By Adria Alexander
Photography Teacher Parrish Dobson has infused classes this year with influences from the New England Women in Photography group she co-founded in 1996.
Hosting events at nearby Simmons College and Brandeis University, the group has allowed Ms. Dobson to partake in local and national photography discussions over the years and observe what she calls “techniques and perspectives from the outside world.” One exhibit for which Ms. Dobson moderated a panel discussion in October—Brandeis’ “Vivian Maier: A Woman’s Lens”—inspired Ms. Dobson to showcase the art with her photo students this fall.
Maier’s work holds special significance for Women in Photography, Ms. Dobson said. The American street photographer’s art went largely undiscovered until 2007, when John Maloof, a young Chicago real estate professional interested in historic preservation and writing a book about an overlooked neighborhood, visited a local auction house and bought a box of miscellaneous negatives for $400.
The find ultimately proved life-changing for Maloof and reputation-making for Maier, who took over 100,000 photographs of Chicago and its people while working there as a nanny for 40 years. Only after stints of homelessness and Maier’s death nearly five years ago did she begin to receive critical acclaim—a trend Ms. Dobson said is regrettably common.
“For decades, women’s relationships with the public world of art have been challenging and troubled,” she said, reflecting on the discussion she moderated among three experts and a crowd of artists. “We looked at Maier’s work in the context of other women artists, many of whom faced prejudice or were overlooked in their lifetimes.”
In late October, Ms. Dobson brought her students to the Maier exhibit, allowing her annual field trip to take on a new twist.
“They loved it,” she said. “The trip was just two weeks before our annual Boston field trip to work on photography in a public place. Many students found Maier’s work inspirational.”
Lily Himmelman ’16, one of Ms. Dobson’s students, said she enjoyed the extra trip.
“I liked that Ms. Dobson took something she was involved in on her own time outside of school and found a way to show our class and really involve us in it,” she said.
“Working with New England Women in Photography has given me a lot of insights about different facets of photography,” Ms. Dobson said. “It helps me enormously and expands my horizons as an artist and an educator. I consider myself both.”
Arts Department Head John Norton said Ms. Dobson’s external perspective and breadth of knowledge distinguish her decades of teaching. While Ms. Dobson praised the photography group for its “professional support, networking opportunities, and knowledge about women photographers,” Mr. Norton praised Ms. Dobson for her invaluable ability to transfer passion to students from her own experiences.
He added that Ms. Dobson’s involvement in art communities outside of the school is unique, as many teachers struggle to balance personal artistry and devotion to their students.
“Ms. Dobson has been able to combine both teaching and making photography in a meaningful and personal way,” Mr. Norton said. “She really has been able to pull it off.”