It’s a Photo Finish!
One school’s pathway to career success in photography [ By Debra Klomp Ching ]
Thirty-two years ago, Alex Caserta—a
teacher at Killingly High School (KHS) in
Dayville, Connecticut—initiated a new
course of study in photography. Over the
years, it was enhanced into the Photography Pathway, Killingly’s first School
to Career program (STC). Based on the
philosophy of integrating vocational skills
training with academic education, it
guides young people into photography as a
viable career path.
For the 2012–2013 academic year, the
Photography Pathway at Killingly attracted
applications from approximately 325
15-to 18-year-old students, with a capacity
to accommodate 180 to 200.
Enrolled students receive instruction
in the usual skills one would expect:
equipment training, lighting techniques
for inside and outside the studio and photographic skills in specific arenas such as
portraiture and commercial photography.
All of this is underpinned by access to and
use of a fully equipped digital facility. The
brass knuckles of the program, however,
isn’t just what’s attracting students.
“I believe in a humanities approach to
learning. I want [the students] to understand and develop ‘a sense of place’ by
observing their surroundings and reacting
to them, to see how things tie in together
and how they relate,” Caserta says. The
individual student experience, then, is a
key element of the program.
“Alex would never limit any of our ideas
and gave us the freedom to creatively
explore whatever theme we chose, no
matter how unconventional,” says Laura
Bernier, who went on from KHS to achieve
a BFA from the School of the Museum of
Fine Arts, Boston, Tufts University and
a postbaccalaureate certificate from the
F+F Schule für Kunst und Mediendesign,
Zürich, and is a 2008 U.S./Swiss Fulbright
Grant recipient in photography.
Caserta’s classes typically focus on
the many ways in which subjects can be
explored and ideas expressed, by sharing
historical examples alongside contemporary photographic practice and exploring
From school to career: (above) Caserta’s students at work in the studio, (left) an image from Laura Bernier’s Fullbright-funded project “Unfinished: Images from the Institute Villa Pierrefeu Swiss Finishing School for Girls.”
interconnections with other fields such as
literature, film and design.
Importantly, in addition to the weekly
7. 5 hours of class time, the program extends beyond school walls with field trips
to museums and galleries, where gallery
owners and assistants provide explanations
of how their venues operate and insightful
curatorial views about artists’ works.
KHS alumnus, Charleen Larkin cites the
program as the jumping-off point for her
career. “My senior year was considered
‘independent study;’ I had free reign and a
lot of creative control.” Larkin attended the
Rhode Island School of Photography, going
on to establish Charleen’s Portrait Studio
in Dayville. Now, as a career professional
herself, she is visited by KHS students.
Through the program’s Job Shadow
initiative, Larkin and other area professionals pass skills and insights along to the next
generation. Students are given a tour of facilities, watch photography sessions and sit
down with business owners to ask questions
about education, career and how to manage
a business. Afterward, at the KHS Career
Center, students conduct research at <www.
onetonline.org>, for career exploration and
job analysis. This is followed by a meeting
with KHS Career Coordinator Karen Lagace
to discuss the pathway to a chosen career.
“Job Shadows are vitally important
to a student’s success in school and in
his or her career. Students are able to
see their future career and work toward
that goal throughout their high school
experiene,” Lagace explains.
Caserta envisions the program’s
future to include the further development of job shadowing opportunities
and building additional links with the
photo industry as a whole. EDU