When my friend and grad school studio mate Stephen Takacs called with the news that he would be attending the Jentel Artist Residency in Sheridan, Wyoming I just about hugged the stranger standing next to me in the grocery store. I have to admit my excitement was mostly due to selfish reasons. You see, I am a photo instructor at Sheridan College and knew that my students and myself would reap the benefits having him at Jentel if I could talk him into doing an artist talk at my school.
Being the gracious person he is, Stephen accepted the invitation to speak to Sheridan College and also offered to set up his giant camera obscura in the atrium.
Prior to his artist talk, a couple students and I helped Stephen set up the Brownie. It was great for the students to see what it took to unload the gear from the van, put the camera together, set up a traveling darkroom, find water, and set up lights; all before the main show began. In class I talk frequently about the difference between making a photograph and taking a photograph, and the purposefulness of Stephen’s Brownie is a fantastic example of what it means to make images.
After setting up the Brownie, it was time for Stephen’s talk to begin. My two photo classes as well as a ceramic, painting, and sculpture class all piled into room 207 to hear the artist speak. The talk was great and left students buzzing for days after. Stephen brushed upon his current works being tied to historical references that grounded his concepts in a context that the students could understand. What students were most excited about was the way the talk flowed. He was honest and spoke about the trials and errors that came with being an art maker. He spoke about how one body of work might lead to the next and how you might have to remake a piece multiple times over a course of years to finally get it to the final state.
Now it was time to explore the Brownie. The students were in awe of the sheer size of this camera. Most of the student body has never been exposed to a darkroom, and, oh, how I have missed first time comments on the prints being processed through developer.
“It’s magic” came from onlookers.
Stephen offered to take a class photo of us. While the photo was being composed Stephen directed students to move lights, time the exposure, and really made us feel a part of the process
After he spent the whole day with us, we helped to take down the Brownie. The students were sad that the camera couldn’t become a permanent fixture at Sheridan College, and have even been asked if we could possibly build one. I cannot express enough how much I appreciate Stephen taking time out of his artist residency to share his art making with us. We are truly inspired and can’t wait follow the Brownie wherever it may go.