INTERVIEW WITH MARK KNOPP
Mark Knopp is a photographer and educator based in Yorktown, Virginia. He took some time out of his busy schedule to talk with us today.
Greetings Mark. Would you care to share your background with us? What are your educational strengths and areas of expertise?
Thanks for having me. I have almost 35 years of experience as a professional photographer that includes weddings, events, portraits, sports, photojournalism, products, and technical. I have over 10 years of experience teaching over 20 different classes in photography at the college level. I also have done private lessons, groups, workshops and the like for several more years.
I’m passionate about all things photography which makes me an animated teacher. I hate sitting down during a class. I’m up, moving around, using my hands, et cetera. I do a lot of demos during the lessons, too. It’s an active environment.
I have notes all typed up to hand to the students at the start so they aren’t heads down the entire time trying to put down on paper what I’m saying and keeping up. All they have to do is write down little notes and key phrases to make it relatable to them and their learning style.
Each class is structured the same. I do my lecture, and then the demo. Then comes the most important part. The students then use what they learned while in the classroom. The lesson always sticks better when they put the knowledge right to use. It also means that, if they have a question, I’m right there to answer it. You can listen to the lecture and watch the demo but the questions always come at the third part where they realize they missed something or something wasn’t clear and I’m there to assist. That’s where the real learning starts.
Would you be willing to share with us a little about your personal educational journey? What led you to seek the education and vocation you chose? What advice would you like to offer to those students who wish to go into the same field as you?
Photography has been part of my life since I was eight years old. Something in me just clicks (pun intended) when I have a camera in my hand. I didn’t start taking it seriously, however, until I took my first photo class my senior year in high school. This was back in the days of film, mind you. That first time in a darkroom, seeing an image emerge from a white sheet in the developer tray, was the “A ha” moment for me.
My first degree was Bachelor of Arts (BA) in journalism with a concentration in photography with the goal of being a newspaper photojournalist which I did for several years. The goal, even then, was to get back into college to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) to start my path to teaching which I did in 2004.
I’ve always been a teacher. It’s simply who I am. I have no idea why. Even to this day, with my “day job” as a staff photographer for a local company, I still find myself helping others with their photography-based questions and I still do private and small group lessons on the weekend.
My advice to someone looking to get into this business is to ask yourself exactly what you want to do? Do you need a college degree to become a professional photographer? My answer? No.
I know, it’s shocking to hear an educator say that but it’s true.
There are several paths to get you there without stepping inside a classroom. You can intern/shadow, take online classes, read books, attend workshops, et cetera. I know a lot of photographers that got their training via the military. If you want to do it as your own entity, not working for a company, then all right.
There are, however, distinct advantages to going to school for it. You get your hands on a lot more equipment than you would by yourself or mentoring. You get shooting skills, editing skills, and an overall better idea of what you want to specialize in faster. The biggest benefit of school, however, is the fact that you are surrounded by others with the same passion and drive as you have. You gain so much more in that kind of environment. You grow so much more and faster. You expand your horizons.
Having a degree also opens a lot more doors to you. Every full-time job out there requires at least an Associates degree if not a BFA.
What is it about photography that appeals to you? What are some practical uses for it?
Photography is always changing. There’s always something new to learn. New gear, new techniques, new programs. You have to stay actively involved in your education in order to remain relevant. This is a huge part of why I love it today as much as I did all those years ago. The day I think I know enough will be the day I hang up my cameras.
Photography allows me to engage with the word directly but also allows me to show the rest of the world the beauty that is everywhere. One of my favorite lessons is about not to go elsewhere to find beauty but to find the beauty around us everywhere and show others.
As for practical uses…I mean they are endless. Documenting our lives, the lives of others, et cetera. I haven’t met a person yet with a cellphone that doesn’t snap pics with it.
If you’re asking for careers then there’s opening your own business (weddings, portrait, travel, landscape, food, product, stock, sports, commercial, band, fashion, e-commerce, etc) becoming a photojournalist, working for a corporation/company, the military, the government, real estate companies, and much more.
Last question: What is one thing you want to change about the educational system?
I was lucky in that the last place I taught pretty much let us do our own thing. There wasn’t any micromanagement. No regimented structures. They said “Here’s what they need to learn. You do your thing. Go”. And we did. The instructors worked as a cohesive team to make sure everyone got what they needed. We used everyone’s strengths to best advantage and shored up each other’s weak areas.
This is not true at other places I taught where Admin said this is what you need to teach, how to teach it, by when, here are the metrics you must follow and will be judged on, you must have a certain curve of grades, et cetera. That actually blows my mind. I was criticized for “Handing out too many A’s” a couple of times. My defense was that they worked hard, they did amazing work and they earned it. I was told to be harsher. I didn’t last long in that environment.
Then there’s the movement across the board away from full-time positions to adjuncts. I could write a whole book about what that not only does to the students but also to the teachers.
The biggest reason why I moved away from teaching at college was the complete lack of stability as an adjunct. You might have 3 classes to teach this time but next time you only get two or even one. That means your income changes several times a year. Never mind things like medical insurance or a retirement plan.
Then the state comes down and says adjuncts can only teach three classes a semester/quarter. Frankly, an immense amount of talent was/is being lost because teachers get tired of trying to work in the system and move on to other things.
The thing is, we are teachers and we will put up with a lot of crap just to stay in the classroom. I’m not going to lie, I miss it and would go back if I thought it was feasible. I’m actually working on a few things to expand my role and capabilities as a private teacher that I’m very excited about that ties right back into that statement that you don’t need a degree to be a professional photographer. Stay tuned for that.
Thank you for talking with us today Mark.
Thank you for having me. I hope you all have a great day 😊.