A view into the photography program at Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology

More than 100 portraits of Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology (HAAT) students and their photographs will be featured on a 1,000-foot-long fence covering the construction of the Huntington Library’s Education and Visitor Center. HAAT is in East Los Angeles and is a public high school with an educational methodology emphasizing connections between history, English, arts and sciences. The students’ artwork will be unveiled Tuesday at an event marking the culmination of the collaboration. The work will be on display through early 2015, when construction of the new Education and Visitor Center is expected to be complete. The students all work with HAAT media arts teacher Joan Dooley, who agreed to discuss her methods of teaching photography with Times photographer Gary Friedman.

Before coming to HAAT two years ago, Dooley taught photography for 15 years at Fairfax High School, Bell High School and Ramon Cortines High School.  She became interested in photography in college at Worcester State University in Worcester, Mass., and later obtained a master’s degree in art history at University of Massachusetts in Amherst. She worked at the J. Paul Getty Museum from 1984-96 as assistant curator of photographs. In addition to photography, Dooley teaches graphic design and animation.

Joan Dooley. Photograph by Benito Rojas

The gallery of work above is by Dooley’s first- and second-year students. All of the photographs were entered into either the Scholastic Art and Writing Contest or the Music Center Spotlight Contest.

Q: What kind of photographs did you initially begin taking?

A: I was taught by people who were basically landscape photographers from the Ansel Adams school of photography but I quickly learned that my photography was about people and the human condition, and I think of myself primarily as a street photographer but with a fine art sensibility.  The people who inspired me the most would be the great Diane Arbus, Helen Levitt and Robert Frank, Henri Cartier Bresson and Gary Winogrand.

Q: What style of photography do you enjoy most?

A: The style I enjoy most is documentary because it is authentic and true to life and to me represents the power of photography.

Q: What style of photography do your students enjoy?

A: The students mostly enjoy real-life documentary street photography, but they are teenagers and they love to take pictures of each other so fashion and portrait photography are very popular.

Q: There is a lot of personal feeling in the student photos. How do you get the students to pour so much emotion and feeling in their photographs?

A: Key to my job as an art teacher is teaching my students how to communicate feelings and ideas in their art whether it’s photography or any other media. I ask the students to dig deep and write and prepare and think before they photograph.  I also use a lot of master photography as inspiration.

Q: Photography can be so deeply personal: How much is the student photography a reflection of their own backgrounds, home life and their lives in general?

A: I’m hoping the students’ photographs greatly reflect their lives. That’s what I strive for. During this time in their life there is a great need to make sense out of their lives and also to get their head straight and to me this is the mission with my class. The great role of art in K-12 education is to help serve this urgent need that teenagers have to make sense out of their lives.

Q: What motivates the students?

A: Every day my job is to motivate them. They are visual thinkers.  What motivates them is exciting images and images that speak to them. They like pictures that communicate stories and feelings and pictures that are composed really well with a strong sense of design.

Q: What motivates you?

A: The kids. The total turnarounds and transformations in lives that I’ve seen. Students who were motivated by gangs and gave it up and turned their lives around by finding a voice in their art and photography. Just making their lives better knowing that they are becoming better human beings because they have a new way to express themselves and learn and discover about their world.

Q: How do you inspire the kids?

A: I inspire them by crafting my own custom-made photography lessons that I think will spark a fire.  For example, to teach shutter speeds, I’ll construct a lesson on light writing.

Q: What do you hope to see from the students down the road?

A: I hope they will always keep alive their love of photography and even if they don’t go on professionally in the arts that they will have an appreciation for the arts and how it can improve our lives.

Q: On your computer there is a quote, “Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.” Why is it there?

A: This quote embodies not just a motto for our school but my philosophy of art education. To me, the best art is created when you dig deep and you feel, you think and then you put those feelings and thoughts into your craft.  What I don’t want to teach is for someone to make a technically excellent photograph that is empty of feeling and thought.