Johns Hopkins University
Fall/Winter 2007
Vol. 5, No. 1


A Conversation with Matthew Crenson '63

A New Kind of Pre-Med

Freshman Book Discussion Yields Rich Insights

[Tech Tools] Museum World Tour 2007

> [Tech Tools] A Melding of the Muses

[Classroom Encounters] Mass Media's Messages

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A Melding of the Muses

Tristan Davies and Phyllis Berger knew they wanted to work together. Their courses—his on the forms of fiction, hers on photography—would complement each other, they surmised, allowing students to integrate their prose with images captured through digital photography.

The trouble was that Davies, a senior lecturer in the Writing Seminars, and Berger, a faculty member in the Homewood Art Workshops, couldn't figure out exactly how to structure a collaborative course or pay for the necessary equipment.

But then early in 2007 came the Arts Innovation Program, an initiative to spur arts courses and arts-related efforts on the Homewood campus. "That really clarified for us what this should be," Davies says. He worked up a quick outline of a new course, Image and Text, and applied for funding under the new program, which had grown out of the final report of the Homewood Arts Task Force.

Theirs was one of three course proposals to receive funding in the inaugural round of grants, and the duo is team teaching it this fall. "We're really trying to teach two classes in one semester," Davies says. Their students are learning digital photography as they study contemporary examples of writers who integrate fiction and images. The course focuses on the form of fiction known as anatomy, which Davies says is broadly defined and very inclusive, lending itself well to the use of imagery.

The course's first assignment? A scavenger hunt of sorts. Students were shown a series of images-including photographs by Wright Morris and Joel—Peter Witkin showing carefully composed personal or oddly paired items (body parts and fruit, in Witkin's case); street photography by Roberto Doisneau and Ruth Orkin; and portraits by Julia Margaret Cameron and Thomas Struth—and asked to create photographs of their own that explore similar techniques, convey emotion, find the abstract in the environment, and more. Afterward, Davies incorporated a fiction-writing exercise into the assignment.

Early in the semester, the class headed over to the Baltimore Museum of Art's sculpture garden to shoot pictures, testing their camera skills and experimenting with light, shadow, texture, and form. Eric Chung, a junior Writing Seminars major from Hong Kong, crouched beneath sculptures and leaned over a fountain to get the shots he wanted. "When I saw this course listed I got really excited," says Chung, who says he has always had a camera and loves the idea of melding photography and fiction. "The opportunity to incorporate any kind of graphic element into writing is really appealing."

For Steffi Cerato, a senior from Charleston, S.C., who is majoring in history, the class provided a chance to write creatively and cultivate her interest in photography. That was true for Daniel Ammirato, too, a junior who's pursuing a double major in economics and sociology. "I don't get the opportunity to write creatively very often," he says, adding that Davies and Berger's class was exploring "something really new."

Each student's final project will be a bound photo book (such as an iBook). "The goal is that it'll be an even negotiation between the imagery they're learning to take and the prose fiction that they're writing over the course of the term," says Davies.

Notes Berger, "The images are not meant to be [mere] illustrations."

The grant funding—of approximately $7,500—paid for digital cameras, a printer, photography books, and some guest speakers for the class, including an expert on book design. Limited to 15 students, the course filled up almost immediately.

For its first round of funding, the Arts Innovation Program received 10 proposals and awarded funding to six. "We had a strong field of contenders in this inaugural semester, and it is gratifying to know that new opportunities in the arts will be created for Homewood undergraduates as a result of this program," says Vice Provost for the Arts Winston Tabb, who is also the Sheridan Dean of University Libraries. (Read more on the winning student proposals.)

The program accepted another round of grant proposals in September for coursesand other arts-related efforts slated for Intersession or the spring semester.