Sarah E. Gibbons

Photography helped me make sense of the world. Sarah E. Gibbons , Photography Instructor
, The Art Institute of Raleigh–Durham, a campus of South University

Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

I’ve always liked drawing and painting, so I took as many art classes as I could. I discovered photography in 10th grade—about the same time I found out I had a learning disability. I decided it wouldn’t hold me back. They wanted to put me in support classes, but I asked for more photography classes instead. Photography helped me make sense of the world.

How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?

I like to take real-world situations I’ve found myself in and connect them to the project we’re working on, then ask students to craft their own solutions to some of the problems that I’ve faced.

What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?

For me, photography and using Photoshop® are all about creative problem-solving. A project in my Advanced Photographic Post-Production class asks students to create a visual representation—a digital montage—of a smell. They must evoke a feeling without showing the object that emits the smell. For example, apple pie might smell like comfort or home. Representing that without using a photo of an apple pie requires critical thinking and ingenuity.

How does collaboration contribute to students’ success—particularly when students from various programs work together?

We all collaborate in the working world, so teaming up on projects is important practice for communications and skill sharing. I love watching my Photography students work with Digital Film students. They bounce ideas off each other, overcome challenges, and create a stronger project. And they end up with a wider and more marketable skill set when they graduate.

What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?

Creative problem solving skills. They’re sought after and valued in any field, anywhere.

What’s the most critical advice you would offer any student embarking on a creative career?

In the words of one of my graduate school professors, “Don’t be a jerk!” We can get caught up in ego and the pursuit of our passion, but don’t let this get in the way of being humble, kind and helpful to your fellow students. In the real world, they may end being your peers and collaborators—or competitors—and you never know when you may need their help. I tell my students that I’ve gotten jobs, including my current job, with the help of classmates.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I like to tell my students that I’m an avid tennis player and birder. As nerdy as it sounds, it’s a way to urge them to be well-rounded and cultivate other passions, especially those that bring them into contact with non-creative types.