Featured Project

Berlin: The City as Portrait

How would you describe this class to prospective students?

This class is an immersive study abroad class in Berlin using contemporary photography as the basis for investigation, production and research. It is a project-based class that requires diligent photographic inquiry into a specific aspect of current Berlin life and/or culture.

What inspired the direction you took with the curriculum for this class?

This was my first class, so it was a challenge to fill the 14 weeks prior to arriving in Berlin. We were basically studying the city from afar. I knew that when we arrived, the students would be so influenced by the city and its vibrant life that they would want to change their ideas for their projects.

But since Berlin and LA are official “sister cites,” my thought was to have the students research an aspect of Berlin that they could begin in LA and could then continue in Germany. It was a challenge because, as anticipated, most students wanted to change directions when they arrived. But some did complete the LA/Berlin concept.

What were some of the most important concepts and ideas you hoped students would take away from the experience/classwork?

I hope they have come to love Berlin and all it has to offer. I also hope they saw the importance of meeting other young photographers with similar interests and concerns. And I think there’s an enduring value in learning outside of the walls of the school, seeing how much is really out there.

I believe that immersion in the culture of Berlin helped students see new ways of looking at their work and thinking about themselves as artists. They were also exposed to a European way of looking at and interpreting photographs.

What are some of the assignments and materials you’ve incorporated into the curriculum that you hope will encourage and provoke students to challenge themselves and break new ground creatively?

All my students had to complete a project that they started in LA. Many did complete this project but others found it very difficult because they felt differently about their work once they were on the ground in Berlin inspired by a whole new set of stimuli. So I allowed them to switch their focus and pursue a new path. I believe that this reevaluation helped them think about their work in new ways.

What do you think the importance and/or role of getting outside of one’s familiar environment plays in an art and design education?

I think it is essential today. We all must be internationally aware of what is happening. The Internet has made us global, but often in name only. Physically travelling to a new city on a different continent makes that globalism real. The experiences became enduring. And students experienced the true nature of the artistic movements they’ve studied.

What were some of the most interesting/surprising ways the students responded to the challenges and assignments?

I saw students change the way they worked. And we talked about why they changed. I do think that if they had more time in Berlin, they would have made quite substantial progress. But I felt a sense freedom enter into their work. They took more chances and incorporated the relationships that they experienced in Berlin.

What were some of the biggest challenges they faced creatively and culturally in adapting to the experience of studying abroad.

I think the time frame was challenging. We all felt they were just beginning to acclimate to the environment when it was time to leave. It takes a good two weeks just to relax and absorb the city.

Can you describe a few students (and/or their projects) who you think benefitted most from the experience and why?

I think my student Rudy benefitted by photographing a friend that he made. Before he was doing very tightly controlled constructions and then he shifted to a beautiful color documentary of his new friend. The results were beautiful. Also Bali really discovered a part of his personality that he felt could flourish in Berlin.

What are some of your most vivid memories of being in Berlin with the students and/or stories they shared about their Berlin experiences?

My favorite memories were really the friendships that developed with my students. I got to know each of them and the conversations that we had became more meaningful. And of course seeing the work change and evolve.

But I guess my biggest satisfaction came by seeing the daily smiles on their faces! I could truly feel their excitement and the appreciation for this amazing city!!


Just Loomis

Just Loomis is a portrait and fine art photographer working in Los Angeles and Berlin.He was a longtime assistant and friend of Helmut Newton.