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Capturing Students’ Stay-at-Home Experiences Through Photography

When CNM’s digital photography students couldn’t go to class anymore, they used their camera to try and understand the experience
Capturing Students’ Stay-at-Home Experiences Through Photography
Photo by Stephon Walker Sykes, left. Photo by Amaia Biewen, right.

Jun 24, 2020

CNM instructor Angelika Rinnhofer likes to tell her photography students the easiest and most difficult assignment you can give yourself is to photograph your immediate surroundings. It’s easy because things are familiar. But that familiarity makes things challenging, too. Nothing feels unique or photo worthy. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit back in March, Angelika felt like this was the perfect assignment for her students who were now confined to their homes. She asked them to look around and make photos that helped translate how they were feeling. What she got back were a variety of thoughtful, moving images that gave the viewer a peek inside students’ stay-at-home lives. 

“I felt like the assignment was something good in disguise,” she says. “It would have never happened this way if we weren’t in a pandemic.”

In one photo, student Stephon Walker Sykes sits in a dark room with a mask on holding a game controller in a way that looks like he might be banging it against his head in frustration.

“To me, that image really captured what a young person might be going through in a moment like this,” Angelika says. “It’s like we’re on the verge of going crazy.”

In another photo (below), student Imani Defreeze captured her sister hiding in bed.

“I like that image because we’re being told to hide from the virus, just like a kid might create their own hiding space,” Angelika says. 

CNM student photo

In a third image, student Amaia Biewen shot a photo of the “closed” sign at the Waffle House just as the sun was low on the horizon and hitting the sign with a direct ray of light. The light adds power and Angelika was glad the student was paying attention.

“To me, a photograph is never complete without the right light,” she says.

Light, composition, moment and the other fundamental pieces of a photography are all taught in Angelika’s class. She also teaches the fundamentals of how to use a DSLR and how to use editing software like Lightroom.

Students in her class shoot their own photos but also learn by looking at the work of other photographers. They have to present on a famous photographer during the class and this term looked at how famous photographers were documenting the pandemic.

Going into the Fall Term, Angelika says she’s doing a lot of work to prepare for fully online classes. She knows it will be difficult, but also thinks students will benefit. For example, since students won’t be in class, they’ll have to be better about examining their own photos at home and choosing which ones to present in online class critiques. 

“We’re all going to become better self editors and I’m excited to see what other skills we can develop as well,” she says.