photo: Jason Levine

About

For a long time, my wife, Joanna, and I were teachers at Noble and Greenough School (Nobles), a private co-educational middle & high school in Dedham (Mass.). It is a great school and it was a great life. In fact, in many ways it WAS our life.


Aside from teaching classes in middle school art (Joanna), photography (both of us), and journalism (me), we lived at the school, watched our son Andrew graduate from the school, traveled often with students and fellow faculty, and finally, in 2006 said goodbye to the school.
From the first day I taught at Nobles, I made photographs. I liked the dual roles of teaching photography and being a photographer, and early on began to shape a photographic archive of school life. But that is getting ahead of the story.


I never planned on being a teacher. But for that matter, I never planned on being a soldier, and spending almost a year in Vietnam. It was a lousy war, but for me it had a positive and lasting effect. Vietnam introduced me to journalism and photojournalism, two enduring interests of mine.


Mekong Delta, 1968

By a stroke of good luck I ended up being a U.S. Army information officer, having been trained as an infantry platoon leader. I wrote for an army newspaper, one that existed to build morale more than tell the truth. I took photographs on operations. I made it home safe.
Post-Vietnam brought three years of working on a small daily newspaper in Vermont, just 20 miles up the road from Williamstown (Mass.), where I had gone to college. Unsure about a long-term life on a country newspaper, I nervously made a change. Eight months later, thanks to a friend who recommended me and a trusting headmaster who hired me, I was teaching a handful of Nobles boys in a Photo I class. More to the point, I was reading a manual on black & white photography, trying to stay one step ahead. Ansel Adams' Zone System: what WAS that about, anyway?


I enjoyed being with kids, was lucky enough to join a school just as the art world was beginning to take photography seriously as an art form, advised a great student newspaper that sent graduates into the world of big-time journalism, rubbed shoulders with other photographers in the summer at the Maine Photographic Workshops, and began (with Joanna) leading students on summer trips. Over one 10 year-period, we traveled to Ireland, Italy, Russia, Scotland, Vietnam, and Easter Island, setting up temporary darkrooms in most of those spots.
Whether working with editors on the latest issue of The Nobleman, hanging a show with student-artists, or living communally with fellow travelers, it was Nobles students who made it fun, who made it worthwhile. They will always have my admiration and my thanks.


photo: Ian Lovett

As to my own photographic work, only for the last four years at school did I have a studio/darkroom to myself. Before that, I made prints early and late in a teaching darkroom, or in-between classes with kids to keep me company. I yearned for my own space, but it was important that students saw me as a photographer, enduring the routine of processing film or trying to fine-tune a print.


Now living in Rockport (Mass.), with no classes and other school responsibilities to fill my days, I might, one would think, be photographing from dawn to dusk. Not really. Yes, I have been busy making images, and taking advantage of the extra time to experiment photographically --with the pinhole camera, with alternative processes.


But I have also been taking bike rides, working in the garden, reading the N.Y. Times, getting to know new authors, taking lots of trips, and in the summer, sailing on Sandy Bay. It should also be said that a constant in this life-after-teaching has been making photographs. Every day. Well, almost every day. Finally, having the position as artist-in-residence at the school has been an extra source of motivation, but taking pictures - it's really just something that I do for its own rewards.


This is a site that is supposed to be about photographic images, not words. Time would be better spent, I think, if you would look at the photographs. They, maybe more than these words, will tell you something about me, something about our life. -- Joe Swayze