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The Obscura Camera Club Does FotoFest


Elizabeth Mellott

Elizabeth Mellott

When I was a college student, I was completely uninvolved in extra-curricular activities.  I never attended any type of school function or field trips, and I certainly did not have the time to be in clubs or organizations. I had quite a list of excuses. I worked full-time; I attended college full time; I commuted. I could go on and on.

So, when I started teaching at Collin County Community College (CCCC), in Plano, Texas, I decided to start a student photography club! It was ironic, to say the least, that I expected student involvement. Even so, in fall 2007, the Obscura Photography Club was created with just a handful of students. These students typically work full-time and also attend college full-time. Some are parents, and at least one has a 50-mile round-trip commute to campus. I had hoped to accomplish simple goals such as the students extending the critique process, sharing ideas, commenting on work, and basically inspiring each other. But what the students actually accomplished is much more exciting.

"Lonely," photo © Jenny Snyder

“Lonely,” photo © Jenny Snyder

Working at CCCC, I am often proud of my students. I am amazed at their hard work, their creativity, and the numerous difficulties they overcome in education — and in life. But in truth, I am proudest of the students in the Obscura Photography Club. They are wonderfully positive, tolerant, and sensitive to others. For example, they decided that club membership should be open to any student, photo-based or not, and they chose to waive club dues or fees, arguing that no student should be left out due to educational choices or financial burden.

"Lost Joy," photo © Josh Dryk

“Lost Joy,” photo © Josh Dryk

In truth, this decision placed more pressure on the most active club members, because all money had to be raised or solicited. But the students were up to the task, with a dizzying program which included studio portrait fund-raisers, gallery tours, field trips, exhibitions, call-for-entry shows, and winning scholarships. These overachievers even met once a week over the summer — giving themselves assignments, deadlines, and critiques. Yet, the most remarkable event was when the students decided to attend FotoFest 2008 — almost 300 miles away in Houston.

Seedling 1," photograph © Amanda Davis

Seedling 1,” photograph © Amanda Davis

In order to make FotoFest a reality, students had to organize their schedules and most critically find the money. They pulled extra shifts at work for gas, stocked up on food from a grocery store so they wouldn’t have to eat out, and figured out car pooling. They found private funding to cover their lodgings in full, and also convinced the rewarding party to put them up at the relatively pricey conference hotel. While they nested comfortably at the Doubletree, I slept on a couch at my brother’s. Go figure.

"The Coy Model," photo © Norma Jean Montejano

“The Coy Model,” photo © Norma Jean Montejano

Generous support from the Houston arts community also was critical, notably from Wendy Watriss, Jennifer Ward, and Marta Sanchez Philippe of FotoFest. Madeline Yale from Houston Center for Photography and Clint Willour from the Galveston Arts Center heard about our carload of community college students, making the five-hour trek to Houston, and managed to find time to meet with them. They also met with Amanda Maddox Assistant Curator of Photography and Media Arts Corcoran Gallery of Art; Jason Houston, Picture Editor for Orion magazine and contributing photography editor for Berkshire Living magazine; Tom Hinson, Curator of Photography at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Pippa Oldfield, of London’s Tom Blau Gallery.

All in all, Houston was a three-day whirlwind — copious amount of exhibitions, curator and gallery director talks, portfolio reviews. And, when we got home, there was a follow-up panel at CCCC, open to all, reviewing what was learned — from how to prepare for a portfolio review to the best bars in Houston.

Society for Photographic Education logoWith the FotoFest success under their belt, the Obscura Photography Club decided to attend the Society for Photographic Education (SPE) National Conference in Dallas. Once again, their determination and organizational skills have paid off. They are hosting a call for entry college student exhibition (open to all) to help students showcase their work. Again they found funding to cover all hotel expenses. And this year they even included a room at the conference hotel for me — a good thing, since I have no brother nearby.

Student Portfolio:

"Headless," photo © Jenny Snyder

“Headless,” photo © Jenny Snyder

"The Nun," photo © Norma Jean Montejano

“The Nun,” photo © Norma Jean Montejano

"The Protector," photo © Norma Jean Montejano

“The Protector,” photo © Norma Jean Montejano

"Power of Pride," photo © Ken Cancelosi

“Power of Pride,” photo © Ken Cancelosi

"Baby," photo © Ken Cancelosi

“Baby,” photo © Ken Cancelosi

"Jesus shirts with lingerie," photo © Ken Cancelosi

“Jesus shirts with lingerie,” photo © Ken Cancelosi

"Book of tattoos," photo © Josh Dryk

“Book of tattoos,” photo © Josh Dryk
Coptic stitch book (paper, gut, digital
prints, thread), home made (prison style) tattoo gun

"Pain," photo © Josh Dryk

“Pain,” photo © Josh Dryk

"Seedling 3," photo © Amanda Davis

“Seedling 3,” photo © Amanda Davis

Some of my work:

Images from “This War Between Us”

"Wedding," photo © Elizabeth Mellott

“Wedding,” photo © Elizabeth Mellott

"The long hike back," photo © Elizabeth Mellott

“The long hike back,” photo © Elizabeth Mellott
Silver gelatin photogram, mixed media


"Casualty of war I, addictions," photo © Elizabeth Mellott

“Casualty of war I, addictions,” photo © Elizabeth Mellott
Silver gelatin photogram, mixed media

"Exchanging glances," photo © Elizabeth Mellott Silver gelatin photogram, mixed media

“Exchanging glances,” photo © Elizabeth Mellott
Silver gelatin photogram, mixed media

Artist’s Statement: For me, art is a means of expression and documentation, a way to communicate with others about pressing issues of contemporary life. My work crosses boundaries, with much of it alternative and/or sculptural, using photography as a basis. My art is emotionally charged, addressing personal concerns and social issues around specific moments. I recreate scenes with photography and other processes, capturing a personal and constructed view of the world that engages with issues of common concern.

Elizabeth Mellott studied at Texas Women’s University and the University of North Texas, both in Denton, Texas. She holds an MFA in Photography with studies in book arts. Mellott is a professor of photography at Collin College in Plano, Texas, teaching traditional photography, alternative photography, bookbinding, and installation arts. Visit her website.

Editor’s Note:

Houston Fotofest logoFotoFest is an international non-profit photographic arts and education organization, based out of Houston, Texas. Every other year, the folks at Fotofest hold a Biennial conference where photographers and people interested in photography can come to participate in lectures, portfolio reviews, exhibitions, art sales and auctions, as well as lectures by celebrated artists, educators, and curators, from around the globe.

The FotoFest 2008 theme was China. Events included a Chinese film series, a symposium on Chinese photography in the 20th century, and several exhibitions featuring the work of 30 Chinese artists that FotoFest hosted for the event. FotoFest is a great opportunity to meet with others in the field of photography, see work from around the world, and get feedback on your own work, all while learning more about what is going on in the global photography community.

Their mission statement says:
“FotoFest’s purpose is to promote the exchange of art and ideas through international programs and the presentation of photographic art. Our programs work globally and locally, bringing together an international vision of art and cross-cultural exchange with a commitment to community involvement and the enrichment of Houston’s cultural resources.” — Allison Carroll


Photograph copyright Norma Jean Montejano

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