Extra Credit with Professor Sue Tatterson


James Peru, Cactus Editor

As cliché as the saying sounds, a picture really is worth a thousand words. If you don’t believe me, consider for a moment the magic of reading great literature, or even great journalism. What words are ultimately meant to achieve is to conjure up the corresponding images in our minds. What separates great writers from average writers is their abilities to not only conjure up these word-induced images, but to flavor and construct them in ways that make them lucid and emotionally powerful to the person who reads them. The same can be said for great photographers. “A photo is never just a photo,” says Professor Sue Tatterson. “You have so much power as a photographer, because you are presenting an image; you can make that image say so many different things.”

Over the years, Professor Tatterson has developed a love for photographing abandoned buildings. These photos are now a part of her photo series titled “Spirits of the Abandoned,” which can be found at spiritsoftheabandoned.com. Her work has been exhibited in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and recently here in Arizona. “I always advise my students to put their work out there. You never know what kind of opportunities may come up,” explains Professor Tatterson. “Recently my work was included in the short film Curio Shop, which has been showing at film festivals all over the U.S.” Among the places she has photographed are The Transfiguration of Our Lord Church and The Castle School in Pennsylvania, and The Tome School in Maryland, all of which are no longer in existence. “I’m grateful that I have photos of places that are gone. You will never see them again, all that remains is rubble,” says Professor Tatterson.

We live in a world full of distractions. Unfortunately, things like an abandoned building, are things we often don’t give a second thought to. “I see a beauty in the things that I photograph that a lot of people probably wouldn’t,” says Professor Tatterson about her love of abandoned buildings. Photographers are there to ensure that these things don’t go by completely unnoticed.

With the proliferation of digital photography, the average person with a digital camera can now take photos whenever and wherever they want, without the worry of having to spend hours in a dark room developing the film. Even cell phones (which most of us carry on us at all hours of the day) are being made with better cameras, which are capable of producing high quality digital photos. While there are many benefits to the ease-of-use functionalities of digital and cell phone cameras (like getting good photos of things we normally wouldn’t have been able to), these features can actually be damaging to photography as a fine art in the long run.

“Everyone says, ‘Go take a photo.’ You don’t. You create a photo,” says Professor Tatterson about the process of photography. “I remember recently when I was at the Grand Canyon,” she continues. ‘I got up before dawn so I could get the sunrise coming up over Mather Point and there are 200 other people standing with me; we are all shoulder to shoulder taking pictures. So you have 200 people with the same photograph. I just walked away because I thought: I don’t want that. I want to do something that no one does. That’s what drives me personally.”

Hundreds of millions of photos are uploaded to the Internet each day. With so many photos floating around, photographers (both professional and amateur) are finding it harder and harder do things that have never been done. Therefore, it is important for aspiring photographers to find new ways to take unique and exciting photos, much like Professor Tatterson’s photos capturing the beautiful and the macabre found in abandoned buildings from around the country.

“I would also like my students to find their niche,” says Professor Tatterson “to find something they are really passionate about and find a way to do it that hasn’t been done before.”

A great way that students can go about carving out a niche for themselves is to couple their passion for photography with an education in graphic design. With both being visual art forms, having an understanding of both can give an aspiring artist an edge over the competition. “I want my designers to understand how important photography is to their design pieces,” explains Professor Tatterson. Graphic designers are so much more employable if they can take their own photos. It is so competitive in both fields, photography and design, that students have to find their own style. That’s why I love teaching so much; I can watch you guys grow, and find your own styles. The better the grounding I can give you guys in design and photography, the further I hope you can go.”

“One of my favorite phototgraphers, Diane Arbus, has a great quote that I try to live by,” say Professor Tatterson in closing.

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