Photography from Afar: How MCCC’s Photo Program is Teaching from Home

Story by Brandon Johnson

West Windsor, N.J. – Though public venues are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, photographers around the world are continuing to create art. They’ve taken to photographing landscapes, shooting self-portraits, and even directing virtual photoshoots over Facetime and Zoom calls.

But for Mercer County Community College (MCCC) photography students, the closures have impeded access to the crucial photo software – located on campus computers - needed to continue their education.

Recognizing the challenge, Photography Professor Michael Chovan-Dalton collaborated with the college’s IT department to work up a solution during the state-wide quarantine. With Google’s Remote Desktop, a virtual software that emulates physical computing locations for any user that has an internet connection, Mercer photo students can access the entire suite of Adobe products from the comfort of their homes.

“My students [adapted] and [got] used to a different kind of schedule,” Dalton said. “The students appreciate the faculty that they have who are making the effort to stay engaged with them and who are readily available for questions and online meetings.”

Dalton revised his teaching style to better suit a digital environment. Rather than holding his weekly course meetings over a Zoom video call, Dalton split his classes between one live session and one “asynchronous” session, in which students could view video tutorials and photo assignments, and schedule one-on-one meetings.

Additionally, Dalton purchased equipment to improve his ability to teach remotely.

“I invested in some equipment to make my work area more of a live demo area. I am using a document camera to give my students live equipment demonstrations and to show them artist books and I am using  a vlogging setup (gimbal and camera) to create video tutorials for my students that feel a little more personal than just screen captures.”

While Dalton has made a successful transition to online work, the James Kerney Campus Gallery, which he manages, has been closed since the college went remote in March. The monthly gallery talks and exhibitions have gone dark, limiting students’ access to informative events and networking opportunities.

The College Voice staffer and JKC Gallery Assistant Alessandro Rivero has helped to fill the void left by vacated dark rooms and photo studios. On May 14, Rivero began hosting artist talks on the gallery’s Instagram account.

“The interviews were really just, I think, the logical thing to do,” Rivero said. “Instagram is the tool I had available for this show and I wanted to try and use as much of it as I could, to make as much content as I could for the gallery and its followers.”

“I also figured that talking to people, at a time when we’re all separated, would be positive for myself and other viewers. We can learn about the craft and how people are making their work during a hard time, and that might motivate other people to create more work of their own.”

So far, Rivero has interviewed Reuben Radding, a New York-based photographer who specializes in black and white photos, Jacob Mondry, a mixed media artist, and Arleth Pando, a photography student at the Pratt Institute who documents women’s self-issues.

For students in facing the same situation as Rivero, he suggests using their creativity to find solace.

“I’d tell other students trying to do photography, or even any other art, that’s it’s ok to take it slow and at your own pace. For some it can be hard to work during all this,” Rivero said.

“However, take advantage of your situation and what you have. It’s a chance to practice new things or test yourself, and we need to realize this situation isn’t necessarily limiting our creativity it’s challenging it.”

To watch archives of the JKC Gallery interviews, as well as to view upcoming broadcasts, visit @JKCGallery on Instagram

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MCCC student Alessandro Rivera (top) interviews Reuben Radding on the JKC Gallery Instagram Live.


MCCC Photography Professor Michael Chovan-Dalton invested in a digital set up to instruct his students from home. 


Dalton split his courses into group and self-directed sessions, which helped his students adapt to learning remotely.