Teaching digital natives the artistry and skills behind traditional black-and-white photography—students, some of whom are accustomed to taking photos with their cell phone cameras whenever inspiration or a great selfie opportunity strikes—doesn’t require the leaps and bounds one might assume. “There’s a strong interest in learning film photography at the moment,” says Laura London, who teaches students of all experience levels as part of Otis College’s Extension program. “I’ve heard feedback from my students that it helped them with their digital photography.”
London—who professes a love for working with medium-format and 35-mm film cameras—grew up with artists in her family, and was mentored by college teachers and master printers with whom she trained. Working in film and digital photography, as well as video, she explores themes of human emotions and experiences, such as life and death, in her art. “My recent series of artwork also analyzes issues of identity, youth, and contemporary culture,” she says. London has had solo exhibitions at Chimento Contemporary, Works On Paper, Caren Golden Fine Art, and other galleries, and her work has been exhibited in Los Angeles Metro stations through several projects with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
She most enjoys teaching the Introduction to Photography class—“a studio class for beginning students where they learn to shoot and develop film and make photographic prints in the darkroom,” she says. “I tell the students they will understand the basics of photography when the class is completed, and to have fun and focus on what they are interested in and passionate about when shooting photographs.” Regardless of whether her students are looking to pursue commercial or art photography careers, her teaching method is essentially the same. In a portfolio class, for example, “The students are taught to focus on completing a cohesive body of work,” she says. “The content and ideas of the work and how it looks may differ, but the process of creating good, strong work, and building a body of work, is similar.”
And just as important as technical skills, life beyond the classroom is part of London’s approach. In addition to Introduction to Photography, London has taught courses that emphasize professional know-how, such as Developing a Portfolio, How to Start or Re-Start Your Career, and Portfolio and Professional Practice, Fine Arts Emphasis. “A strong portfolio is essential for students planning to pursue a career in photography and art,” she says. “In the classes I teach, students work on portfolios for entrance into college, and they receive counseling on artwork presentation. Preparation for group and solo shows, and working as a commercial photographer, are also covered.”
As for what makes traditional photography such an interesting discipline to study now, London thinks it’s because it’s a counterpoint to the instant-everything culture we live in now. “Shooting and developing film is a practice more closely aligned with printmaking,” she says. “It’s slowed down, the opposite of digital photography. There are steps, and you have to wait to see the pictures you take. Students are learning to create and produce a good photograph in the camera while shooting, which is different than just shooting a lot of pictures and then fixing them afterward. Plus, watching the photographic prints develop in the lab is magical.”
London’s impact on her students has inspired heartfelt testimonials. “It was truly an honor getting to know you in person and to learn lots of valuable techniques and knowledge,” wrote one former student. “I hope to follow in your footsteps exploring human emotions through photography.”
London is teaching an Advanced Photography workshop this Spring. For more information, click here.
And for more information about other Spring 2020 Extension courses in Photography, click here.
Portrait courtesy of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Classroom image courtesy of Laura London.
Top: "Girl—Black Dress White Backdrop, 2015" by Laura London
Bottom: "Cosmetic Ritual Series, 1992" by Laura London