Photo credit: Eve Avdoulos

The photography currently hanging in the Kresge Art Center is strikingly different from any exhibit it has ever held. The photographers are actually not photographers at all, or even art majors; rather students with little to no prior camera experience. Each captivating photograph was taken by a student enrolled in Studio Art 491, an online special topics course taken in conjunction with their study abroad trips.

The online course is a brand new addition to MSU study abroad. It enables non-art majors to familiarize themselves with photography and return home with pictures that are not typical touristy shots.

The very first course debuted this summer in correlation with 29 students and their various study abroad trips.

“The class was a tremendous success,” said Peter Glendinning, instructor of the course. “The opportunity that we were able to serve as a department to expand students artistic side and help them explore the worlds they find themselves in brings an extra dimension to the study abroad programs.”

Glendinning said students traveled to over 17 countries including Kenya, Ireland and Japan. Their majors ranged from ecology to engineering, and only one student embarked on an art-related trip.

Each student was required to have a camera that would shoot at least five mega pixels. In addition, they each created a Flickr account where they could upload, share and comment on photographs from students enrolled in the class but in different countries.

The artist behind an especially extraordinary piece is Eve Avdoulos, an anthropology junior. She traveled to Greece over the summer on a study abroad trip, and took the STA 491 course as well. Her photograph is a profile shot taken in Athens, Greece. An individual’s face is gently titled upward, Greek ruins mirrored in the surface of their Ray-Bans.

“I absolutely loved seeing photographs taken by other students in my class,” said Avdoulos. “Not only did it create a drive in me to visit those places but it allowed me to, in a sense, virtually experience those destinations.”

Glendinning explained that 25 different photography categories were developed. Each would have an abstract name such as “colors,” and students would have to interpret the assignment name individually and take photographs based on their interpretation.

Students had to upload pictures to 15 out of the 25 categories. As well as uploading, they also critiqued their classmate’s photos. This created a real visual-interchange by enabling them to see how other students construed the category names.

“Since we had so many categories for our class, we had to definitely concentrate on taking tons of different and unique pictures,” said animal science senior, Jessica Makowski. “I stepped out of my own box by taking this class and now pay attention to all sorts of views, angles, focus and details.”

The use of Photoshop tricks were strongly discouraged.

“It’s all about camera vision and seeing like a camera in terms of technique,” said Glendinning. “I wanted to them to be so aware of what was around them, and the possibilities of taking the fragment of reality they were in and holding that, using it as their inspiration.”

The students paralleled the persona of an experienced photographer learning the ins and outs of camerawork, focus and content. This extra obligation of their trip broadened their experience.

“The photographs come from the students looking at the world around them and saying “This is my world, and I’m not going to define it by travel book images and ideas.” They really got into the meat of the place.” said Glendinning.

“The class really challenged me to bring a photographer’s perspective with me while traveling,” said advertising junior Yao Lu who traveled to Japan and China over the summer. “My ‘photographer’s perspective’ of the world is much more creative than that of just a traveler’s. I paid more attention to people around me. When shooting the portraits of strangers, I had a lot more communication with the locals.”

The photographs the students captured while abroad were recently put on display at the Kresge Art Center. The exhibit is entitled ‘This is My World’ (the title of the course itself) and featured at least one photograph per student. The Office of the Provost made funding for this exhibit possible.

Glendinning said over 200 people appeared at the opening night of the exhibit. The vast majority of these people had never before stepped foot inside the Kresge Art Center.

“I wanted to teach people expansive ways about looking at the world they find themselves in,” he said. “My hope is that the show will have a purpose that is a teaching one, and also that represents MSU well.”

The exhibit will leave the Kresge Center in the middle of February and travel to The Crooked Tree Art Center in Petoskey until the end of March. The show will then travel throughout Michigan high schools for a year and half, free of charge.

Because the course was such an immense success they changed the description, said Glendinning.  The 3-credit online course will now be offered during each semester rather than just summer.

“Making photographs for the course opened my eyes to the world in ways I would have expected,” said Avdoulos. “I became more attune to details around me…this course enabled me to look at the big picture as well as all the fine details that the world presents.”

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