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  • New Life for Old Buildings

    Last week, while teaching at the University of South Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications, a student asked If had ever been to the “lunatic asylum.”

    When I sought clarification — it was at the end of the morning lecture, after all — the student noted it was the site of the former South Carolina Lunatic Asylum, the 181-acre stretch of land about a mile from Columbia’s central business district.

    Built in the 1820s and gradually expanded throughout the 19th century, the sprawling site was closed and completely abandoned more than two decades ago. But like other adaptive reuse projects that have become popular in recent years, such as the former American Tobacco Company complex in Durham and the site of the D.C. prison in Lorton, this sprawling complex is going through a rebirth of its own.

    Now known as the BullStreet District, the still developing site houses Segra Park, a minor-league baseball stadium baseball park, as well as a 108,000-square-foot office building and space for various retail stores.

    The centerpiece of the project is the renovation of the Babcock Building, constructed in the mid 1880s and now in the decaying state you see here. The building, which is more than 200,000 square feet, eventually is scheduled to be converted in to more than 200 apartments.

    I wasn’t able to go into the building — no trespassing signs are everywhere and security is much tighter than it was in years past — but took these shots to provide another demonstration in visual storytelling for the students.

    Hope you enjoy them.

    To see more photos from this project, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Teaching and Learning

    This week’s trip to the University of South Carolina, where I’m working with journalism and mass communications students as a Hearst Visiting Professional, ended on Friday. It’s just my second formal teaching experience, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sharing lessons learned during my three-plus decades in the world of media.

    It goes without saying that today’s college students — all of whom are digital natives — have far more tools at their disposal than I did starting out in the mid 1980s. The media/communications landscape has grown more diverse, if not fragmented, by the sheer demand for information that consumers believe should be at their fingertips instantly. And these students are getting the training necessary to handle this challenge.

    I hope I’ve contributed to their learning in some small way while helpingthem think of different approaches to storytelling.

  • Columbia Challenge

    This week, I am working with seniors at the University of South Carolina in Columbia as a Hearst Visiting Professional. The week-long program brings in a seasoned journalist at the start of the fall semester to provide perspective and work with students as they begin their final year of classes.

    My focus — probably not surprising to those who know me and/or follow this page — is on visual storytelling and resilience. I'm also emphasizing that you can find art in the ordinary.

    In an attempt to illustrate that last part, I walked around Columbia and took these photos on Monday. These are some of the photos I showed the class the next day, and you can see the rest in my Facebook album here.

    Hope you enjoy.

  • Artist Residency: Teaching on Resilience

    On Friday, I started teaching a unit on visual storytelling to a group of 20 seventh- and eighth-grade students at Holmes Middle School in Annandale, Va. The class is part of my artist-in-residence program sponsored by the Arts Council of Fairfax County.

    Irony was in abundance, as my dad taught middle school art for more than 30 years and my wife's first job as an assistant principal was at Holmes Middle School in North Carolina almost 20 years ago. And despite being a parent of four and a longtime presenter, I was more than a little nervous. Middle schoolers can be a tough crowd.

    The first class — others are scheduled through March 1 — focused on portraits and composition using mobile phones. The students' engagement and answers were terrific, and they spent a few minutes taking photos of each other outside. It was fascinating to see how quickly these digital natives caught on to what I was talking about.

    One point I tried to make was that you can get an interesting photo anywhere, even a parking lot where nothing is going on, if you think outside the box about composition. While we were outside, one student asked me to demonstrate and, with my iPhone, I shot the photo below and showed it to him.

    "That's pretty cool," the student said. And with that, we were off and running.

    Tomorrow's class will introduce the theme of the students' project: resilience. I'll have a PowerPoint, videos and my own work to show, and then we'll get down to the nitty gritty of planning what they'll be working on for the next few weeks. I will keep you posted. #artsfairfax

  • Artist Residency: An Update

    Photos from the last Artist Residency class at Holmes Middle School. (Pics by Garrett James of Capital Media USA) #artsfairfax

    Earlier this week, I finished my artist residency at Holmes Middle School in Annandale. It was an illuminating experience, one that further deepened my appreciation for teachers and showed — again — that today's digital natives have great instincts and talents.

    Jason Hutto's class of seventh- and eighth graders learned about the meaning and value of resilience, basic photo composition, how to conduct an interview, and how to develop, build, and edit a visual story. They were tasked with finding, photographing, videotaping, and interviewing an adult about resilience.

    The students selected a parent, family member, teacher, or trusted adult. Many learned more about their parents' journey to America as immigrants, or how teachers and counselors work to help students in an incredibly diverse environment. Talking to the students about their subjects, you could see how they were learning lessons about the power of resilience in our everyday lives.

    The continuity of the sessions was marred when two days of class were cancelled due to weather. On the final class day, some students were on a field trip, while others were in testing.

    No question, teaching was a test of my own resilience. Both of my parents were teachers, and I've written about K-12 education for my entire career, so I knew some of the basics. Also, as a parent of four, I was prepared to deal with students who have a variety of learning styles. I knew some would be more engaged than others, a few would bring more knowledge to the table, and some would generally not give a damn.

    Having that knowledge in advance, however, didn't prepare me for the reality of teaching, and for a time, I worried that the students would not complete the project. Technical issues, all fixable roadblocks that emerged, clogged the flow. I also faced language barriers with two students whose English is extremely limited.

    In the end, it all worked out — for the most part. The work produced by a majority of the students exceeded my expectations. I was impressed by how invested several were in this idea — my idea — of developing art on a topic so close to my heart.

    You can see still photographs by 10 students as part of my show — "The Resilience Project" — now on display at the Arches Gallery (Building 9) at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton. We have a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, and I hope some of you will be able to make it. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.

    The photo below is a preview of the students' work. Hope you can make it to the exhibit. #artsfairfax