Shaping the landscape -- Daniel Overturf, center, professor, Southern Illinois University Carbondale Department of Cinema and Photography, listens as students in this summer’s landscape photography class discuss their work. (Photo by Russell Bailey) 

August 03, 2017

Student photographers capture region’s landscape

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- For recent Southern Illinois University Carbondale cinema graduate Anna Petrelli, the chance to take an intense summer class that allows her to document the region’s natural beauty and sharpen her photography skills was one she could not pass up. 

“I knew there were a lot of cool places I wanted to photograph,” said Petrelli, who is from Park Forest. “There are endless possibilities of things to shoot and build your portfolio with. I’m really into documentation, environmental portraits and landscapes.” 

Meanwhile, Louis Washkowiak, a senior in cinema and photography from Spring Valley, has been taking landscape photographs since childhood, when he took a camera that his mother gave him and snapped photos at nearby Starved Rock State Park. 

“That’s where I developed my love for nature and landscape,” said Washkowiak, the son of Wayne and Sally Washkowiak. “It’s my way of expressing my own vision. I’m not a very vocal person; I’m more of a listener. Photography is my way of showing things -- how I view the world and take in an environment.” 

Petrelli and Washkowiak are two of 18 students taking a landscape class in a condensed four-week setting that will conclude with the end of the university’s summer session on Friday, Aug. 4. The course, taught by Daniel Overturf, a professor in the Department of Cinema and Photography, is similar in many ways to his small town documentary class, a biennial semester-long project that chronicles communities in the region. 

The current daily, three-hour landscape class sessions include critiques of prints the students might have shot the previous day, ranging from lakes, fields, mine strip cuts and urban areas. Overturf said one component in this advanced landscape class is that by the end of the first week students were showing their work for portfolios and receiving feedback. Overturf is delighted with interest in the class. 

“I think it had a lot to do with people’s interest in the landscape and that they could really hit the ground running,” he said. “I wasn’t challenging them with anything new in terms of technique; it’s more about an opportunity to explore.”

In class, there are discussions about the essential visual element skills to what Overturf said might be initially confusing as students look for patterns and shapes -- not just “postcard” style shots. 

“Maybe it’s a new topic, maybe it’s a new opportunity for them to concentrate on this topic,” he said. “But I have from the very beginning reminded them that basic photographic skills apply in almost every circumstance, including the landscape,” he said. “A lot of people, when they photograph the landscape, get caught up in the specific content of what they are photographing. What I try to remind them is to look at trees or rocks as shapes and patterns. The stronger photographs have stronger individual voices.” 

Washkowiak was among a group of seven students who accompanied Overturf to Scotland in June; the landscape there was much different, he said. Washkowiak typically prints and edits his photos in the morning before attending class and taking in observations from other students. He said he applies those notes when he will shoot more photos later in the evening. 

“I pretty much eat, sleep and breathe photography,” he said. 

Petrelli, the daughter of Holly and Michael Petrelli, earned her bachelor’s degree in May and was set to move to Los Angeles, Calif.  She is reconsidering that initial plan for now after becoming “too attached” to the region. Petrelli’s mother graduated from SIU Carbondale in 1975 and the family would return to the area to camp and hike when Petrelli was younger. 

“I love Southern Illinois. It’s kind of an extension from home,” she said. “We’ve always come down here. It’s another world compared to the suburbs, a better world.” 

Petrelli was a student in Overturf’s small town documentary class in fall 2017 where she concentrated on Grand Chain. That 16-week class provided the opportunity to shoot during the changing seasons. 

For her, photography provides an ability to stop time. 

“When you take a shot, that moment is over. But you have instilled it time. It’s kind of like cheating the system and stopping time so you always have that memory with you,” she said.