The MoCP + Writing and Rhetoric II

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During my time teaching as a Graduate Student Instructor and with the Bridge program, I’ve had the chance to incorporate a small portion of the Museum of Contemporary Photography‘s (MoCP) vast collection into my curriculum. This semester is no exception. The museum’s current exhibition, Victoria Sambunaris: Taxonomy of a Landscape, works particularly well with my Place and Space Unit—a unit in which students use the lens of place and space to observe a community that they will be researching all semester. I am drawn to this particular exhibit, because Sambunaris’ collection examines various landscapes throughout the United States and what happens when landscape connects with civilization. This is her line of inquiry, her unique question about the world that she lives in, and her way of exploring that question is through photography. Below is a sample of one of the pieces at the MoCP. I couldn’t get into the exhibition the day that I went, because a class was in session, so a screenshot from the website was the best I could do.

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This is what I am asking my students to do in writing—develop a question of inquiry and observe a community of their choosing. Throughout the semester, they will explore a specific community through a variety of lenses and through secondary research. In particular, I am thrilled to show them Sambunaris’ collection and have them respond to each image and develop their own questions. I’ll ask them to think about what excites or interests them about a particular piece and ask them to consider the ways in which we make meaning through examination of place (the actual physical make-up of each photo) and space (the interactions and connections and the way a place functions because of its physical make-up).

I feel lucky to be teaching at Columbia and to have such thought-provoking resources available to me. On any given day, I can walk into an on-campus exhibit with my class, have my students write and respond critically, creatively to the exhibit, and then head back to class for a lively discussion. And, my experience is that the discussions are always lively. Students respond especially well to images, especially in my Writing and Rhetoric classes, which enforces the idea of responding to what you see, what you are observing and creating meaning from it.

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I’ve also been able to take my students, past and present, to other on-campus museums such as the C33 Gallery and The Glass Curtain Gallery, among others. Students also have opportunities to visit these galleries on their own, and I really do believe that having these resources at their fingertips and being in a campus environment that is so creative and visually stimulating is a real asset to their education.

As a current graduate student, I can say that this is true of my experience at Columbia, too. I have had countless opportunities to attend poetry and nonfiction readings on campus and to take part in collaborative projects with other departments. It’s simply lovely that, on any given day, during my lunch break or between classes, I can mosey on into a gallery and see creative work from artists from all over the world and from current students that has the potential to inspire and enrich my own thinking and creative work.

For a complete list of galleries at Columbia, click here.

To learn about upcoming exhibits at the MoCP, click here.