Webs are not just for http protocols.
They are in life itself, invisible hyperlinks, maybe random generated coincidence. And once more, filed in the bulging web of serendipity tag pile on this blog is how I came to be at a screening of a brilliant documentary Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay.
Beyond that, the intertwines of someone with roots in photography and Arizona that I knew not of, says how much more in the world I need to learn.
The way I came to be at the Bristol screening, the first for the film, was my connection to colleague Laura Ritchie, someone deserving of several blog posts here. I got to know of her work in teaching and music via Connected COurses (maybe) or perhaps it was the web connection of Jonathan Worth.
We actually met up once in Tucson at the San Javier mission, where we played some music together and had tacos.
(Laura’s mom lives in southern Arizona, so that’s another connective thread).
On this current trip to the UK for the OER18 Conference we’d arranged a follow up visit for myself and Mia Zamora to Laura’s university in Chichester. Months ago she let us know that she would be staying an extra day in Bristol as she had written and performed the music for a documentary film. Did we want to attend?
Laura’s cello music wove through the film, in the opening and closing, and especially noted during the sections with Jay’s quotes about photography and life. We had much conversation on the drive after about how that music writing is done, with just some info about the subject, a few clips, and suggestions from the director.
And that’s how we came to be in the audience at the Martin Parr Foundation for the premiere of the film. Parr was a colleague of Bill Jay, and appeared extensively in the film, along with a few other “analog gang” photographers who were on hand.
I’ll spare the summary of who Bill Jay was, go see the film or do that googly thing. But there it was in the opening film, in full 1970s decor, when Bill Jay himself mentioned talking from his living room in Tempe Arizona.
Not only that, I learned that Jay had started the Photographic Studies program at Arizona State University, teaching there for some 25 years. Ouch, I went to ASU, and maybe was there at the end of his career. Never knew it.
The life web winds tighter.
In the film, they talk about how Jay’s career at ASU faded to gray as the result of a most unusual health issue- he was bit by a rattlesnake. As the film showed, Jay had a cabin in the Pine forest “about an hour and half north of Phoenix”. In the footage I saw a wood cabin in a very familiar terrain, the same Ponderosa Pine forest I live in up in Strawberry.
My hunch was maybe the Prescott area.
After the film, I asked director Grant Scott if he knew where the cabin was. He sent me to ask Martin Parr who shrugged, and nudged me to ask David Hurn; in the film you could tell Hurn was one of the closest people to Bill Jay.
Hurn said the cabin was in “Tonto National Forest” (which if you know Arizona geography is really not much Forest at all from north of Phoenix up to the foot of the Mogollon Rim, then he added that it was in Payson.
That folks, is 20 miles from where I live. That seemed worthy of a tweet
An honor (or honour) to attend premiere of Do Not Bend, documentary of extraordinary photographer Bill Jay https://t.co/Mq0x9sTfLU I didn’t know of his pioneering teaching at ASU nor that he had a cabin in Payson AZ.
— Alan Levine ? (@cogdog) April 21, 2018
but the web gets better, as in a short while I got back
Alan, I'm really glad to see your post. Bill lived in Mead Ranch just down the road from where I live. I'll probably try to catch up with the person who lives in his old place. I'm not sure if she's aware of the film.
— Tim Ehrhardt (@PaysonRealtor) April 21, 2018
I am not quite sure where Mead Ranch is, I believe it’s in the area east of Payson, but I will find out.
That was a long way to get to find some Arizona history.
There is, of course, much more to Bill Jay than this trivia. I regret missing copying down many of the quotes Jay had about teaching, as he was rather critical and outspoken on the way photography was taught.
They said that his web site was being revamped to include many of his published essays. However http://www.billjayonphotography.com currently shows a web hosting “coming soon” page…. but that will not stop me from finding the earlier version, kind of crude 1990s style web, from the Wayback Machine.
I found a list of Jay’s articles that mostly are findable in the Internet Archive, from Aaron Scharf: An appreciation to Women In Photography: The number of females, 1840-1900.
I waded a but into Pointing a Finger at the Moon: Reflections on teaching photography as a profession where I found him questioning his own career as a teacher:
This anthology marks the end of my career as a full time teacher in an academic institution. For 25 years I have been engaged daily in the traffic and transmission of information and, dare I say it, inspiration. I have always enjoyed this interaction with individual students but, as time progressed and periods of reflection on the meaning-ofit-all became more accessible, I have to confess that increasingly I seemed to be questioning, doubting my chosen profession, as if something, somewhere had gone slightly out of kilter but I could not quite put my finger on the problem.
He’s critical of academia, of learning by transmission, of the fallacy of testing.
I have to admit it: I am only interested in changing lives, not providing information for its own sake
In my own experience, the only learning which has been meaningful has been selfmotivated, self-taught, self-appropriated, self-discovered.
His teaching is a process, not a factory belt of content delivery:
Primarily, then, teaching provides an opportunity for me to learn. I am testing my own weaknesses out loud and listening to hear if my responses sound valid. Yes, the students are being used in my selfish quest for meaning. I have thrown a pulley around the educational process and winch myself forward, by increments, towards an end result swathed in uncertainties but which, hopefully, means that I am becoming what I am potentially.
We must find methods by which the student’s life search becomes the raison d’?etre of the educational system rather than the student being a product on the conveyor belt of a degree factory. It is a major mistake for universities to assume that the student is unaware of this fact
and finally, the title of the essay appears:
Learning then moves away from the acquisition of information toward experiences integrated with the whole of life.
The teacher points toward the moon. The student must first learn to look at the moon, not at the finger.
The responsibility rests with the teacher. Most educators, of my experience, might be experts in a field of academic inquiry but do not understand, or acknowledge, the further reaches of learning; they are content to waggle their finger and ignore the moon.
There’s much more here to relish.
But find a way to see the film (and listen for Laura’s music).
And look to the moon, there’s a webbed way there.
Feature Image: Screen shot of the opening to the trailer for Do Not Bend published to YouTube with one of their funky licenses.