Award-winning documentary photographer Jon Lowenstein is at USD teaching a special 6-week session on photojournalism. Students in this fast-paced course will learn the fundamentals of visual literacy and work to create photo projects for a final exhibit. We caught up with Jon to chat about his work, goals for this course and his thoughts on the future of photography.
Jon, you're teaching a special session on photojournalism this spring. Can you tell us about your background, and what knowledge or skills do you hope to share with students?
I am a documentary photographer and I've been shooting for more than 15 years. I've done a lot of long-term social documentary projects. One example is "Shadow Lives USA." It's about undocumented people—their journey to the US and their collective experience. It explores the impact of political and social policy on individuals who choose to migrate.
This is a short class. It's really about changing your philosophy of photography. I'm trying to get students to realize that photography can be a powerful tool for communication. They can use it to explore something they observe about the world, and it's a very personal experience. Their first assignment was to shoot someone in class and show a day in their life. It can be a challenge. How do I show who this person really is? It's a lot of information for the students to take in, and they have to go a long distance very quickly.
What do students--especially those pursuing media careers--need to know about the changing role of photography in today's world?
I really see that photography is everywhere these days. With the progression of technology, there are many different ways to interact with photography. The challenge is that everybody today can make a photograph. There's going to be a real need for people who are visually literate. That means not only having the ability to take pictures, but really knowing how pictures function.
In our class we have people using everything from iPhones to point-and-shoot and beyond. And it doesn't bother me, because those are the tools people are using. People who become proficient visually with those cameras are going to do very well with better equipment.
Your students will work collaboratively on a single project and present an exhibit at the end of the session. Tell us about that. What will this project explore?
The class selected the theme "Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder." The students voted and most of them wanted to do that theme. I think it's great. This project is about learning to tell a story. Everyone is taking on different subjects and each group will participate in the group exhibit. Two students are doing their lacrosse team, which is really interesting. How do you represent people you really care about? How do you respect the subject while being true to the story?
You studied photography, English and Spanish in college. You also spent time abroad in Spain. How would you say your education has influenced your photography?
You have to know how to write and how to communicate verbally about what you're doing. One of the most important things in this business is how you frame your photographs. The photos have to be amazing, first of all, but the next step is knowing how to communicate what you're doing and how to contextualize that. It's probably, on a macro level, more important to the success of your projects.
As an award-winning documentary photographer, what is your advice to students hoping to enter the freelance media world?
Keep on shooting and go after what you care about. This is why my class is based around a student-selected theme. The more you do what you believe, the better you're going to do.
- Anne Malinoski ‘11