobs and for competitions. This allows us to take them to a different environment – a richer visual environment – where there’s a lot more potential.”
Both LaBelle and Bell said that Amy Reynolds, Ph.D., dean of the College of Communication and Information, was instrumental in getting this program off the ground and across the sea.
“Amy was the first person to ever really listen to this,” LaBelle said. “She said, ‘My gosh, this is a great idea. I’d love to do it.’ So she starts making it happen. She’s a can-do person. She’s a visionary. She sees the potential for this. Some of the buzzwords for Amy are global, collaborate and vision. Having a supportive JMC director like Thor Wasbotten, who sees the rich value of the global experience, is also a blessing.”
“It started with Amy,” Bell said. “It’s a way to address three items on her agenda. Number one is globalization – global capabilities for the students. The entire academic community throughout the U.S. is that way. Second, Amy is really interested in doing interdisciplinary, inter-school collaborations. Additionally, these courses are the first pure integration of the two programs, which is a vital part of the strategic plan for both schools.”
JMC’s photojournalism program and VCD’s photo-illustration program have not collaborated on a project of this size before. Bell and LaBelle both said they were interested in seeing how Photography in Florence will bridge the gap between the two.
Students participating in the pilot program were offered a $4,500 Wallace J. Hagedorn scholarship to assist in covering their course fees.
“It’s the difference between being able to have a global experience and not,” LaBelle said. “Some of these kids have never been on an airplane, never been out of the state. This is like a magic carpet. They get to go to this Neverland and experience things they would have never gotten to experience. It’s mind-boggling to me. It’s a tremendous opportunity.”
In the “Human Influence on Landscape” course, led by Bell with on-the-ground support by LaBelle, students will be tasked with capturing the three-dimensional nature of Florentine architecture in a two-dimensional medium.
“How do we bring 12 photojournalism and photography students together and try to unify them with a photography project?” Bell asked. “Everybody with a smartphone is doing architecture photography in Florence, so we wanted to expand that. The architecture is such a part of the culture that it has become part of the landscape – architecture is the Florentine landscape in some ways – so using architecture as an environment for the images shows the human influence on the landscape.”
LaBelle hopes to take the students in the program to refugee settlements to explore what life is like for those seeking asylum in Europe.
“Immigration is something we’re really going to look at,” LaBelle said. “I’m looking forward to seeing our students trying to penetrate that community.”
LaBelle will be in Florence with the students throughout the semester, and Bell will join him for a week before spring recess. Bell will conduct “cloud critiques” with the students via Google Docs and will video conference with the class.
If all goes as planned, the Photography in Florence program will be offered in Spring 2018 as well, LaBelle said. He would like to see the program grow, and he would like to expand class times from three hours to six hours.
“We really want to hit a home run on this,” LaBelle said. “It’s not status quo. We’re going to try to challenge and stretch ourselves to do some things that people remember.”
Bell plans to return to Florence this summer for one month to teach the new “Examining Florentine Architecture Through Photography” course as part of Kent State’s Florence Summer Institute. For more information about this course and to register for Florence Summer Institute, visit www.kent.edu/ccistudyabroad.