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Organic: a photographer's journey through documenting, learning, and teaching

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Otte, Molly
Heberlein, David
MSE, Fine Arts
May 04, 2012
Organic farming--Minnesota--Pictorial works; Dorothea Lange; Documentary photography; Digital photography; Organic farming--WIsconsin--Pictorial works; Photography--Study and teaching (Secondary); Photography
After reading Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits by Linda Gordon a couple of summers ago, I wanted to try my hand at a photography project where I studied one subject in depth through photographs. I knew that completing a documentary photography project would give me greater insight into my own photography and into how to better teach my students the subject. Dorothea Lange's work and artistic philosophy sparked several questions in my mind about my own journey as a photographer and the process that one goes through to create a body of documentary work: How does a photographer complete a documentary photography project of a subject? What is involved in the process? In a documentary setting, how does the photographer make the subjects feel comfortable? How does a photographer tell a story with pictures? How might my photographic work change if I focus on a subject other than weddings and portraits? Ultimately, my question became this: Based on what I find after creating my own body of work, how can I change my current curriculum and teaching methods to further implement documentary photography into my classroom? Once I settled on my thesis, I began to consider what my documentary subject should be. After plenty of consideration, I decided to focus on local organic farming. Dorothea Lange and the entire FSA photography project have always been fascinating to me not only because of its iconic place in history but also because of the subject matter. Creating a project based on one aspect of today's agriculture would allow me to bring my love for the FSA photographers' work into modern times and give me a chance to create my own images of a similar subject. Furthermore, a documentary photography project on organic farming would allow me to learn more about it. Having grown up in the midst of cornfields in southern Minnesota, I have a deep appreciation for agriculture, but little understanding of the process that farming entails. I know that organic food and community sustained agriculture have gained popularity in recent years for a variety of reasons. As a proponent of shopping locally and supporting organic farmers, I was curious about the process these farmers follow, and knew that photographing it would prove to be educational for myself and for those who view my photographs. In addition, I wanted my project to examine a subject that was local and accessible. I think it's important for me to know about the community where I live and teach. I encourage my art students to find beauty and interest in the things that surround them each day and to gain artistic inspiration from them. In an effort to practice what I preach, I wanted to do the same. Finally, I thought the subject of organic farming would provide a variety of photographic opportunities that are completely different from anything I've done before. There is a certain innate beauty in farmland and the process of planting, growing, and harvesting the food that sustains us. I wanted to portray the stories of farmers and their work in a meaningful and truthful way. My overall hope with this project is to immerse myself into a subject that is unfamiliar and to capture images that show the beauty, passion, and interest behind it. Like Dorothea Lange, I want to use my camera to learn about the people, places, and stories behind farming. I believe that by using my art to better understand their work I will, in turn, be better able to understand mine and be more equipped to teach it to my students.
Plan B Paper. 2012. Master of Science in Education-Fine Arts--University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Art Department. 62 leaves. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 44-45).
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