The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale
Fail forward. Val Evers , Photography Instructor , The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale
Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?
When I was little, I was always drawing and making funny illustrations. I decided at the ripe old age of eight that I wanted to make humorous greeting cards for a living. My very first jobs were in ad agency creative departments. I chose to become a photographer when, while working as a young fashion model, I was way more interested in what was happening behind the camera—how the lights were set and the shooting techniques. I was hooked, and started shooting portfolio pictures of my model friends. I never looked back.
How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?
One of the most crucial elements I bring to the classroom is my professional experience actually doing the things I teach. It’s important that students see the commercial work I’m turning out for clients, and the process that gets me there. They sometimes see a job from proposal-to-contract-to-completion. My experience using the same skills they’re learning, and the professional tips and techniques I’ve learned—sometimes the hard way—all add a sense of reality to the material.
What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?
I teach Photography portfolio classes, encouraging young artists to find their visual voice, hone their skills, and develop a desire to push their creative boundaries. They’ve had the opportunity to learn technical skills in previous classes; now it’s time to polish them. Compassion and empathy, coupled with an attitude of professional expectations, seems to work. If I have issues with their work, clear direction, perhaps a bit of “creative inspiration,” and empathy for their struggles and processes put me squarely on their side. They produce work they never thought would be in their graduating portfolios.
How does collaboration contribute to students’ success—particularly when students from various programs work together?
They say there’s no “I” in team. Most projects today demand a team approach; this is true even of the freelance studio owner. A team is always needed, even if it’s an event photographer working with an assistant. More often it’s a commercial job requiring stylists, location scouts, talent, assistants, and all the folks from the “client side,” like agency art directors and account executives. Working in teams on projects like fashion shoots, food shoots, and projects involving Industrial Design students lays the groundwork for collaborative thinking—and more importantly, creating a peer network.
What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?
Fail forward. We rarely learn from our successes. We should learn from our inevitable mistakes. The only thing separating me, as an industry professional, from my students is a giant mountain of jobs, mistakes, and learning experiences. I didn’t get here by magic, but by moving forward, learning by doing, and by seeing mistakes as the process of getting better.
Anything else you’d like to share?
There’s nothing like working to make a creative vision become a reality.