Digital Media Arts
If photo instructor Don Werthmann had his way, there would be some sort of sensor embedded in his head so every time he saw something that intrigued him, all he would have to do is blink his eyes to make a picture.
"Photography is how I express myself," he says. "It's a state of being where you are always open to the possibility of making images; it becomes something you live every hour of every day."
Werthmann began his career with a fine arts degree from Wayne State University and began working as a camera assistant photographing cars in Detroit. But the experience that ignited his passion for teaching took place in New Mexico at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, where he progressed from participating in courses to becoming the school's operations manager, to finally teaching workshops himself.
Werthmann occasionally still takes part in workshops, as well as reading technical manuals, current periodicals and books on fine arts and cultural theory. In May he will receive a master of arts in digital photographic imaging.
"These workshops are immersion experiences," Werthmann says. "You basically live, breathe, eat, sleep and dream photography. I believed in that process so strongly that I found myself giving up my commercial work and volunteering my time just to get plugged into that kind of education."
Learning is seeing
Werthmann says teaching is an instinctive part of his nature. As the youngest of four children, he found himself struggling to figure out what his older siblings knew about the world but wouldn't take the time to share with him. The constant game of catch up frustrated him, but it also created empathy for others trying to learn something new.
"I try to put my students in the safest learning environment that I possibly can," he explains. "I tell them that it's OK to make mistakes. If they don't understand a concept or technique the first time, they can ask ten more times and I'll say, ‘Let's try this again until we see how it works.'"
Seeing is learning
Photography has changed considerably since 1977 when Werthmann's parents bought him his first pocket camera. Though he is pleased with "the infinite level of control I have as an image maker because of digital photography," he also feels that the computer can sometimes overshadow the creative process.
"The digital technologies are heavily rooted in the traditional processes - the basics of how the camera functions, the basics of how the darkroom functions," he says. "Whenever students can get their hands on the traditional processes first, then they can step into the new technologies more easily.
"In the studio, our students start out learning on Hasselblad cameras. They are really finely crafted cameras, and yet they are fully manual. Students can really take the thing apart and see how it behaves. You can't do that with a digital camera.
"Photography includes technology that needs to be understood first. There's this amazing coalescence of art and science. You learn that image making is a process of what and how."
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