As September graciously shares with us the best of two seasons in transition, I feel the need to reflect upon my summer term at Marwen. Summer 2015 at Marwen also shared something with my favorite month, as the program was in it’s own moment of transition: The newly renovated arts campus is set to reopen its arms to our city in just one more week. While construction workers helped change the future of Marwen, teaching artists and staff members continued to bring arts education to our students this summer with the kind help of the art department at UIC, who let us use their studios.The class I taught this summer was titled “Seeing the Unseen”, a photography foundations class for middle school students that was also a collaboration with the University of Chicago’s science department. In it’s third year, the collaboration aims to combine photography with various scientific phenomena. The idea helps kids get excited about science and see the subject in a new light. This time around we focused on different ways we can record the movement of air when acted upon by some sort of outside force. Specifically, this included vortices made in a water tank, colored smoke rings, Schlieren effect from heat (think about the mirage above blacktop in the summer), and heat sensitive infrared renderings. A pretty cool premise that I am very excited to have been a part of.
Now comes the part of this reflection that focuses on the “unexpected”. Our ideas didn’t go quite as planned! Some demos were falling thin, the facilities were unfamiliar, and the class dynamic was, let’s say, high energy. The level of energy where at times it seems like there is so much of it that it starts to create a mind of it’s own, instead of powering the minds of its beholders. But this is summertime at Marwen, the energy is supposed to be high, and it was about time that I gained experience in on-the-cuff improvisation in the classroom. We still got to experience some amazing science, and when the science gods didn’t feel like cooperating with an artist’s expectation of what looks cool, I went back to basics. Street photography. I used street photography (unexpectedly) in the classroom the same way I use the art form in my own practice: just to relax and observe the world around me. The results were spectacular, the weather was as hot as the energy, and most importantly the kids had fun.
So while I’m gearing up for another collaboration this fall, this time with the Chicago Architectural Foundation, I can look back at this summer as am important learning experience for both myself and my students. I think it’s important to remind ourselves as teaching artists that sometimes, even if in our minds things are falling apart, the power of embracing the unexpected can still provide a fun and productive learning environment.
Philip Dembinski is a photographer living and working in Chicago, IL. He attended Columbia College Chicago where he attained his BFA in photography in 2008. He has shown work internationally as part of Flak Photo’s 100 Portraits, 100 Photographers traveling exhibit and is part of Catherine Edelman Gallery’s Chicago Project. Philip’s work explores aspects of portraiture and environment as they lend themselves to perceived narratives. His inspiration comes from chance encounters, disquieting landscapes, and subtle expressions. Additionally, Philip is a Teaching Artist at the Marwen Foundation leading courses in darkroom photography for both middle school and high school students. In 2015, he has become part of Marwen's Teaching Advisory Board. http://www.philipdembinski.com