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  Note: Most of the students in the photo program at SDCC are there because they love photography.  Some just want to get better at it and some want to see about pursuing a career in the field.  But every now and then we get students who are so problematical they tax instructors' patience, are chronically absent from classes, turn in consistently sub-par work, appear to be simply using the system, and make a fine art of creating excuses for nearly everything all the while asserting they are very serious about it and want to do well.  Finally, having my fill I wrote the following general comments.  If they seem to fit your case then please take them to heart.

Re constant excuses in the photo program

Does it ever end?  Don't you get tired of having to endlessly create excuse after another for not doing what you are supposed to be doing in class? Life does not move forward based on reasons for not doing things, even if the reasons are legitimate; it only stagnates, petrifies, and sometimes moves backwards.  It only moves forward based on results that lift your efforts beyond and over or around those of the masses stuck in their usually self imposed ruts.

Perhaps that isn't fair, but it is simply the way life is.  I've closely examined my birth certificate to find the clause or attachment with the guarantee of fairness from life. Mine was, unfortunately,  lost early on and it was made clear to me as a young thug on the streets that if I wanted to stay in that status until I died young or was run over by the cosmic bus, the only one who could lift me out of it was me and that was going to take me way out of my comfort zone.  At this stage in life I'd love to find out where I could reclaim my "fairness" warranty so if you still have yours on your birth certificate, find out who issued it and let me know so I can contact them. And do show it to me.   If not then this is for you.

Don't tell me a shot was what you wanted when it clearly is not up to the standards of the class and level you are supposed to be on much less if it does not follow the directions.  You may have asked if it satisfied the  assignment and I might have told you both then and in the grade comments that it technically did. That did not mean, however, it also was a good photo for our purposes.  It may have been perfect for what you wanted for a personal shot, but if it was not based on our discussions or the instructions or the general and somewhat basic professional photo considerations it will not get a good grade.  Had I seen you working on what seemed a better one I might have said something.  But in the end, based on class discussions, demos, and the work of others you should be able to determine that.  That discrimination of good and bad work or even appropriate and inappropriate work based on the assignment is part of your expected learning experience.  Especially toward the end of the course you should be able to know what works and what does not for the assignments. When school is over no one will be there to tell you what is good or not.

And don't tell me you were not able to read the instructions especially if in fact you missed so much we would have been within school policies to do an instructor initiated drop (3 unexcused absences).  In any case that has meant you have missed many of the lectures covering details of our projects or even the lab sessions when we used the time for Q&A sessions, ad hoc demos of equipment or techniques as requested, chats on the industry generally and the  world of the class topic specifically. Those issues as to subject matter, composition, editing needs, etc.  are brought up a lot as people ask about options and other issues. Attending class as expected would have covered the assignments in such minute detail as to have made the written versions of the instructions almost redundant.

Even so, most people in my classes download the assignment instruction sheet right away so they will have it handy. It is always available on BOTH Blackboard and on my own web site which ANYone can access without restriction. And if that were not possible for some reason I could make a Xerox copy. (I've cut back on handing out copies since our duplication budget was cut along with everything else but can certainly make one if needed as I've said several times in class.)  Surely in the (typically) two weeks for the assignment  there would have been an opportunity, here on campus computers for example, to read the instructions and check them before submission to make sure everything was included and submitted as required... or to ask me for a hard copy to make sure you were following them.

As a general rule I allow and sometimes even encourage do-overs but usually closer to the original due dates and almost always within the cut-off dates for the projects. That allowance almost NEVER happens with real clients and even when it does would not happen more than once. But since the goal here is to learn, then sometimes that is effective.

But if you wait until a week or two before the end of class, realize your grade is not very good, and THEN ask for the chance to re-do something, I may, at my discretion, give you the chance but probably will not except in the most extraordinary circumstances.  But only if, in addition to the final project or final portfolio,  those re-do assignments are (a) BETTER by far, to make up for the even additional lateness and (b) submitted not a minute later than the deadline I set, will I consider them for a grade change.

But if the photo itself AND the posing AND the lighting AND the composition are not significantly better in all respects than the originals, then you will be far better off in, terms of points, putting your efforts into creating a top quality final or portfolio.  And that means the shots in that portfolio will need to be consistently better than what we have seen thus far. If good work cannot be done in the two weeks given per typical assignment then it cannot be done in two or three days. In the class critiques you can see for yourself the quality of others' portfolios so you, if you are honest with yourself, will know where yours fits in.

