20 Questions with Derin Korman, Photography Teacher

“I don’t think we spend enough time reflecting on how our images (re)constitute us and others,” says Derin Korman. As Commonwealth’s photography teacher, Mx. Korman brings that same thoughtfulness to every class, helping photographers of all levels sharpen their eyes and critical-thinking skills.

1. What three words best describe Commonwealth?

Engaged, Supportive, smol

2. What’s your #1 piece of advice for Commonwealth students?

Give your thoughts the space and time to sprout. Put aside the cacophonous demands on your attention and let yourself be bored once a week. Go on a walk long enough to leave your to-dos behind like breadcrumbs, and, with your mental pockets empty, sit and stare at the sky to listen to what comes next.

3. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“One must not attempt to dispel the ambiguity of one’s being but, on the contrary, accept the task of realizing it,” from the Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir.

4. What does your ideal afternoon entail?

Sitting down with a cup of tea/coffee to wrap up the earlier part of the day before heading out to enjoy a concert or a show to remind me of the world outside our bubbles.

5. If you could teach any class aside from your own, what would it be?

Ethics of Images, or maybe, more simply, Graphic Design.

6. Which word or phrase do you most overuse?

Ossify. I must admit that “like” has probably overtaken that race in direct correlation with my time spent with younger students.

7. When and how did you first become interested in photography?

In elementary school, Wednesday afternoons had a reserved double block for electives, and when I got to third grade, the school decided to trial a photography instructor. It probably is worth noting here that consumer digital cameras were barely nascent at the time. The trial stuck, quickly turning into spending every weekend photographing and in the darkroom—and in helping teach others as early as fifth grade. Here I am, twenty-five years later.

8. What do you find is the biggest misconception about teaching?

That it has to do with having vast textual knowledge of one thing, where it really is about knowledge of learning about that thing, which are largely separate venn diagrams.

9. What is your favorite aspect of your work?

Students come with a wild array of ideas and I get to help them navigate the maze of artistic processes.

10. How do you define success in your classes?

When students have learned enough to reflect on their learning and when they let curiosity nudge them into the unknown of experiential learning.

11. Cameras on (almost) every phone on (almost) every person: net positive, negative, or neutral for humanity? 

Negative. I don’t think we spend enough time reflecting on how our images (re)constitute us and others.

12. What are people surprised to learn about you?

That I don’t have a preferred brand of camera. Once a week a guy will ask me this and be all cross when I don’t have a spirited answer ready to go. 

13. Coffee or tea? 

Both: black tea to start the day, coffee when I need a boost for a seven-class marathon.

14. Scripted or improvised?

Scripted ten times over, so as to make space for improvisation.

15. What do you bring to a potluck?

Börek (layered pastry) or Karnıyarık (stuffed eggplants), both made with lentils instead of the traditional meat/cheese fillings.

16. What is the theme song of your life?

“Idioteque,” Radiohead

17. What is the best gift you have ever received?

I’m a notoriously bad gift recipient.

18. What is the best gift you have ever given?

I gave Hannah (my partner, also a teacher) a custom jacquard knit sweater that says LOVE on one arm, TEACHING on the other, and I’M TIRED on the front.

19. What is your most treasured possession?

I’m going to have to go with “nothing.” Migrating across continents a handful of times, you leave a lot behind.

20. What is your favorite mode of transportation? 

Boats. In Istanbul [Mx. Korman hails from Turkey], ferries lace the two continents together, with tea served in actual glassware.

Bonus: What is your favorite paradox?

“One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” —Albert Camus

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