Back in high school, the thought of going abroad in college was such a dream. Like most kids, I dreamed about seeing Europe, but my romanticization was furthered by my parents’ romance. They toured the continent for their honeymoon, and it was the first time they were abroad together—two young lovebirds with a camera to mark all the places they saw.
By the time the Fine Arts Department offered their fourth consecutive Studio Abroad course, I had already done some traveling on my own. I had achieved my “dream,” so to speak, and though I came back from Berlin, Prague, and Tel Aviv full of awe and refreshing viewpoints, I could not shake off the shadow of romanticism. Physically I was in the foreign places I saw in my parents’ photo albums, but it is one thing to go abroad and take back photos to remember the trip by, and another to go abroad to make art through photography.
As a rising senior in Visual Studies, questions about the relationship of what we see and what we know have become a kind of framework I reference constantly to navigate the world around me. When the application for the 2015 Studio Abroad class was made available and I learned that the class would go to Berlin, I saw this as an opportunity to truly learn from an applied, embodied experience.
Studio Abroad, or FNAR-515, is offered every two years to about fifteen students during the spring semester. Applications are open to anyone eligible and available to take the semester-long course and to participate in the culminating exhibition at the end of the term. Taught by two faculty members from the Fine Arts Department, Studio Abroad integrates the conception, preparation, process, and production of photographic art practice, with travel and cultural introduction revolving around one carefully selected city.
With past classes having gone to Beijing, Mumbai, and Istanbul, Berlin was a less “exotic” choice for a photography class of American college students making art in a foreign city for two weeks. Berlin, despite its historical nuance and rapid cultural changes, also has many similarities with other major American cities that ultimately made this city a more tangible workspace to transition into and work from. Another factor that helped us ease into our work abroad was all the culture and language learning we did prior to our travels. Our class met once a week for three hours each, and within that span of time, we took a crash course in German with Professor Claudia Lynn, a lecturer from the Department of Germanic Languages and Civilizations; presented independent research on significant aspects of German culture and history; and engaged in group critique of one another’s developing project ideas. On top of all of that, there were optional movie screenings every other week on two major films about Berlin (a personal favorite was the 2003 tragicomedy film, Good Bye, Lenin! directed by Wolfgang Becker).
Brent Wahl and Jamie Diamond were the co-instructors for this year’s course. There was a balanced mix of graduate MFA and undergraduate students, in addition to employees of the university. Though it was favorable and beneficial to have had some formal photography training or education prior to the course, it was not a requirement. If anything, photography was the common ground everyone started from and met at. Everyone ultimately went off on their own unique paths as their journeys progressed.
A walk around our class’s exhibition at the Charles Addams Gallery, or a look through our class catalogue, is telling of just how unique everyone’s ideas and processes actually were. Regardless of the inevitable adaptations and adjustments we all went through, one common objective was clear for everyone: to come back from Berlin with a project to show for our group exhibition. Some came back with photos, while others came back with footage for a film. Some decided not to come back with any of their own photos at all, but with found photos from the flea markets in Berlin (such was the case with Mary Stachofsky’s work).