Hopping Over to Holyoke: Students Find Classes Take Them Beyond Blackboards

Evelyn Crunden ’13
Features Editor

The opportunity to explore and study outside of the classroom is one many students look forward to, but it is not often that the prospect becomes an actuality. Students in ARS 384: Advanced Photo Studies, however, are learning first-hand what it means to view art through the lens of reality. Working on photo projects focused on the Pioneer Valley as a whole, the class is working to gather visual perspectives of their own geographic location, as opposed to elsewhere.

“We are advanced photography students, so we will be using various formats for this [piece]. [We are] covering a range of topics,” said Sammy Driscoll ’14. “The canals of Holyoke, the Connecticut River, breweries or a particular brewery, paper manufacturing, former mills [that are] now condos and art centers [are among the projects being considered].”

Taught by Yola Monakhov, a visiting professor, the class will include both a collaborative and an independent project and encourages students to step outside of their comfort zones. As a start to the semester, students went to photograph Holyoke, and ended up speaking with its mayor, Alex Morse, which Monakhov hopes encourages students to move beyond their comfort-zone in terms of photography.

“[It’s] important to think about what it means for Smith students to want to photograph a city like Holyoke and how one is expected to carry that responsibility,” said Jehan Jillani ’13. “It’s hard to get around to Holyoke if you don’t have a car and/or don’t know the right people who can connect you, but I think that’s what Yola wants us to figure out as well.” Along with others from the class, she echoed the sentiment that leaving the classroom to go out and explore the Valley at large was an incredible opportunity, and one that allowed for a change in perspective as well as a change in scenery.

The impact of classes like Monakhov’s has not gone unnoted by its participants. “Smith should have projects and classes like this more often. The benefit for students is the ability to go outside their comfort zone and also do individual research. I have not had other classes like this, but I feel like students engaging in Kahn projects and collaborations accomplish similar results,” said Driscoll.

The prospect of independent research may be even more of a pull for students than the chance to do collaborative work; individual efforts can yield a more personalized connection with the surrounding environment, as well as the ability for art to manifest itself in new and wholly private ways.

“One student is planning on photographing the mayor, another student is looking into documenting certain neighborhoods. I am personally interested in the immigrant experience in Holyoke,” said Jillani. 

Working in the footsteps of photographers like Mitch Epstein, who has previously produced work about the city, the class hopes to blend their own interests into projects reflective of both the Valley at large and the struggles and experiences lived by individuals. This approach will, ideally, enhance the typical learning experience provided by a typical classroom setting and provoke an increased understanding of the outside world.

As more and more Smith students are discovering, there is oftentimes more to class than just lectures and note taking. Sometimes, living the “Smith experience” means stepping beyond its confines – as Monakhov’s class are now discovering.

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