I’m a photographer, and I teach a photography class called Phonar. I'm from the generation that made photographs on film, for transfer to paper, whereas the students I teach make pictures out of pixels for screens. These screens come with speakers, which means we have to learn about sound, which is okay. Throw into the mix, though, the fact that screens want to play movies, not stills, and things get more hectic.
Surely that means I should be teaching movie-making, right? As all this is no longer something restricted to a few highly-trained pros, we also have to work out just what it is that we photographers do that's different to what every cellphone owner does.
In 2009, when my undergrad class started, I just didn’t know. So I opened it out online, for free, and open-sourced the problem.
The latest iteration just finished up. Every version has had stuff to take away, about photography or teaching or learning online versus learning onsite. But this time it was something bigger.
This time, the most interesting piece of work didn’t come from someone in the room. (Sure, there was awesome work from my paying students, who kick all kinds of ass). Instead, something came in after the classes finished, and it blew me away. It was from a young woman called Priyanka Ghetia, who hoped one day to attend university. She’d been doing the Web versions of Phonar quietly, on her own, either drawing on her schoolteacher for help or teaching herself. She’d used her phone to make sound recordings; her old camera; and even a torch when light was short.
What she’d made just stopped me in my tracks.
Now, that’s very cool. It turns out that by running my classes in this open model, I’m more likely to get awesome students apply to study with me, after becoming part our ‘storytelling’ conversation. It means people who might not otherwise have got involved, for whatever reason—money, geography, culture, age—can join. The dialogue can bloom.
Its already bloomed to the point where we’ve had up to 35,000 join over one ten-week iteration of the course: a big "chat"! But what about moving beyond a university classroom of 25? What about applying the same open and connected approach to say, the most prestigious Photojournalism Award in the World? And what if the starting point wasn’t 25 photographers, but instead was their 10 million-strong community?
That’s what I asked Maarten Koets, Deputy Director of World Press Photo. He took a moment to think about it, then decided that you can change the world with that sort of thing. #Boom
Six months (and a massive amount of behind-the-scenes work) later, anyone can “attend” the World Press Photo Academy.
You can’t rock up to the onsite classes taking place in north Africa (those places have gone to photojournalists from the region, who won a competition to attend), but you can take the same workshops, listen to the same interviews, and submit work to the same briefs. You just need to bring your own chairs to the Facebook page.
Here's the kicker. If you’re a teacher, you can pick up Creative Commons Licensed teaching materials (which are naturally authored by the most acclaimed figures in the multi-media industry) and relay them to your own classes, wherever they may be.
This means that a teacher in Nairobi, the Netherlands or Newport Beach can plant her class right in the middle of what was, until now, one of the most exclusive networks of industry experts, and enable her students and become a part of their conversations.
Also, importantly, this is a storytelling class with images and sound. So we're not only teaching people to speak clearly, but putting them in a situation where they stand a better chance of being heard. That’s something that traditional learning institutions don't really do.
I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if the most interesting, successful and winning work submitted to this first connected learning World Press Photo Academy came from someone who won a place in the onsite class, or even a professional tagging along for the ride. But watch out for something awesome, made by someone using something like a mobile phone and a torch.
Jonathan Worth is an English editorial portrait photographer who never won a World Press Award. He did write the world’s first Open and Connected Undergraduate Photography courses though (picbod and phonar) and that made him a National Teaching Fellow and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Commerce, so he’s not bitter.
Photo credits: Banner: Abdella Azizi , 2-4: Eefje Ludwig, 5: Screengrab from Inas Gohar (in the picture we see Mosa'ab Elshamy on assigment), 6: Eefje Ludwig, 7: Rebecca Simons, 8:Virginie Nguyen Hoang.