Educational Lockdown; Photography Teaching during a Pandemic with Emma Spencer

The year was going exceptionally well, students preparing for their end of year shows; the feeling of accomplishment after two years of hard work coming to an end. Students began to create their final pieces and talk about their parents seeing what they have achieved over the past couple of years and their excitement for their future grew, all the stress leading up to their end results was starting to feel worth it.

But that’s when it hit, the 16th of March 2020. Students told to go home with the real possibility of never coming back. Never having closure, the feeling of fulfilment snatched from them, their exam dates unknown, their grades thrown into turmoil and the real possibility of their health being affected not just now, but in the coming months and possibly years.

I remember it so well, the panic as the college closed and students were told to go home and study online, many ways of working disrupted, and new ways of thinking and teaching expected over night. Teachers had to think on their feet and come up with a new way to teach the arts without support and guidance, without the hands-on experience that they were used to providing.

How do you teach photography without being able to show a student how to work a camera in person, how can you show the process of developing their first film without the resources for everyone? It took careful planning, patience, forward thinking and a lot of home videos! The teacher I work alongside prepared small tasks to complete with the available resources they had, and I provided technical support where possible, creating a YouTube channel with helpful videos that students could watch and gain inspiration or knowledge from, with even a few documentaries thrown in for fun. 

But even now after the lockdown restrictions been somewhat lifted the challenges still continue and many staff feel as though they are working on the front line with many schools and colleges closing due to the high increase in covid19 cases, students must wear masks and gloves while handling all photography equipment and they cannot even put the camera up to their faces! This means our students are having to learn a different way of seeing, through live view; which has its own challenges. Not only does this pandemic challenge us, it also restricts us, for example; students cannot currently use film cameras due to their hands-on nature, which is a major aspect of learning the basic tools and skills of photographic practice. For many students, whom are currently only on site one day per week, we have to achieve as much as possible from that one day of practice. Whether this be learning cyanotypes, photograms or digital negatives in that one hour we try to pack in as much in as possible.

There has been one notable change in students, that we have noticed; students are developing quicker and their outcome seems to be improving faster as they first research the technique, then practice it in college. This seems to make the students into better photographers as they know what is expected from the technique before trying it, and they can see how other photographers have achieved their final outcome and learn from their successes. Photographers, like many people, are adaptable and as teachers of photography we will continue to find the best way to make learning the art we love fun and informed to give our students a step in the best possible direction for their futures in the industry; with or without covid19.

Emma Spencer is a 2018 Uclan photography graduate, Emma became interested in photography from a young age and began her career as a freelance wedding photographer, She spent 3 years developing these skills and then decided to pursue her passion further by studying photography at degree level, after developing a passion for education Emma undertook an internship with Uclan and then finally began working as a photography technician, Emma has won several awards for her photography and has had work published in books and magazines. If you are interested in working on a project with Emma you can contact her through her website

Written by Emma Spencer
Edited by Alistair Grimley

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