The following text features in the publication Art and Inclusion - The Story of KCAT celebrating 10 years of KCAT Art and Study Centre, Callan, Co. Kilkenny.
Ed. Paul Bokslag and Barbara Wheeler Connolly. 2009
The Photography Class
by Gwen Wilkinson, Tutor.
Over the past five years teaching at KCAT I have come to regard the role of photography tutors as akin to one of sorcerers passing on the secrets of their trade to a band of eager apprentices. To the casual observer, the photography students’ artistic practice is not immediately evident, everything appears to happen either behind the camera’s lens, in a cavernous darkroom lit by a dim red light or in sealed containers filled with a cocktail of suspicious chemicals! Thus, beneath this veil of illusion, each student is indoctrinated into the mysterious alchemy of traditional black and white photographic processes.
The FETAC photography course is particularly demanding of students as it endeavours to impart an understanding of the technology, chemistry, and best practice, in addition to the creative essentials of the subject. During the course, students are introduced to the very early photographic practices; from building a Camera Obscura to making images with pin-hole cameras, and eventually, independently, progressing to process and print a series of images. The most effective method of communicating what can at first appear to be a tricky subject is by creating a series of very simple practical assignments that students of all abilities can achieve. For example, experiments with pin-hole photography has proven to be an ideal means of introducing the process of black and white photography. I always delight in the incredulous look on each student’s face when I produce an eclectic range of coffee and biscuit tins and announce that they will make photographs using the tins as cameras. As a means of inclusive practice within the class this simple process subtly and effectively communicates the basic steps in black and white photography, while appealing and delighting each student’s creative inclinations.
It is not until we are at least half way through the course, when students are encouraged to work on the technicalities of the course without the direct assistance of the tutor, that the challenges of teaching an inclusive class can present themselves. With students progressing at a multitude of levels, teaching and, indeed, managing the class can become a delicate balancing act. Overcoming this difficulty has been achieved with the help of KCAT’s invaluable classroom assistants. The classroom assistant can work on a one-to-one basis with a student who may be experiencing difficulties with an aspect of the course. These times are also an excellent measure of patience for both tutor and students!
As an artist who teaches on a part-time basis at KCAT, I find the experience of working in an inclusive environment exceptional. A definite positive dynamic is generated when working and participating in an inclusive practice. One of the key factors in generating this aesthetic lies, I believe, in the cooperative nature of this school. At KCAT the inclination is to be aware of those who are not so able, that all participants may help and support each other. This sense of cooperation can only be a positive experience, enhancing the overall social and creative knowledge of students, teachers, mentors and staff.