‘Birth of Venus’: UT art students use their skills to create an image in a class group project

April 26, 2016

Walking into the art classrooms at the Toledo Museum of Art, it’s hard not to notice the easygoing camaraderie that these bachelor of fine arts students have with each other. Those friendships are what makes group projects in classes like Eric Ziegler’s all that more fun.


The image they’re working to recreate started out as a joke, the class admitted while laughing. And the addition of gender-swapping the characters was also thought up as a laugh.


“We said, ‘Oh, that’s your joke? Now you have to be Venus,’” said Robert Cummerow, a third-year photography student.


Eric Ziegler, a lecturer of multidisciplinary art and foundations at UT, teaches the advanced photography course that is specialized in lighting. He said that the assignment for this shoot was to create a single image that utilized their resources (equipment, people and creativity) as much as possible.


“The students chose to recreate Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus,’ but with all roles gender swapped,” Ziegler said. “We are going to recreate the painting as best we can with real life sets, and compositing of images. Every student in the class is involved in a way that best suits their skills, and we are all working as a team to make the image happen.”


Last year’s class project included the burial of one of their classmates in the woods. Ziegler said that the class utilized the natural light that was available as well as bringing out artificial lights and even a fog machine.


“It was taking everything as far out from our comfort zone as possible,” Ziegler said.


This year’s outdoor photo shoot was at the Maumee Bay Park on April 14. Steven Hoody, who posed as gender-swapped Venus, stood in a half-thong while his classmates shivered in coats cupping hot coffees.


In the class, students are working with on-camera flash, studio continuous lighting and studio strobe lighting in addition to their study of the use of natural light.


“In the class I teach the students the process of how to light a scene or object to get the desired outcome they are looking for,” Zeigler said. “This class approaches lighting as a tool that can be used to augment the studio practice these students have already developed.”


The students, although they enjoy having fun with each other and the project, are very serious about photography. When it’s time to learn, they are ready to listen and soak in the information.


“The beginning of our book puts it as, ‘lighting is to photography as what a true understanding of Elizabethan English was to Shakespeare,’” Cummerow said. “He went from being good to being the master that we know because he had a true understanding of both. Photography, without light, can still be good but to master it, you need to understand both.”


Group projects such as these are necessary in Ziegler’s Studio Lighting class. It’s open to any students who have taken Fundamentals of Digital Media and Introduction to Photography. Ziegler’s said that it helps the students to gain a deeper understanding of what it is like to work on a production crew and in a studio with other photographers.


“The assignment allows us to stretch the known uses for our equipment, and it also gets the students to start thinking about how they can accomplish larger goals with the help of others,” Ziegler said. “It really is a culmination of the principles that have been taught over the entire semester.”


Blake M. Ody, a fourth-year new media design major, believes that their project is a good test of their photography skills, as well as their patience.


“I would say it’s a test of collaboration because a lot of us are friends and often times [we] work off of each other,” Ody said. “So to actually come together and dedicate time to one project and to be able to deal with all the excess is difficult.”

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