Beyond the classroom with Chad White

Following the straight and narrow path has never quite been his style, but wanting to be a photographer has long been a calling for one of Bellevue College’s photography instructors Chad White. “I consider myself lucky because I knew I wanted to be a photographer fairly young…[but] being the first in [my] family to go to college was sort of a setback,” said White, leaning back in his chair while fiddling with the innards of a 35mm Vivitar camera.

“[After high school] I had a couple years of traveling the country and building a portfolio … I worked freelance photo jobs in the meantime …  [and] learned a little bit about the industry which also helped me decide photography was a career I wanted to do,” said White. “I finally decided to get a formal education because I wanted to understand what photographs were about rather than just how to make them.”

Following time at the University of New Mexico, White attended Arizona State University to pursure his MFA, subsequently getting his first taste of teaching and experiencing the ins-and-outs of managing a photo lab.

“It helped me decide photography education was an area I wanted to specialize in while doing my own professional research,” said White.

Following a few years as an faculty associate at ASU and then a part time gig teaching and learning the lab at Lewis and Clark in Portland, Ore., White decided it was time to “make the long trek” back to the northwest where he and his wife would be able to reside closer to family. White joined the BC art department faculty in the fall quarter of 2010.

Testimonials from students and ratings from such sites as immediately show White being a favorite among students who venture into his classroom. Listen a little closer however, and it’s not just White’s ability to instruct students in the technical operations of a camera that have gained him such a reputation, but also his ability to tie together his work and experience outside the classroom with what students experience inside the classroom.

“My personal research has often involved ideas surrounding landscape …  and it being infused with political and sociological views,” said White. “I am also very interested in how we describe what landscape means.”

White has spent several years now working along the Arizona-Mexican border, investigating and capturing the growth of the southwest region and how it is tied into economic downturn and a current foreclosure crisis.

“Currently I’m at the height of this project. I’m photographing the inside of drop houses which are temporary locations where immigrants are often stored, where they are held for ransom money or until they can find a way to be released.”

The drop houses are often run of the mill suburban tract homes, privately owned and rented out. Often they’re directly tied to the economic crisis of the surrounding area, foreclosed and vacant for extended periods of time.

“It interests me how it all comes round robin and it’s a full circle,” said White.

“I’ve been working in landscape environments that actually help reflect this idea of immigration and migration and then how these drop houses actually becomes this culmination of these physical locations to talk about these larger sociological political problems.”

White is adamant that teachers need to bring their work and experience outside of the classroom inside in order to best teach and, to give students a view of the field of study which they represent.

“Your role as …faculty [is] to have that experience of a student with faculty, inside the classroom, hands on, where [they] learn the tricks and the tips of the trade,” said White. “In my case, you not only learn to use a camera, but you come to understand what photographs do, how they function …mannerisms and behaviors. [Those] are all things that as a budding artist or a budding photographer you need to be successful in such a competitive career.”

“My favorite part of teaching at BC is constantly talking shop, constantly talking about creative ideas and how to achieve them. That never gets old,” said White, grinning as he snaps the backing into place on his camera. “That is what my job is about.”