With boots on the ground in England, photographer Christin Rawlings learned more from her study abroad than years in a classroom could afford

Utah Valley University School of the Arts cultivates and develops students and projects that are sometimes undiscovered but that are profoundly remarkable.  Many professors go above and beyond what is required, often mentoring students, searching out and recommending galleries and exhibitions to show work, offering expertise and teaching outside the classroom, and organizing and creating opportunities for hands-on and professional experience.  The fine art book projects have become one of these opportunities. Art students spend time researching and creating designs for a specified subject, travel to an area to capture and document content for a few weeks, edit and perfect their best pieces, design and manage content in a book consisting of a couple hundred pages, and then see it published and enjoyed.  Still fairly new, the books have received recognition and awards, and will likely continue to do so as the program expands and develops.

 

When I was still pretty new to the photography program at UVU, I knew that the study abroad would be a great learning experience.  I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Arthur Futurus project in the United Kingdom, exploring the myths and legends of King Arthur.  Although I’d been in school for awhile, I was still new to the BFA program and had no idea what to expect.  I don’t know if it was the twelve hour plane ride to London, the countless hikes to the tops of castles built on mountains, driving on two lane roads where hedges hit the mirrors on either side of the van, extremely long hours and a crazy schedule, getting lost a few times, wandering farmer’s fields in search of stone circles, the wind and the rain and the sudden burst of heat, trying haggis, chasing sheep, or any of the other grand adventures; but something changed in every person who dedicated time and energy to producing art for that project.

 

I didn’t know that I would return as twice the photographer I was when I left.  Logging that many hours with a camera in my hand while immersed in a new land, culture, and lifestyle reconditioned what it is I see when I look through the camera.  That’s probably because it reconditioned who I am.

 

Those experiences of being part of a team in creating a beautiful fine art book led me to participate in the next summer’s book project.  I guess I became addicted to or obsessed with being pushed to my creative limit, and still finding something more to give. The second book project was centered around the Civil War and Civil Rights, and we travelled to the south and south east of the United States to document both the past and the present.  With so much unrest still happening in the country (and the world), this topic was taxing on everyone involved because as artists, we were there to represent all facets of the struggle that occurred during the Civil War and that is still occurring now. As artists, our authority lies in our duty and responsibility to ask more questions than we answer and to foster discussion.  I saw in our group a healthy shift in paradigm and opinion. It was a change that wouldn’t have resulted from simply visiting the places we went. It developed and evolved as students actively searched out and created work that reflected the pain and hatred they saw while still revealing beauty and glory and love.

 

With it being my second experience, I expected to return a better photographer, and I did.  But I also returned more anchored and more aware of division and unity within humanity, and specifically within myself.  

 

I will soon be graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Art in Photography, and with the immeasurable expertise, transformation, and revolution that occurred in large part because of this program, its professors, and these fine art book projects in particular.  So if you’re reading this and considering participating in the next fine art book project, the answer is a self-evident yes!!