And as a related aside, the school rules as spelled out in the catalog for you to see, clearly say that an incomplete is to be given only for a health emergency that happens toward the end of the class.  Instructors have very little maneuvering room to modify that.  If your grade at that point is a failing one we cannot give you an incomplete for ANY reason.  If we do grant an incomplete the work has to be made up within a year or you automatically will receive a failing grade no matter how good the work was up to that emergency point.  Statistically only an extremely few ever make up the incomplete so before wasting the instructor's time to do the paperwork and track it, make darn sure you intend to follow through on it.

You can see the quality of the individual project work of some of the other students in the critiques. Some of them are extremely good. So high quality work can be done following the instructions and using even our poor equipment and space. You can see what is outstanding "A" quality work and what is average... and what is not quite up to average.  If you aspire to a high grade then the work has to match the high quality work.  We are not a ritzy ivy-league school and many of the other students also exist on a shoestring and have their own life's struggles to overcome. Others, it is true, have it easier economically but it has not been my experience that personal economies per se make much of a difference in output quality.

A few years ago I had a homeless student who had to use Financial Aid to get an inexpensive camera and supplies, use our facilities and struggled constantly. He had to leave his gear here at night to keep it from getting stolen from wherever he bedded down for the night. But he was utterly devoted to his work and consistently turned in stunning quality photographs that were always on time. Sometimes he would have to have a friend bring in the prints for him but they were almost always in on time or at most a couple of days overdue.

I now have a continuing student who, years ago before the fall of the iron curtain, escaped with her two young children on foot from a communist country. Her husband stayed behind to cover for her and when it was discovered disappeared into some gulag. She had promised him that she would make sure if she could get to America she would put her daughters through school. When she first came here she was older and working three jobs including a night job as a cleaning lady to keep her promise. But she loved photography and also took classes here. Her work was also top notch and always on time. One day she came up to me after class in tears saying she was afraid she was going to be a day or two late with an upcoming project and at that point told me for the first time about her history and work load. I told her not to worry about it and get it in when she could. The result? The project came in on time... as usual.  And, as usual, it was top quality work.  If ever I wanted to give extra credit it was here.

Conversely, I had a very wealthy student who was able to purchase the very best of everything -- stuff I would have loved to have.  But he learned the hard way that in the end it is not the tools that make art, it is the artist and the effort that the artist is willing to put into the work.

Success at City -- or any school -- is not about bucks; it is about priorities based on attitude and dedication. The real world of photography is several magnitudes greater in terms of competition from top grade shooters and allowing ZERO excuses for average or late work. If an average of two weeks to do work that in reality will often have to be done in a couple of days is not doable for ANY reason, then this is not the career path likely to be successful. In that real world environment the least of your worries will be grades in our classes. There you don't get a grade you get another job to do... or not. There you will be seen to be only as good as your last job and if they are not consistently up to par you will be eaten alive by the competition in very short order.  Photography is a field where no outside entity can level the playing field for you.  The only arbiter of success is the quality of your work.  You can either do it or not and no agency can make the work acceptable to clients when it is not.

If this applies to you then you really need to take this break to think hard about your choices. School is not a way to make a few bucks as that will sooner or later run out... or backfire.  Using school for financial aid money  is not a career path itself any more than having children for ADC money is. If you are going to use up your economic assistance in school then it needs to be to help pay for something that you can and will devote the proper time, effort, and dedication to quality that will allow you to excel and upgrade your life otherwise there is no point to subjecting yourself to the pressure. And that means you either have to quickly change course into something that works for you -- or change your approach to this discipline and commit to giving it the time and effort it requires for success.

And if life's issues are such that, at the moment, much as you may want to, you cannot make that work, then face it and move on into something you CAN make work. You would hardly be the first and only person to realize they cannot find the time or money or whatever to make it work. Photography has a huge hunger for aspects that cost money, sometimes lots of it, and a large number of our students, when they discover they cannot do it, either change course or look into other photo-related opportunities. It is a lower percentage that can pull all of the requirements together to go on to be successful professionals.

Or, rather than put up with the stress that may never pay off, do it just for the fun of it, continue as you have, and don't worry about the grades. But get into a program where it can and does work for you. Get into one where you do not need constant excuses for being behind or not doing top grade work; one where your passions are so ignited by the work that you set all of those other issues aside and prioritize your time so that you can live, breathe, and eat that subject, draw inner sustenance from it, and for the time in school the lost sleep and skimpy meals seem like a small price to pay for the sheer joy of doing what you love.

If that were photography, then you need to do a major turn-around in approach. If it is not then you need to find out what it is and go for it while you still can.




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