Professionals give photography students exposure to the real world
Riverside, Calif. (Feb. 17, 2023) – The photography program at California Baptist University explores the practice and theory of photography. Students learn about equipment, lighting and storytelling through pictures.
The faculty give them as much hands-on experience as possible, said Christopher Kern, lead of the photography program.
“Right now, they're experimenting. They're in a safe space. Their failure may result in a loss of points for a grade, but out there in the real world it could lead to many things,” Kern said.
To help them be better equipped for the professional world, Kern encourages students to have a mentor, whether through an internship, apprenticeship or other avenue — a relationship that will help them after college.
“I always tell them that I'm their built-in mentor,” Kern said. “My real goal for their time here is to prepare them for what's next. But they need somebody to help them navigate that, and that's where I think these mentors or internships come in. They can take what we've given the students and take it further.”
A few years ago, Kern connected with Benoit Malphettes, a French-born American photographer, whose work has been published in French and American Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Essence and other publications. Malphettes now lives in the Inland Empire, and he asked Kern for help to digitally archive his collection. That led Eileen Solorzano, a photography and graphic design and visual experience sophomore, to work for him for the past year.
She has organized and filed his archive collection, did postproduction work and assisted in the selection of pictures for his exhibit at the San Bernardino County Museum. Along with learning a diverse set of skills and the history of photography, Solorzano said she has gained much more.
“Whenever I did not fully understand a technical concept in class, I would explore it further with him. He demonstrated different techniques, methods and approaches to whatever I was learning,” she said. “His mentorship was not just restricted to advice and conversation; it was a hands-on experience.”
Solorzano, who wants to go into fashion photography, said it is not a typical work relationship but a friendship where they assisted and supported each other.
“This relationship is essential for young photographers because it creates community and value,” Solorzano said. “We learn to receive constructive criticism with an open mind and provide constructive criticism with pure intentions. We learn to establish a firm foundation of the technical side of photography.”
Both Solorzano and Malphettes said their relationship developed through mutual trust.
“Mentorship helps young photographers assess realistic expectations, recognize the good work they are doing and build their self-confidence,” Malphettes said. “It helps them discover the knowledge and the skills they will need to develop in order to move ahead toward their goals.”
Malphettes said mentoring also benefited him, by having young people around.
“They can supply me with fresh perspectives, and I can hear about their plans and prospects,” he said. “It is a way to stay in tune with the young person I myself was at some point.”
In 2021, Kern had Art Streiber, a photographer specializing in portrait, entertainment and advertising, as a guest in a CBU class. David Fouts (’22) and Raymond Alva (’22) connected with him again and then began interning with him after graduating last May.
They worked on magazine shoots, promotional materials and advertising jobs. Both learned much from the experience, from helping on set to interacting with clients to asking Streiber questions about the industry.
“Every time I'm on set, I feel like I learn something new. Either just by observing how he runs his sets, or by the specific questions I ask followed by the very open and honest answers he provides,” Alva said.
Alva is still interning for Streiber.
“There are a lot of skills and information that you learn on set that you can’t learn in the classroom. Behavior on set is one of the most important things to learn as a photographer or assistant, and that can only be learned by doing it yourself,” he said.
Fouts said school gives a glimpse of the photography field, but the internship provided an immersion.
“We got amazing access to his process, his team and just to him,” Fouts said. “This type of experience is invaluable. You are learning from someone who has been in the industry for over 30 years.”
Kern said the program provides opportunities for the students to learn, but then they must go out and do it.
“Mentorship helps them to what's next,” he said. “I'm just introducing them to the possibilities and then send them down a path, but to help them down that path they need to be connected.”