Curtis Willocks is an experienced photographer and educator from New York City. Currently a professor at Fashion Institute of Technology, Curtis found a passion for inspiring high school and college students to explore their environment and tell their stories through the art of photography. He's held countless workshops on analogue and digital photography, diving into medium and large format, alternative processes, printing, and studio lighting.
One of his recent workshops explored the world of large format photography with the LomoGraflok 4x5 Instant Back. We chatted with Curtis to learn more about how it went.
Hello Curtis, it’s nice to speak with you today. Can you briefly tell us about yourself and your background?
I started creating images when I was 14 years old. I purchased my first camera, a Yashica A, paid about $14 for it and I still have it. Photography was a way to see the world around me. The 60s, 70s and 80s were special times. The only images I ever saw were in black and white from television, Life Magazine and our local newspapers. I realized at a young age that if we were without images our lives would be so different. Today we are bombarded with images on social media. For me, photography is a way of life.
As an educator, how do you approach teaching photography to individuals with varying skill levels and backgrounds?
After the first class I try to have conversations with each student just to get an idea of what inspires them and where they find passion.
Why did you decide to focus a workshop on large format photography? And how do you see its role and relevance in the modern digital age?
The large format camera is truly amazing, not only does it slow you down but in order to use it effectively the basics of exposure need to be understood.
Nothing against digital but it can be mindless, point and shoot. We can merge classic analogue with digital by scanning well-exposed large format negatives and creating a digital print, or creating a digital negative to produce a cyanotype or other types of alternative photography.
During your workshop, what were some key techniques or skills you emphasized to the students?
I stress that they understand their tool—whatever camera they are using, they should understand it. They need to know how to solve problems and if they don’t understand something, ask questions. There are no secrets in photography!
How did the LomoGraflok 4x5 Instant Back help facilitate your lessons?
It opened up a whole new approach to image making. Forget about having instant images but now they have an image they can scan, create digital images from the scan, pre-visualize images before they expose sheets of film. One of the students took the LomoGraflok back to Paris and it help him cross the language barrier and the instant images helped put his subjects at ease before going to sheet film.
Can you tell us about a memorable moment from the workshop?
I think the most memorable moment was when I did the first demo. I didn’t tell them about the instant film back, they thought it was a different type of film holder. When the film started to develop in front of them, well they were never the same. Everyone wanted to try it. We had ten backs and they were always being used. The looks on their faces say everything!
What do you hope the students took away from the workshop?
A new way to see and express themselves. Students were scanning images, creating digital negatives, journals, self portraits, mosaics and lots of portraits.
Do you have any words of advice for our readers looking to develop their own voice in their photography?
Start with what is familiar to you, it could be family, neighborhood or friends. There are photographers and other artists who work on these subjects for their whole life. You can be inspired by other artists, don’t limit yourself to photographers but look at painters, illustrators, architects and other forms of art. I get inspiration from movies and books. The FIT library, Dashwood Books and the Staley Wise Gallery are my go-to places.
Thank you Curtis for sharing your wisdom with us! Follow him on Instagram.