Like a lot of young newly minted college graduates, Daniel Kaufmann, who had just earned a B.S. in biology, wondered what was next for him. However, unlike many uncertain graduates he took a bold step by examining his priorities, listening to his heart, and making an abrupt career switch that found him returning to school to earn a second bachelor’s degree, this time in studio art.
And it was a dynamic teacher at Florida State University who ultimately caused him to veer off his original career path. “I had thoughts of going to graduate school, getting on the Ph.D. track, but then I began to re-think that. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had become interested in art and took some classes because I wanted to learn more about it. I was thinking graphic design, maybe sculpture, then I had a terrific photography teacher who really piqued my interest. I have always been interested in photography--I even had my own darkroom--but it was strictly a hobby,” Kaufmann, who now teaches photography in the College of Fine Arts, says.
The second degree led him to the University of New Mexico, where he earned an M.F.A. and taught classes virtually from the start. Summers found him working at a private school where, in addition to photography, he taught computer animation and website building. His career path may have been unorthodox, but he had definitely found his niche.
At Marshall he likes the flexibility found in the Department of Art and Design and the breadth of courses offered. There’s a wide spectrum of types of photography which run the gamut from the very early 19th century processes to the latest cutting-edge technology, he says, and it’s important that students be exposed to all of them. “I want students to understand that all these are still viable uses of photography and there are ways to go back and forth between the older and the newer processes.”
Students in his experimental classes can actually learn the techniques used in 19th century photos, which produced those often stiff but surprisingly sharp images. And while some are complex, others are surprisingly simple to duplicate. “Before photographic materials were manufactured, rather than buying photo paper, you used various materials to make a light-sensitive emulsion which is a light-sensitive liquid. You would then coat various surfaces, anything from glass to meal and more commonly, fine art paper to make it light sensitive. So students are entirely capable of creating the kinds of images found in early photos. The only difference is that we sometimes use more modern chemicals to produce something that looks the same, because some of the early chemicals used were quite dangerous and we’re not going to use them in the labs.”
Although there are a number of photography majors and minors, non-majors and others in the Department of Art and Design take his classes as well. In his department there are core classes that everyone takes, and beyond that students can choose an area of emphasis, he explains. “Other emphases could be printmaking, painting, sculpture, graphic design, fibers, ceramics, art education—all the major areas that an art department would have.”
It’s important that his students learn to combine the technical aspects with artistic ones, he says firmly. “You have to have both. We stress them both; we stress the technique of the craft along with personal vision. It’s a balance between teaching techniques and helping them make their own personal discoveries. You can see a really technically superb photo but artistically it’s empty. And others have good ideas but they aren’t able to get the technique to come through. Art is about both of these and getting people to understand the importance of both.”
And graduates with photographic training can go in many directions, he says. “With the skills the students learn here there are numerous avenues open to them. They can go into art-based photography or go the commercial route.”
The Department of Art and Design has a rich curriculum to offer students, whether they are enrolled majors or just casual students, Kaufmann says. “We offer classes for students with all levels of interest, from those who want to take an occasional class just for their own interest to a full range for our majors. One of our biggest assets is we have a wonderful faculty who have many shared as well as diverse interests.”
People are often surprised that on vacations and family occasions, Kaufmann is not automatically the chronicler. He takes his fair share of photos but not as many as one would think, he notes. Although he has an array of professional cameras, he’s not a camera snob. And In his profession, he’s worked with all types from 35 mm to large-format cameras. He doesn’t lug around the big professional ones on trips, for example. “I often just use the camera on my phone,” he admits. “It’s always there and with technology the quality of the phone camera is quite high for what I need. I have a good digital camera that works very well for my purposes. Digital cameras have changed a lot and they’ve greatly improved technically. People are taking more photos with them now. Cameras are tools and you use the right one for different purposes.”
Living in Huntington with his wife, Michelle, 5-year-old Miko and 11-year-old Isa, he’s an avid cyclist who often rides with colleagues. “I love the outdoors,” he says. “I particularly like the gorgeous West Virginia landscape.”
Kaufmann’s work is well known outside the classroom as well, as his photos are featured in several traveling exhibits both nationally and internationally. Currently he has an exhibit at the Beckley Art Center, part of an annual show that tours West Virginia. He’s also participating in a large traveling exhibit, reGeneration 2, which can be seen throughout the United States and Europe. The tour began last summer in Switzerland, moved on to Morocco and currently can be seen in Paris. There is another version of the exhibition that is traveling throughout North America, starting out in the U.S. and currently touring Mexico.
Although his initial academic path may have been somewhat unconventional, would
he do anything differently today? Probably not, he says frankly. He didn’t end
up as a scientist as he had originally planned, but the biology degree
definitely wasn’t wasted, he believes. “When you’re young, you don’t know what
you want to do. You have to teach yourself how to learn, how to work. I still
like science ... I’m very interested in the environment and I use some of that
knowledge and interest in my current career. Things have a way of going
together. Changing careers took some nerve, but I’ve never regretted it.”
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