Karl Neumann: Old School Art for The New Generation

Photography is a confusing art, with it being a delicate balance of modern technology and old-school beauty. With the introduction of digital photography, the art has been honed—after, all with 500 shots being taken at once, one of them  is obliged to be decent. Photography has become an art of convenience with quantity being better than quality.

In the Cy Ranch photography hall, however, that isn’t true. The photography program stresses the importance of the “olden days”—when shots actually mattered and photography took more skill, with film being limited. All behind this flurry of film stands one man: photography teacher Karl Neumann.

In January, Neumann got a pleasant surprise when he received an email informing him that the Texas Photography Instructors has chosen his program as one of the top programs in Texas, and wished to showcase his class in a book.

“I was shocked,” Neumann said. “I didn’t know this was happening. We didn’t submit any work to win. I got sent an e-mail and the next day, I got a letter in the mail saying that I was nominated for this award, so I was pretty shocked.”

The most unique thing about Neumann’s program is the medium: film. Film is an archaic way of taking photos which requires a lot of mechanical know-how and teaches students to be more patient with their time and enjoy taking shots, instead of just wading through millions of shots hoping to get the one you want.

“Our program is about 90 percent old school film processing,” Neumann said. “It teaches students to slow down and think about what they’re doing. While there’s nothing wrong with digital photography, but digital means of creating a photograph is faster pace and means that you can take 500 photos in the hopes of getting the one that you need, instead of the 24 exposures you can take on film, in which you have to make the magic happen.”

Neumann’s program is different than most classes. With regular classes having assignments where there is a black and white answer, photography doesn’t have that. In fact there is no black and white answer and never will be. It’s all grey space. Perhaps, we will never know the question, so Neumann thinks the best thing in the class is to get as close to it as possible. It is the eye of the photographer that matters with whatever they see fit being right. Students are encouraged to be creative rather than right.

“I think the best thing about photography is the way they see the world versus how I see the world,” Neumann said. “The projects they are given and submit are really liberating, as you have to make choices on their own sensibilities about what they see as important against ‘go photograph a circle,’ ‘go photograph a line,’ or ‘go photograph a person.’ It’s based off of problems where any of those things can solve the problem and they really have to be in tune with why this is important, why this photograph needs to exist, and so they do that by learning about our history so they can make responses which are intelligent and not responses that have been done before.”

Neumann’s philosophy on teaching is fairly simple: teach what you love. Out of high school, Neumann knew he wanted to be involved in photography. Soon enough, time led Neumann into the world of teaching, hoping to kindle the same fire that was in him.

“From high school, I knew I wanted photography to be a part of my life,” Neumann said. “I had a horrible job after college, so on a whim I decided to apply for a teaching job at Jersey Village High School. I lucked out and got the job there. My motivation for teaching photography is my passion for photography. I want to share with the students my fascination for photography, why it’s so important, especially in this day and age.”