Developing a critical eye

By Katy Nielsen

After its debut this fall, a visual-literacy education session offered by the Museum of Contemporary Photography will continue this spring for Columbia students taking First-Year Seminar.

Corinne Rose, manager of education at the MoCP and instructor for the viewing sessions offered by the museum, said her class essentially teaches critical thinking—something students from all disciplines should learn.

“I think we could all probably argue—and most of us would agree—young people are more influenced by visual images

than they are by words,” Rose said. “I think that’s dangerous, frankly. We should be critical consumers of images as well

as text.”

Understanding why a photographer chooses to use a particular point of view can launch student discussions about perspective and deconstructing images, according to Rose.

“It is an expression of truth,” she said. “There is not a single truthful interpretation of any one perspective.”

According to Soo La Kim, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Columbia and teacher of First-Year Seminar, combining images with seminar topics is helpful to students.

“People who are more visual can understand [ideas] better,” said Louise Love, vice president of Academic Affairs, about the class. “In a way, it speaks to many people.”

One of the first topics students in First-Year Seminar address is self and community, Kim said. Working with Rose allowed her to start that conversation.

“I really wanted to get students away from thinking about self and identity as this individual thing, but [instead] something that’s really embedded in a larger context,” she said.

When Kim scheduled her viewing session with Rose, she wanted the images to relate to the current focus of the class. The instructors discussed which images would most clearly address each subject matter.

Rose chose photography by Nikki Lee for Kim’s class. Lee is an artist well-known for joining ethnic and social groups for her series titled “Projects” (1997 – 2001), which include “The Hispanic Project,” “The Yuppie Project,” “The Lesbian Project” and “The Skateboarder Project.”

Lee’s “Hispanic Project” follows her in a series of images as she takes on the persona of a Latina woman. She styled her hair like the women around her, and matched the clothes, facial expressions and makeup choices of the culture. For example, she sports hoop earrings and rhinestone necklaces for some of the “Hispanic Project” photographs.

According to Kim, when Rose conducted the viewing session in the MoCP, at 600 S. Michigan Ave., Kim heard her say, “Art is an idea expressed through a particular form.” This resonated with her.

“These artists made choices for a reason, and students make choices for a reason,” Rose said. “We need to think about those choices and be mindful. That’s what making good art is. It’s having a concept and choosing the appropriate form that best renders your idea.”

The thought Rose said she wants to express to students is that everyone has a voice, and they can express their voice in unique ways, through various mediums and develop a vocabulary across genres.

“There’s something so valuable about taking students to the session and allowing them to see the images up close,” Kim said. “The more you can analyze images the more you can be a more critical consumer, producer and participant in conversations.”

She said her students had the chance to think about issues through a different medium than the books they were reading for First-Year Seminar, which helps them become better educated interpreters of the visual world.

“One of the key things to increasing visual literacy is getting students to slow down, look and take in the information in front of them,” Kim said. “Visual literacy is something that every educated person should have.”

According to Kim, without that ability, people are more prone to being swayed by images or consuming them passively.

First-Year Seminar classes can take part in the course offered at the MoCP during weeks two and three of their seminars

in the spring semester. Professors can schedule multiple sessions that integrate subjects addressed in their First-Year Seminar curriculum.