My daily life brings me into contact with writers and composers– so I absolutely love speaking with people whose professions I am less familiar. Today’s subject? Rachel Langosch, a fine art photographer living in New York City. We’re discussing the need for visual storytelling skills– and the democratization of fine art.
1) You are a fine art photographer who is also heavily involved with the National Geographic society. What are your preferred subjects, and what would you consider to be the main goal of your work?
Yes! I am a fine art photographer with my MFA from Pratt. I have always been driven to the arts and education, which is what lead me to work with National Geographic Student Expeditions 9 years ago. Teaching students photography while underwater in Bali or high up on a glacier in New Zealand is such a privilege and I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given as a photographer and an educator over the years. Teaching photography to kids is really exciting for me. I feel like I can give them the tools and then watch them take off! Their excitement for photography is contagious and I end up shooting a lot on these trips as well. I have been working on a portrait project for the past 8 years. I like to take portraits of my students towards the end of each National Geographic trip after I have gotten to know them well. We spend so much time together as a group trekking through mountains, venturing inside of glow-worm caves or exploring new parts of the world together; there is a natural closeness that happens within each group I lead. I hope my portraits reflect this feeling. I also find the teenage years to be such a fascinating time. My high school students are so alive and inquisitive, but they are also in the process of defining themselves by figuring out who they are in the world and who they want to become. I have learned more from my students than they could ever possibly imagine.
In general, I create bodies of work that are diaristic. My photography is a practice where I can work through what is going on in my life. I hired actors in the past to re-enact feelings of closeness and connectedness however these days, I have moved more towards real life situations and subjects. I also have been working on a narrative video piece that questions ideas about how we perceive the passage of time and how to slow down and sip in the small insignificant moments while living in the frantic pace of our world today.
2) You’re also a proponent of teaching visual storytelling to young children. Why is that a skill kids should cultivate?
So aside from being a freelance photographer, a National Geographic Student Expeditions leader, and a classroom visual arts teacher, I am also the director of The Slideluck Youth Initiative. We are an after school photography program that brings professional photographers into the classroom in underserved neighborhoods across the country. We teach a curriculum that is heavy on visual storytelling and we urge students to think about the stories they want to communicate through their images. Being able to communicate their thoughts and ideas are SO important, whether that is through images, spoken words or written artists statements. I think there is a real aspect of self-discovery when narrating a story about one’s world and I love being able to facilitate these experiences for our students. My students have explained that doing so helps them to have an outlet and they are able to process their lives more easily when photographing it. One of my students recently expressed to me that photography is something that makes her feel free and hopeful in her life. As a teacher, I often don’t see the impact of my work, but hearing students tell their stories of how our classes brought positive changes into their lives is one of the best gifts ever.
3) How do you feel about the line between hobby and fine art photography? Where does photography stand now as an art form? I know a lot of writers are often faced with frustrating, “Psh, anyone can write!” pushback– as camera quality goes up and gear prices fall, how are photographers feeling about the role of cameras in everyday life?
I can’t answer for anyone but myself, but personally I love that photography has become more accessible and reachable to many different kinds of people. The increased accessibility allows more people to use photography as a tool to communicate their ideas. If it brings joy to people, then that’s amazing! Also, the increased interest in photography and folks wanting to become a better photographers ultimately creates more jobs for working photographers and educators like myself…so yay for more jobs in the arts!
4) Also, as more people pick up cameras and use them as tools of expression, where does the role of photography ethics come into play? How can hobbyists better learn when and who it’s appropriate to shoot?
There is a LOT of literature out there on the specific laws about taking photos in public places. I always tell my students to take photos anywhere and always unless someone specifically tells you not to. Maybe this isn’t the most ethically sound advice, but I want my photo students to get interesting images and sometimes this means bending the rules a bit (: We also go over the specifics of how to approach a subject and how to make great images while also making the subject feel comfortable. I encourage my students to keep media release forms on hand as well. Last semester we did a whole field lesson on taking pictures of strangers on the streets and getting their signature on media release forms. The afternoon turned into a bigger lesson on dealing with rejection, but it was an important one nonetheless!
5) If we’d like to keep in the loop on your work and your projects, how can readers keep in touch?
Feel free to check out my fine art website here: www.rachellangosch.com or my other website that has more of my commissioned family and school images here: www.rachellangoschphotography.com Also if anyone in NYC wants to hire me, I’d love to hear from them through my site!
Readers can also follow my daily journeys on Instagram: @rlangosch