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The Humans of SUNY Plattsburgh: Guerrilla Art and the Teaching of Portraiture

Students dressed in black slipped through the shadows on campus, carrying duct tape and large rolls of paper.

Their mission: guerrilla art, the secret posting of larger-than-life-sized portraits in the outdoor corridor between Angell College Center and Feinberg Library.

Sue Lezon’s Photo III  class had been studying portraiture, looking at the works of Brandon Stanton and his “Humans of New York” project. This totally intentional act of beauty – staged after dark on a cool October evening – was their finale.

“My instructions were to look and really see the people of SUNY Plattsburgh,” said Lezon, associate professor of art. “Then, they had to ask their chosen subjects if they could photograph them.”

The posting wound up not being so clandestine after all, said photography minor Visa Gowrishankar. “At 8 p.m., there are quite a lot of students on campus.”

But, she added, the response from those students was immediate and positive.

The Art of Forming a Relationship

The kind of the photography the students were doing is very difficult to teach, according to Lezon.

Portraiture requires more than good technique. To be successful, photographers must form relationships with their subjects.

“Even if that relationship lasts just for the amount of time it takes for the shutter to open and close, it is imperative that a connection exist,” Lezon says.

What’s more, their timing has to be correct.

“The photographer has to be open to the moment of that connection. And the subject has to be willing to give the gift of being open to the photographer. Those moments are not always easy to recognize. And therein lies the challenge. However, when everything falls into place, it's pure joy.”

According to Gowrishanker, this project was a pure joy.

“The whole class was inspired,” she said.

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