Photography class shoots outside the box during quarantine

Cell phone cameras replace traditional cameras as the tool for learning while sheltering-in-place


Courtesy of Chenchen Jiang

SJCC photography student Chenchen Jiang recreates Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring using her cell phone camera. The SJCC photography class restaged classic works of art while sheltering-at-home.

Distance learning poses challenges for photography classes at San Jose City College where access to darkrooms is no longer allowed, but professors are finding creative ways to complete coursework.

“The students still have their film cameras; but without film and the necessary chemistry, it was clear the class could not function in a traditional manner,” photography instructor Terri Garland wrote in an email. “We had to think outside the box and create assignments that focused on creativity, problem-solving and thinking in black and white, all the while transitioning to cell phone cameras.”

One assignment Garland gave her students was to restage famous pieces of art. Some students recreated works from Frida Kahlo, Vincent van Gogh and Leonardo da Vinci.

This has been a truly rewarding experience that I wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t for the COVID.”

— SJCC student Isaura Medina

SJCC photography student Chenchen Jiang restaged a painting by Johannes Vermeer but with a relevant twist. Jiang is posed in a similar way to the painting while also including an N95 facemask.

The assignments prompted students to think outside of the box to shoot photographs with items they found at home and utilizing their family members as subjects.

“Having a photography class at home has given me the opportunity of sharing creativity, teamwork and motivation with my twin sister and my two brothers,” Isaura Medina, 38, video and animation major, wrote. “We would almost never see each other on a normal schedule.”

Another assignment was to create a self portrait using a coat hanger or cooked spaghetti. The photos include sculptures and utilization of shadows.

“This has been a truly rewarding experience that I wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t for the COVID,” Medina said.

Photography classes had to adjust because of the COVID-19 quarantine and find ways to provide instruction without the proper workspace and materials.

“Most (student works) were exceptionally thoughtful and well-crafted,” Garland said. “Some were hilarious — a good thing during this stressful time.”