Julia Staples is a Philadelphia based artist, organizer and educator. Working with installation incorporating photography, sculpture, video and performance, her work explores the intersection of self-help and spirituality. Staples has exhibited in and around Philadelphia as well as in Iceland, Spain, NYC and LA; she has been awarded residencies at Kimmel Nelson Harding, Ox-Bow, The Vermont Studio Center and Polli Talu in Estonia. In Philadelphia, she works as an adjunct professor and is the Member President at Vox Populi—an artist run gallery. Staples holds an MFA from Tyler School of Art and her BFA from Parsons School of Design.
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY: I bring three objectives to the classroom, each of them directly intended to guide students in building a contemporary art practice. The first entails introducing students to artists, the second focuses on discussion and critique, and the third involves teaching technical skills. This method of teaching promotes the cultivation and development of the students’ own conceptual ideas, while ensuring their ability to materialize those ideas and see them to fruition. Introducing students to artists that are both historically important and contemporarily relevant is a three-fold tactic. In addition to presenting slideshows of artists, I introduce concepts, generate discussions and demonstrate techniques. With each artist, I have developed a list of questions to engage students; for instance, when introducing the concept of staged photography – an exciting idea for students whose ideas of photography are limited to mass media– I show artists such as Roger Fenton, Robert Capa and An-My Le. All of these photographers inspire questions about intention, truth, legitimacy and affect. I strive to keep the classroom alive with discussion and am excited to see students engaging and furiously writing in their journals. Generating discussion in the classroom promotes the growth of students’ conceptual practice and is the crux of my philosophy. I use a variety of methods including writing, reading, in-class critiques, and online discussions to assist students in engaging with one another. Many classes start with a brief discussion about the assignment-at-hand and their progress. In addition, I assign both simple and complex writing assignments to assist students in further engaging with our topics. For instance, in the first weeks of a Black and White Darkroom class, I ask students to respond in journal form to the prompt of “Why Black and White,” which turns into a very lively discussion about the history of black and white photography and its contemporary uses. The dynamics and vocabulary built and the continued inspiration are crucial in students creating exciting new work. Finally, the best and most important discussions come during the critiques of the assignments. I believe that classroom critique is where the most exciting part of learning and self-growth takes place. My three objectives all come together during critiques: we reference other artists, talk about the students’ technique and discuss the success of their concepts. Building skill is of course just as important as cultivating concepts. Students are full of ideas and need the tools to realize them. Repetition in technical skill teaching is key—giving demonstrations followed by in-class practice, at home reading and a practical assignment all build on a greater understanding. For instance, when teaching aperture and shutter speed in the digital darkroom, after an introduction and a basic practical assignment, we head into the wet darkroom to make photograms and learn about aperture and shutter speed as it relates to the enlarger. Using a variety of methods such as slideshows, readings, demonstrations and class-time ensures that each students’ different ability to learn the material is addressed. As a teacher, I am a strong motivator and a very enthusiastic and active worker. I find community is the core to building confidence, making connections and learning. As a member of the artist run collective, Vox Populi, a gallery whose roots are in experimentation with art and building community — I have brought in and worked with many student interns since becoming a member in 2014. While teaching at Tyler School of Art, I facilitated an exhibition and blog project for an undergraduate student. Also, at Pennsylvania College of Art and Design, I was on the board that facilitated the SPE Regional Conference and I organized the student Portfolio Reviews. While in graduate school, I ran the Graduate Arts Committee which published its first ever graduate catalog and held a concurrent group exhibition, I started a critique group in which graduate students supported the undergraduate students and finally I organized an exchange between Parsons School of Design and Tyler School of Art. All of these projects are crucial to understanding a community and staying on top of current trends, and I believe that academic communities are strengthened by active professorship. I am constantly developing the way I understand photography and the art-world. It is in flux and understanding it requires a desire to continue to make and learn. The same goes for the way I teach. I teach photography in a way that mirrors contemporary society and connects students to the world in which we live. As an artist, teaching students about contemporary art and how to engage in its pedagogy and practice is at the core of my teaching philosophy.