Falling Forward

This is a follow-up post to Betsy Schneider’s Facebook missive that essentially became FotoFika and has served as our as the front page since day one.  Now that many of our spring semesters are almost over, the uncertainty of this fall is our new focus at FotoFika.  Thank you Betsy for sharing this post!

Strategies and considerations for dealing with Fall 2020

“When nothing is sure, Everything is possible”

As artists we thrive in the unknown, we shine as problem solvers and that at this time the solutions will come through flexibility and letting go of preconceived outcomes, of letting go of the mentality that institutions are more important than the ideas or the people who form them. These structures are only as strong or important as those who hold them up. That said we are all having to sacrifice. We will have to work more, we will have to deal with our own disappointments. Some are bigger than others and little good will come of comparing our losses. Everyone has lost something and everyone faces an unknown future.

I will start by admitting my own biases—which I think we all need to do, figure out our own agendas and how they are affecting how we are heading into this.

I am a parent of a member of the entering Freshman class. This is relevant because I am not entirely sure I want to pay the tuition for him to start his college experience online. I am still carrying the sadness of his senior spring and my daughter’s senior spring in college vanishing. So much of what I want for my children in college involves being with people, touching things, small class discussions, lectures, new experinnce, I freak out at the thought of him “going” to college and sitting in front of a computer.

As a parent I am watching to see what his school does. I may advise him to take a gap year and live with his father in Europe. Or I may advise him to go live in Amherst and still take online classes—maybe it will be hybrid? No one knows. But I start this by expressing my perspective as a parent.

As a professor who has taught both online and in person for the past five years—with my in-person teaching being adjunct and visiting professorships– I am preparing myself to possibly a) not have my in person job(s) as I am currently an adjunct at an institution that is not only heavilty studio practice—and I would be teaching a darkroom class and a school that has a large number of students from China. I may not have that job in the fall partly because of parents exactly like me. If my kid were going to art school I would most likely make him take a gap year. –As it turns out that money, from my adjunct class was what I was planning on contributing to my son’s college. – So the cycle goes.

But all kids can’t go to Europe and live with their dad. And even my son might not want to do that.

So what can we as educators do to prepare for so many unknowns. How do we figure out what really matters—to us as artists and educators (and other roles, for me parent) to create as fully meaningful an experience as we can, while not making ourselves insane with work?

These are my suggestions—and like everyone else on the planet I am not entirely sure of anything right now. But most of us have become experts in emergency online teaching over the past month. Let’s try to take those lessons and apply them to not-quite-emergency teaching this fall.

FotoFika Peeps

Betsy Schneider

Betsy Schneider is a photographer and filmmaker who explores and documents transformations of individuals and families over time and place. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and her work has been shown in major museums and festivals around the world.  A former national board member for SPE. From 2002 to 2016 she was a professor in the School of Art at Arizona State University, in 2016 she relocated to the Boston Area and since then has continued to work for ASU as a lecturer, designer, developer and coordinator of an unique online BFA in photography. She has recently taught at Harvard, MassArt and Hampshire and currently teaches online for ASU and at Emerson College.

Anne Leighton Massoni

Anne Leighton Massoni, is the Dean | Managing Director of Education at the International Center of Photography in New York City. She has held positions at Marshall University, Cornell University, Tyler School of Art, Washington College, Memphis College of Art, Monmouth University and the University of the Arts.

Massoni graduated with a MFA in Photography from Ohio University and BAs in Photography and Anthropology from Connecticut College. Her work relates to ideas of both real and fabricated memories and identity, using a variety of film and digital techniques.

She has exhibited nationally and internationally including the H. F. Johnson Museum in New York, The Print Center in Philadelphia, The Sol Mednick Gallery in Philadelphia, NIH in Washington, DC, the Allen Sheppard Gallery in New York City, Newspace Gallery in Portland, Rayko in San Francisco, the East End Film Festival in London, England, the International Mobile Innovation Screening in New Zealand and Australia, and IlCantinonearte Teatri e Galleria del Grifo in Montepulciano, Italy. Recent publications of her work include ASPECT: The Chronicle of New Media Art and SpostaMenti, an exhibition catalog of her series “Holding” and The Photograph & The Album, Published by MuseumsEtc in England. She co-edited The Focal Press Companion to the Constructed Image in Contemporary Photography with Marni Shindelman.

John Freyer

John Freyer is an artist, author and educator at VCUarts. Freyer has brought his social practice projects to the TEDx stage; has exhibited at Mixed Greens Gallery in New York; the Liverpool Biennial Fringe in Liverpool, UK and was a Tate Exchange Associate at Tate Modern, London.

Practical Ideas for going forward amid uncertainty

Design the class in a way that you first put your energy into things that could be either in class or online (eg. Lectures, demos, some assignments).

      • Use Canvas/Blackboard in a way that could be applicable to either in person or online.
      • Plan to use Zoom or other synchronous platform with flexibility—students can watch later, students can turn off their screen, give students another place to give feedback or have conversation, let them comment in chat. But also let the students who thrive in conversation and presence be there.
      • Consider Dischord.
      • for communication/critique.
      • CritViz (David will be a guest in the future).
      • Slack
      • Consider what can be pre- loaded content and what is content created in response to the class dynamic, needs and individuals.
      • Consider a schedule where you plan each week in advance. Don’t think you have to do everything before class starts—But don’t leave everything to the last minute.
      • Reconsider rigid curriculum. – If nothing else we have learned that everything can change in a moment.
      • Consider what can be put off until we are back in the studio?
      • Encourage students to participate in planning and creating content. Assign them texts and discussions they can lead.

Expand your colleagues and community beyond your institution and share resources. Including

      • Assignments
      • Lectures
      • Tech demos
      • Quizzes
      • readings
      • conversation topics
      • Use visiting artists (see SPE database)


      • Create flexible assignments that put the creativity in the hands of the students.
      • Encourage students to problem solve as both a practical and a conceptual solution to the class.
      • Still insist on students showing up (not necessarily literally) and being rigorous
      • Don’t re-do technical demos.
      • Encourage interaction between students and Provide social spaces that are not measured or closely monitored.
      • Create things that can be reused by yourself in the future or by others.
      • Keep copies of your lectures and assignments on your own hard drive –do not be overly reliant on Canvas or University owned Google drives to store your only copies of content.
      • Even if your school does own your class within the shell—keep copies of what you’ve created in a place that you can later access for yourself.
      • Use links whenever possible and avoid proprietary platforms that might be inaccessible after the semester is over.
      • Consider creating your own resource that you lead students to and something that can be used wherever you teach. (Camilo Ramirez)
      • What is working? What isn’t?
      • What are the highest quality available resources?
      • Tech demos: Lynda.com, the art of photography
      • Podcasts and Interviews: The Magic Hour
      • Artist Interviews/databases: St. Lucy, Lightwork, Blue Sky.
      • Publications available online: Lens, Aperture,
      • Workshops for Darkroom Classes
      • Workshops for color and digital classes
      • Workshops for Alt Pro classes.
      • Intro to Photo Workshop
      • Creating parameters around your time.