The first week in May has been declared by President Obama as National Teacher Appreciation Week, and tomorrow—May 3rd, marks National Teacher Appreciation Day.
For many of us we can name that one teacher or professor that had a notable and profound influence in shaping our professional lives, and for me there was one professor in particular that inspired me in my work even today—Dr. Fred Johns. Even though I was an English Communications major at North Adams State College and he was a professor of Biology we crossed paths in the campus photo club in 1994. At the time I was still learning the fundamentals of B/W darkroom techniques of exposing film and paper to chemicals and the photojournalism basics of composition and telling a story with an image.
Fred (he insisted we call him Fred and not Professor or Dr. Johns, but many still did) was immersed in all things to do with the Macintosh computer platform and especially photoshop and photo editing software and other beta photo editing sharewares. I took one of his computer graphics classes in 1995 where we scanned our photos into simple photo editing programs and learned to draw clipping paths and create compositions and digital manipulations like solarization and embossing on clunky and slow Apple II machines—and my mind was blown.
Early on he saw the possibilities of the platform and before long with his help we transitioned the school newspaper, The Beacon, from film and prints to film scanners and a 100% digital workflow. Computing power and graphics software for the non-professional user was still in the early days in the mid 90’s and Adobe, Quark and Corel were just starting to make a push into the publishing field.
Fred was like a little kid with a newly discovered set of tools in his smoke-filled and cramped office with its cluttered stacks of books and papers on biology that were quickly giving way to multiple Power Macs and the early versions of Photoshop for dummies books that he would readily share with any student who showed interest. He would give away copies of 3.5-inch floppy discs with the latest shareware or photoshop filter download that he handed out for students like me to try out. Many of the informal “classes” he taught was either in his office after hours or out in the parking lot while he was smoking his ever present cigarettes that ultimately took his life in December 2009. He didn’t teach his knowledge of photography and emerging computer graphics technology for the money or the academic prestige, but to pass on his enthusiasm for the subject onto his students at a time when e-mail wasn’t even widely used yet.
To this day, whenever I am doing a particularly tedious clipping path for a commercial product photo composition or retouching of a portrait or digital reproduction of an old family photo for a client, I think foldly of Fred and how his enthusiasm for photoshop and the Macintosh platform influenced my early publishing and ultimately photography career.
I wonder what he would think of the gadgets and gizmos we have today, no doubt he would be holed up in his office all ours of the night tapping away on an iPad or standing in the parking lot with a smoke in one hand and an iPhone in the other—quick with a grin and positive word preceded by, “Hey Greg, have you seen this new software!”