‘It’s just a melting pot of creativity’: Photo Practicum class to hold upcoming exhibition

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Lauren Shaw’s Photo Practicum exhibit poster.

By Karissa Schaefer, Emerson Los Angeles Bureau Chief

Professor Lauren Shaw’s Photo Practicum class will showcase their exhibit “Metamorphosis” from April 19-27, featuring diverse individual projects that a small group of students has been dedicated to all semester. 

Made up of students working on photography BFAs and non-visual media arts majors, the class operates as an ongoing workshop, with critiques given from Shaw and their fellow peers. Everyone’s projects are slowly seamed together in an ongoing transformation, reflecting each individual and their perspective through various mediums. 

“The name of the show ‘Metamorphosis,’ it’s really about this class,” Shaw said. “It’s great to say their personalities transformed somewhat, but it’s ultimately all about the work. They bond together, they help each other, and they do find their voices.”

While most of the exhibit consists of printed photographs, senior VMA Hannah Baynes is showcasing a 16mm film called “Sleepwalk.” Done in the essence of a performance, the film explores her experience with insomnia through dance, which is also Baynes’ first time showing her true self in front of the camera. She connects it to this semester’s theme by evolving away from hiding her weaknesses to gradually becoming more comfortable with presenting herself during her time at Emerson. 

“The process itself with creating the film had a massive change on my own perspective of self,” Baynes said. “I had to put myself in the position where I’m incredibly vulnerable and I can’t have as much control as I would like. The whole process of creating this film has definitely transformed my view of myself as an artist.” 

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Senior creative writing student Grace Mitzen’s project consists of black and white portraits of family, friends, and hopefully herself, capturing their natural naked bodies. The class provides its students the freedom to examine topics that pique their interest, with Mitzen’s own attitude towards her project changing throughout the semester based on photographing her different subjects. 

“I started school actually as a bio major, and this is me combining my human bio with my art skills,” Mitzen said. “For me, my project is about perception and the way our bodies serve as our identifying features. People look at my body and say ‘Oh that’s Grace,’ but at the same time, it’s a personal thing, but also once removed from who you are on a soul level.” 

Other projects Baynes and Mitzen mentioned include Jack Isacke’s piece on the future of a family-owned Massachusetts farm, and Max Collins’ portrait of American brutalism captured on a road trip, described by the girls as “unbelievable.” 

“It’s just a melting pot of creativity,” Mitzen said. “We get to see our visions come to life in the gallery exhibition.” 

From inkjet, digital, and darkroom prints to shooting on 35mm film, 120mm film, and 4x5s, the class is dedicated to presenting their work in a unique medium. 

“A lot of the work varies, and that’s one of the most beautiful things about this exhibition,” Baynes said. “One thing I also really admire is that everyone has such a deep admiration and respect for one another.”

Shaw’s favorite parts about teaching are the interactions between her passionate students and their current and ever-changing interests. As her best accomplishment, teaching allows Shaw to connect with the varying identities of students that come through her classes. 

“My practicum class now, I’m already mourning,” Shaw said. “I don’t care about liability, I care about who they are as human beings, so I will go to the mat. It has enriched me so much. I’ve gotten so much from my students and that’s why I continue to teach.”

Both students praised the class environment professor Shaw creates, in which she grants her students the ability to express themselves by encouraging them and all their ideas. Always willing to work or talk with her students, the photographer and filmmaker’s critiques are honest, and she’s someone they highly admire. 

“This whole article can be a love letter to Lauren,” Mitzen said. “She allows you such freedom to really just embrace your own creative process and to see what you can make out of it. It’s amazing.” 

Baynes credited Shaw for making the classroom feel like family. Though the class is more loosely structured, the standards are still high to push for more artist discipline, which works because of the mutual groundwork of respect. 

“She always feels wrong being like ‘I’m a teacher’ because she creates an environment where she learns from us just like we learn from her,” Baynes said. “At the end of the semester when everyone shows their work, the amount of growth that people have from the beginning of the semester to the end is remarkable, and that’s all because of Lauren.” 

Though her soul lies with creating her own art, Shaw calls teaching her “bread and butter.” Photo Practicum, a senior course she got to design, is her ideal dream class. 

“Teaching is like performance, it’s like theater, and if you know your craft and you like being in front of a community or students, then it just happens,” Shaw said. “It was really called Finding Your Voice, and that to me is the beauty in being a senior and evolving, from leaving your parents and coming to Emerson. Emerson’s so unique because of the identity that students find.”

The no-cost event will take place in Tufte’s sixth-floor gallery space with free food, and those who attend are encouraged to bring their friends. 

“Come to the exhibition,” Mitzen said. “We’ve worked so hard. Everyone has put in so much time and energy, and it’s really going to be so amazing.”