Cosmetology and photography students from San Juan College participated in the collaborative portrait project with the Bloomfield Senior Center. Wochit

Students gain real-world experience, build portfolios through project


BLOOMFIELD — Lee and Patsy Jones sat holding hands on a piano bench watching as San Juan College photography students adjusted equipment in the Bloomfield Senior Center on Thursday morning.

Photography student Karen Smith adjusted her camera while the pair watched other students prepare the lighting equipment.

“OK, are you guys ready?” Smith asked to get the Jones’ attention. 

The two looked to Smith, and Patsy smiled. After a squeeze of the hand and a prompt from his wife, Lee did, too. Smith snapped a shot, the lights flashed and a portrait was made.

Cosmetology and photography students from San Juan College participated in the collaborative portrait project with the Bloomfield Senior Center. Tony Bennett, assistant professor of photography, said the purpose of the assignment is to have students experience what the real world of portraiture is like.

“The class that’s doing this is the advanced digital, so if they’re showing that kind of interest, there’s a chance of them trying to make a living at it or at least weekends, doing senior portraits and stuff — weddings,” Bennett said. “This is a difficult environment to shoot in ... so this is a great challenge, and we want to do that. I push these guys really hard, and they’ll tell you that I was on their case this morning big time … because that’s what real life is.”

Students in both programs were charged with preparing their own equipment, doing their work in a timely manner and connecting with clients. Jeanette Hockenhull, adjunct professor of cosmetology, said she wanted her students to be able to put their skills and knowledge to work, but also to realize that “time is money.”

“In any field that we’re in, we’re there to do what the client wants, but we’re also there to give them our input of our knowledge,” Hockenhull said. “But they also have to realize that they can’t take five hours to do something. In weddings, you’ve got 10 people and it’s just you — you better get them done.”

Cosmetology students were available at the event for hair, makeup and nail services before portrait sessions with the photography students. Caiden King, who is studying to become an aesthetician with Melina Trujillo, said the real-world experience they gain through the project “is legit.”

“All this is based on people,” Trujillo said. “You have to reach out and build your clientele, so this is the only way that we can do that while we’re in school — to just get used to the feel of working on real people.” 

“Because on each other we just kind of mess around,” King added. “We don’t follow the rules that we’re supposed to be following, so it’s like, ‘OK, this is what we’re supposed to be doing, we need to follow these guidelines.’” 

Bill Nourse has taken Bennett’s photography class five times and had done similar class projects at the Namaste House in Farmington in the past. He said the project not only helps students learn their craft, but also is a gift to the senior citizens who participate. 

“It’s a great experience, and (the portrait subjects) have fun and we have fun,” Nourse said, adding that senior citizens “like the attention, if you get right down to it. Nobody pays them that much attention anymore, and they really like it when somebody takes an interest in them, so it’s fun.”

Patsy Jones said she and her husband hadn’t had a portrait taken since 2009, so she was “very grateful” for the services offered by the college students and was happy to help them learn their craft.

“It’s neat to have them and get them to use their different angles and skills,” Jones said. “I think it’s great that they do that — that they let students come and take pictures of people to practice and stuff. ... I love it, and I’m going to have some Christmas gifts for my kids and grandkids.”

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621.

Read or Share this story: