The other week I heard that my high school photography teacher, Ms. Goodale, was retiring. Now, this didn't come as much surprise as when I was back in 11th grade she was already in the throws of middle age (at least in my high school eyes) and she had already probably put in a solid 36 years of teaching art classes to less than perfectly behaved adolescents. Still, I couldn't help but feel that twinge of nostalgia one gets when you realize some things will just never be the same and your memories, as you had them, will cease to exist for the future students that follow in your footsteps. I can remember feeling this way when Mr. Hoffman, the 85 year old "retired" teacher (who starting working at the school in 1944), would still loyally pass out the daily news bulletin, passed away. His tweed suits, smart bow ties and round tortoise glasses were a symbol of another era, one in which students dressed up for school and a certain formal protocol dictated the daily routine. His hallmark style might have become one of the most recognizable traits of his legacy, as back at the turn on the millennium girl's hemlines were inching higher at the same rate as boy's sagging waist lines.
To get into photography class you had to take Drawing I. I can remember sitting in Ms. Goodale's classroom at a big drafting table, covered in the typical pistachio green blotter, the sun streaming in through the large windows. Her voice was slow and soft and drawing was such a break from the haste and commotion of a typical school day, that I would find myself fighting off sleep. Drawing class to the 17 year old me was what recess was to the 7 year old me: I had just exchanged four-square for pencils and pastels. I always enjoyed drawing and could hold my own, but when you go to a school where the most gifted artists go on to attend Parsons, SCAD and RISD, holding your own is not really an invitation to the semester exhibitions. What Drawing I did teach me was an appreciation for composition and that sometimes the best work can be done on a whim- without over thinking every stroke of the pencil or smudge of the pastel. Being an interior designer there are most definitely times when perfect is all but necessary. You need measurements in the tenth of an inch, you triple check clearances and are constantly thinking about scale. But, there is something to be said for attempting to perfect the imperfect style. One that isn't a straight line. One where the fabrics are unexpectedly harmonious. One where a gnarly antique chest is juxtaposed with a wildly contemporary painting. At Michigan State every interior design freshmen had to take the collegiate version of Drawing I. Almost without fail, I would get a better grade on the piece I had done on the fly, probably before I hightailed it out of my dorm room, than the pieces I would labor over, edit and redo. This is something that I try to communicate to my clients, you have to trust your gut and give some merit to instinct. You will not necessarily make better decisions just because you toiled over them. Give yourself a little credit and be sure-footed in the fact that the person who knows you the best is you.
When Drawing I completed it was finally onto Photography I, which was a lot trickier than I had originally anticipated. Fumbling around in the closet in the already dimly lit dark room, in an attempt to transfer the film to the processing canister was only the beginning of the journey. With much anticipation we would hang our negatives to dry to find ourselves (well, maybe just myself) rarely thrilled with the results. I, for one, found I hardly focused where I intended and while I had spent numerous hours "staging" my subject the light would be captured in a way that the entire shot was overexposed. There weren't too many erasers in that dark room. My photography aesthetic began to unintentionally resemble a creepier, poor man's Film Noir.
In describing this process I can honestly say I feel like I sound 100 years old. Have I told you yet how I also had to walk 8 miles to school- even through the snow? Nah. But, seriously with the dawn of the digital age in which Photoshop, digital cameras and the ability to see a photo miliseconds after you click are truly revolutionary. How many of us capture our lives on our iPhone's and then Instagram them for special effects? I am 100% on this train. With this little hand held device we couldn't get farther from Ms. Goodale's dimly lit dark room. It is a whole new frontier of education and endless possibilities. It is when limits start to be explored and we set out to pioneer new technologies that there are inevitably some casualties. It is kind of bittersweet. I heard Ms. Goodale retired because the photography class needed to be more digitally focused. I can imagine that was a pretty daunting thought. Also, I think after 36 years of teaching you have more than earned your right to embrace time for yourself. I guess the big question is while innovation is crucially imminent, how do we work to also remain relevant? This question could be applied to a wide spectrum of professions. In interior design, like many careers, you can see the discrepancy in filing cabinets vs. cloud storage, website & blogging vs. printed marketing materials, virtual resource libraries vs. physical resource libraries. I am not saying one is better than the other- it's just what you know. I love to use antiques in my spaces and one could question how to incorporate the past and take it into the future. That topic can be for a different time. I think we can only truly evolve with an appreciation of the past- a debt to those who set the standard to be challenged. Not to only realize how far we've come, but to recognize life, as we know, is a continual work in progress. That should keep us on our toes.