The “Teaching Thing” Started with a Gift

Jim Riegel, Chairperson of the Photography Department, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts

As a surprise gift, my thoughtful wife signed me up for a black and white printing class taught by Jim Riegel at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA). It took me back a bit because I was a color slide photographer at the time and had never used black and white film, but I went.

“Sisters” by Jim Riegel

The class was great and I learned a lot. Jim is a fascinating photographer who mostly does unique and often quirky nude photography.

“Egg, Pearls, Rings” One of my class assignments.

I had a ball, and it turned out I loved the black and white darkroom. There is just something about watching a print slowly appear on paper by the dim orange glow of a safelight.

The semester went by all too quickly. Late in the semester Jim Riegel learned I was doing a multi-projector, computer controlled, slide presentation with stereophonic sound at an international convention in the Kansas City area. He asked me if I would do the same show the last night of class in the KIA theater. I did. Right after the show, he offered me a teaching job at the KIA right on the spot.

“Granery Cats” by Jim Riegel

At first I said no due to scheduling concerns at my “day job”. But he persisted and suggested they could work around my schedule. I would teach one night a week and do some Saturday morning field trips. I talked to my supervisor at my day job who enthusiastically told me to go for it, so I said yes. My first class at the KIA was the summer of 1995 and I have been teaching photography ever since.

Before moving from Michigan I spent seven happy years on the KIA faculty, and most recently did photography workshops for seven years for The Ohio State University.

Photography workshop field trip at Bear Lake. Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain in the moonlight. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Other people helped along the way. Jeremy Bruskotter signed up for some of my photography classes at the KIA in the late 1990s. In 2011 he contacted me and asked if I would like to team teach some photography workshops with him for Ohio State University. Our first of several annual workshops together was that summer at Stone Lab on OSU’s Gibraltar Island. I also did spring and fall workshops at OSU’s Mansfield Ohio campus.

Vickie Reynolds in Grand Rapids Michigan asked if I would do photo workshops in the Grand Rapids area. That led to several workshops in the Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo area. Darrell Belrose asked me if I would do a workshop in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Who would turn down airfare to Calgary (with side trips to Banff National Park)? Of course I went!

In 2012 I did a winter intensive photography class at Graceland University in Lamoni Iowa.

Bob Walker, my brother-in-law and photo buddy, asked me if I would do workshops in Colorado. We based the annual fall workshops in Estes Park with field trips every day to Rocky Mountain National Park. This fall we did a 2,000 mile photo safari in southwest Colorado. Winnie Johnston asked me if I would do workshops at Park of the Pines, a campground in northern Michigan. We do the exploration sessions at Park of the Pines with field trips in Northern Michigan and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Teaching photography also makes me a much better photographer. I read a lot of books and watch a lot of videos as I look for better ways to teach photography, so that makes a difference. But there is more to it than that. There is something about trying to articulate photographic principles in a clear and concise way to a group of photographers, and working with photographers on a field trip to improve their photography skills that makes your own photography better. You don’t have to teach classes or lead workshops to do that. Any time you help a less experienced photographer you change your own photography. I think about that every time someone with a camera walks up to me at a national park and asks for advice.

And it all started with Melissa signing me up for one of Jim Reigel’s photography classes. Little did I imagine what that would lead to.

“Vic Eating Cabbage”, the cover photo and title of Jim Reigel’s book.


Jim Riegel Photography

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts