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Biology, art collaboration helps photography students ‘think about the story’

From the left are Erica Keane, Jordyn Jones and Amir Aghareb.

(Posted on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022)

A photo by L.J. Johnson and Katrina Jackson.
A photo by students L.J. Johnson and Katrina Jackson.

A collaboration between the Art + Design and biology departments at Austin Peay is helping prepare student photographers for the creative challenges they might face in their careers.

The collaboration allows art students to choose specimens from the David H. Snyder Museum of Zoology for elaborate photo shoots in Amir Aghareb’s photo studio lighting class.

Aghareb has used the collaborative lesson in the class for three semesters, giving learning opportunities to students who have fine art or commercial aspirations.

“I wanted to come up with assignments that are not super-specific but at the same time create flexibility for students to come up with their own ideas,” he said.

Aghareb splits the class into two parts. The first half focuses on portraits, and the other half features still life and product photography.

“People who are drawn to more fine art stuff can find their own place, and people who are drawn to commercial can find skills too,” he said.

‘Thinking about the story’

After Aghareb learned about the biology department’s specimen collection, he worked that into the class.

“I thought it would be interesting for students to see something that they normally don’t,” he said.

The students visited the specimen collection to get an idea about what they were to work with.

“I told everybody to come up with proposals so that they had a clearer idea of how they wanted to light it, what was it about why they wanted to photograph it,” he said.

As the lesson evolved over the semesters, Aghareb pushed the students “toward more conceptual thinking about what the story was about.”

“If somebody’s looking at it, is it just a photo of a snake or is it a photo that happens to have a snake that also has another narrative attached to it,” he said. “Which is a broader idea than just photographing something.”

Photo by Katie Boyer
A photo by Katie Boyer.

‘Think in different ways’

Students Erica Keane and Jordyn Jones teamed up to work on one of the photo shoots, one featuring a trio of bird specimens – a pileated woodpecker, a great crested flycatcher and a blue jay.

“This is helping me prepare for what might happen in real life, especially since I want to focus on wildlife photography,” said Keane, a senior studying technical theater with a minor in photography. “I also like it because it’s a great way to be creative because it’s something I normally would not do. This is forcing me to think in different ways – different ways to position the birds.”

Jones also saw the value in the lesson.

“It will help me get an understanding of the depth and field in art,” said the senior studying studio art. “Currently, I’m working on making clothes out of ceramics and having to photograph from different angles, it does help especially with the lighting.

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