Over at Penumbra Foundation in New York City their goal is to make analogue photography accessible for all people and ages, with their most recent endeavor in doing so being their workshop, “Intro to Black & White Portraiture and the Darkroom for High School Students.”
The students were able to learn through interactive demonstrations and hands-on learning in the nonprofit organization’s private darkroom and north light studio, as well as field trips around the city. Through the workshop the students were taught how to operate manual 35 mm cameras, process black and white film, and print images in the darkroom.
The nine-day course was taught by instructor David “Vades” Joseph, who introduced the participating high school students to both portraiture and traditional black and white photography. We had the opportunity to talk with him about the experience of teaching the class as well as what he hopes the students took from learning the photographic process.
Hi, David! Could you tell us about yourself and your background in analogue photography?
Hi there! Thank you so much for having me. I’m an Afro-Caribbean fine art photographer, born and raised in Harlem, New York! I am also a 2nd year grad student at NYU Steindhardt where I’m currently obtaining my MFA. I first learned photography when I was kid back in the 90s, which of course, the standard was black and white film. Almost my entire body of work consists of both color and black and white analogue photography, and I continue to print in both formats.
What led you to teaching the workshop?
During that time, Curtis Willocks, who is revered for his dedication and years as an instructor and whom I consider a mentor and a dear friend, told me that Penumbra Foundation were looking to start their youth program in teaching high school students. He expressed that they were looking for someone who specializes in both portraiture and black and white analogue photography. I have an extensive history in both and thought that I would be a perfect fit, so naturally, I applied for the position. During that time, I had signed up to be a Teacher’s Assistant this past spring at my grad school (where I’ll be teaching for the year this coming fall), which gave me some teaching experience to an extent, in addition to working at Fashion Institute of Technology where I currently work as a tech. Part of my job is to show students how to work various video and camera gear. Things just seem to fall in place.
Have you taught other workshops before?
I have never taught any workshops before. Penumbra Foundation is my first ever workshop/teaching position.
What was your favorite part of teaching the workshop?
My favorite part is seeing how inspired, motivated, and enthused my students were. They literally could not wait to begin class. They absorbed so much of what I taught, and I gave them the freedom to create whatever they desired. The photographs they’ve created impressed me immensely. Once I taught them how to operate things like studio equipment, they went right to work. It’s truly a humbling feeling.
Could you tell us about some of the techniques that were taught during the workshop?
I wanted to keep things interesting yet simple, so I went through the basics, and placed great emphasis on having a foundation to start with before venturing out with experimentation. This goes for both photographing and printing. The idea is that I didn’t want students to look at photography as just “taking” photographs, but rather “making" photographs. As simple as this idea is, it shifts perception and one’s approach to making work, especially with photographs.
Could you tell us about some of the results that the students had in the workshop?
The students were very receptive to the lessons, and soon they had everything down pat. They knew how to shoot, use studio lights, process their film, and make prints within a short amount of time. From there, they were able to experiment with different ideas of making work, such as printing from two negatives, multiple exposures, etc.
As we know, you were the instructor, but did you learn anything new over the course of the workshop yourself?
For sure, teaching is helping me come out of my shell a little bit. I’m a shy person, I keep much of my feelings and thoughts to myself. But when it comes to teaching, I’m putting
those feelings to the side for the sake of my students. At times, I feel like I go off on a tangent and I don’t speak loudly, so part of my challenge is to be clear and concise when I give explanations. It’s a work in progress for sure.
What do you hope the students took out of the workshop?
I hope my students took away the skills they’ve learned in class and apply to it to parts of their everyday life. I also hope they’ve found a piece of who they are as artists and individuals. It’s a constant search for someone to figure out their place in life, and I hope being in the class brought them closer to finding their purpose.
What do you see the students doing in the future in terms of their photography?
I see them making great work and just studying the craft as much as they possibly can, at least that’s what I hope they continue to do. I’ve had such a diverse group of students from different backgrounds, it was great to them use their art to define their aesthetic. I want to see them do a dive into their origins, and where they come from. But you never know, they could be working on that now!
Will you be teaching any workshops through Penumbra Foundation in the future?
Hopefully! The workshop has gotten such great responses, so I’m confident I’ll be teaching more in the future.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about the workshop?
The workshop is about igniting the student’s curiosity, passion, and voice for the arts, particularly with photography. It’s a chance for everyone to learn the historic elements of portraiture, but also photography. We are learning one of the last modern photographic processes ever, so in a way, we are also carrying on tradition, but most importantly, it’s fun! There is no greater feeling than seeing what you’ve create come to life before your eyes. It’s what got me hooked, and I hope it continues to do the same for future artists.
If you're interested in participating in a workshop or supporting Penumbra Foundation make sure to check out their website, Facebook, and Instagram. To keep up with David "Vades" Joseph and his work, check out his website and Instagram.