Tell us about your very first travel experience.
The first time I went to Europe was in the summer of 2000 for a two-week photography workshop in France conducted by Elizabeth Opalenik. I had met Elizabeth at the Maine Photograph Workshops a few years earlier. One of my friends was going to participate in the workshop, and he offered me free first class airfare if I wanted to go. It was something I had dreamed about for so long and the opportunity just fell into my lap. We shot nude models in the landscape of Provence. The sunflowers and the lavender were in full bloom, and the pictures were beautiful. After this experience, I was hooked on study abroad and I worked toward making it available to my students at ULM.
What made you decide to teach in Europe’s most moving classroom?
I had been working on The British Studies Program at USM for about 7 years. When Doug and Rik introduced The Catalyst, I was hooked. It sounded like such an exciting idea – something new and different. I saw it as an organized backpacking experience across Europe, where students could experience many more cities and cultures. In addition, I had already worked with most of the faculty for The Catalyst, and we had become good friends.
What makes your class on The Catalyst different than a course set in a traditional classroom?
We are out every day experiencing each of these fascinating cities. I take students to the sites they have all heard of and want to see, i.e. the Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace; but we also visit some of the off-the-beaten-path places, like a graffiti park in London, and VanGogh’s home in Paris. Students also get to meet some of the artists/photographers who are living and working in each of the course cities. In addition, we visit many of the major art museums that are available in these cities, i.e. The Louvre, The National Gallery, The Tate Modern. This is a very different experience from sitting in a classroom and viewing a Powerpoint presentation.
What is your favorite city on The Catalyst and why?
Paris – no doubt. The first few years that I taught in Paris, I did not like it. It reminded me of New Orleans (I live in Louisiana) on steroids. I love New Orleans, but it does have a dark, seedy side. So does Paris. For the past 5 years or so, I’ve discovered the neighborhoods and arrondissements that I love, and they have become my home. I love sitting at sidewalk cafes and photographing or writing in my journal. There is nothing like the cafe culture in Paris.
Tell us about a travel moment that changed your life perspective or worldview?
The experience that changed my life was the Elizabeth Opalenik workshop that I wrote about in question 1. She is an internationally recognized photographer, who has worked for Vogue and other well-known fashion publications. To study under her guidance was life-changing for me.
How long have you been going overseas to teach? How do your travels enhance the way that you teach and what you have to offer to Catalyst students?
I have been teaching abroad for the past 12 years. I think travel is so important to artists and photographers. It stimulates creativity and rejuvenates my enthusiasm for what I do the rest of the year. I love seeing the student’s excitement when they first arrive in London and then watching the changes that they undergo over a 5 week semester. I work with all levels, from beginners to advanced students. Students work on individually designed projects, specifically targeting their own interests or passions.
What does your favorite teaching day on The Catalyst consist of?
I love going to Montmartre in Paris. We begin in Pigalle, the red light district of Paris, where the Moulin Rouge is located. We walk up the hill to VanGogh’s apartment, where he and his brother Theo lived. We pass locations where Renoir painted the windmills that at one time were scattered all over the hilltop. We arrive at the Sacre-Cour, a Catholic cathedral located at the highest point in Paris. If it’s a clear day, the views of the city are panoramic. From this location, we can see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Pompidou. We tour the cathedral and then walk around the corner to the central square where many artists are painting portraits and landscapes of the city. Some of the students like to have their portrait drawn at this time. We normally stop for a coffee at one of the sidewalk cafes, in order to give students time to photograph this area as it is very colorful. We begin walking down the hill and stop at Picasso’s studio, to photograph it. We then walk over to the Montmartre Cemetery. This place has a mystery of light and presence to it that is magical to photograph. This day of shooting gives the students a sense of what 19th century Paris may have been like. It’s a beautiful day.