Since she started at SUNY Potsdam in 2013, Assistant Professor Iggy Beerbower has been bringing her passion for photography to her students. Five years into her tenure she brought seven of her students on a unique travel course to Cuba.
In May of 2018, Beerbower and her students boarded a plane for Cuba to explore art and history through SUNY Potsdam’s partnership with the University of Cienfuegos in Cuba. “We spent most of our time in Cienfuegos and we did that not only because Cienfuegoes is a great place, but I went there to really honor that partnership,” Beerbower said.
Beerbower and her students met several times before the trip for an in-depth look at the history of Cuba, what to pack for the travel course and the limitations of not being able to use credit cards or take cash out of the ATM. “I think that was really helpful for the students," she said. "It also helped them get to know each other before we went on the trip, so everyone was more comfortable right from the start.”
After touching down in Cuba, they set out on their 12-day journey to Cienfuegos and Trinidad. Her students attended lectures on art history, architecture, dance and music. They also visited museums and galleries and met with local artists. “We started out with the history of Cuba, because I felt that you can’t appreciate any artwork of any country or society unless you know the history first,” she said.
A highlight of the course was a visit to the Graphics Society, an artist collective in Cienfuegos that “seemed to resonate with everybody, that place was fantastic,” Beerbower recalled. Some students worked one-on-one with a Cuban printmaker using an electric press. Other students got involved with art therapy at the Graphics Society, working on art with children who have Down’s Syndrome—a particularly impactful experience for one of Beerbower’s students who is minoring in special education at SUNY Potsdam.
“This was an incredible group of students. Not only did all seven of them get along so well, they bonded and they created deep friendships. It was amazing! All of them talked about that being such an important part of the trip. These were the best students for my first travel course,” she said.
After arriving back in Potsdam from Cuba, Beerbower jumped right back into teaching. She wrapped up a two-week long basic photography class where she introduced her students to the fundamentals of photography and Photoshop. For her first assignment, she had them capture images of the same lamppost on campus. “This is where you start to see—even though they have to photograph the same thing—how everyone’s image is so different. One thing I emphasize in all my classes is that it’s not necessarily what you photograph, it’s how you photograph it,” she explained.
During the fall and spring semesters, Beerbower teaches Photography I, an introductory film-based class; Digital Photography, an intermediate class that focuses on contemporary photography; Process and Techniques, an intermediate film-based class; and Photography 4, an advanced photography class where students undertake two long term projects of their choosing. In her Advanced Photography 4 class, she said that students have the leeway to approach their work as they see fit. “They can do film, they can do digital, they can do alternate processes or any combination that their heart desires,” she said.
She recently updated the curriculum for Advanced Photography to be a writing intensive class. “If you want to be a successful artist when you graduate, there’s a lot of writing involved. And it’s not just how to write, it’s getting you to think and talk about your work,” Beerbower said. “The writing part is important if you want to get into grad school or if you want a grant.”
Beerbower brings more than 15 years of teaching experience to her students at SUNY Potsdam. After getting her master’s degree from Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2002, she taught photography for more than a decade at both her alma mater and two other community colleges in Minnesota. When a full-time position opened up at SUNY Potsdam in 2013, she jumped at the opportunity.
“I get excited about the work that the students create. Whether its them making a fantastic print or making a fantastic image, I get excited about that. I definitely like to see when the light bulb goes off for them,” Beerbower said.
Her passion for teaching is only matched by her passion for her own work as a landscape photographer who documents the world around her. “My work is primarily about place and how our relationship with that place changes over time. That could be a rural landscape or an urban landscape, or anything in between. I’m also fascinated with landscapes that have the markings of man. To me the remnants of human activity is more interesting than the humans themselves and it shows how we use the land, how it changes and what we value also changes over time,” she said.
To learn more about Beerbower’s work, visit: http://iggybeerbower.com/.
Article and photos by Jason Hunter