Students Explore Reportage Art with Award-Winning Artist

Artist Michael Fay works with a student in the Reportage Art class at Lebanon Valley College

“We often find ourselves looking at the world, but not seeing it.” 

This statement by Michael Fay, adjunct instructor in art, makes us think about the concept of his drawing studio class, Reportage Art. In the class, which engages a different topic each semester, the artist depends on images from direct experience in order to make the drawing feel complete. 

Looking at an image is dependent almost entirely on content that the artist produces from his or her experience. With reportage art, the viewer comprehends the art of photography and of a drawing very differently. A photograph is one single image while a drawing can make up a thousand images in one.

The concept of telling a story entirely through pictures is not a new idea. The old phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” is what Fay used to describe reportage art further. “Hence, in a drawing from direct witness experience, you find out as much about the artist and their eye, as we do of what he was interacting with, and because of this, the poetic content is more pronounced.” 

Students in Fay’s class had a lot of freedom with their individual final Reportage Art projects, and during class, one of the prime activities involved drawing sessions around campus designed for practice and discussion of the concept.

A student in Fay’s class, Sylvie Gibson-Gingrich ’20, explained how the class challenges her as an artist. “Every week we have to draw five pages, front and back, of things we observe around us, things that challenge us, and people we talk to, or just practice any techniques we need to work on. I’ve drawn a lot of people just sitting in Mund at lunch.” 

She went on to say that they would talk a lot about drawing their surroundings faster when they were out reporting. For those who were shy, it was also tough to approach people and to have a conversation, ask questions, and learn their stories. About Fay, she said, “He’s so sincere, and he’s actually interested in what people have to say.”

Fay stated that we live in an age of distraction due to our innate idea of looking and not seeing. 

“Looking is our habitual way of navigating the world in such a way as to not bump into anything and control, rather than open up to visual experience. I’ve even learned from my students how they use their social media devices to isolate themselves and control interactions out in public,” he said. 

Students use their projects to open themselves up more to their surroundings and to overcome the ingrained fear of reality and stereotypes. Fay wanted them to be mindful of what draws their eye in order to think about the meaning behind their projects. 

By signing up for the class, Gibson-Gingrich wished to work more on perspective in her art. “Some of the main points we have learned so far are that you have to look up and be aware of what’s going on around you, you have to learn how to see as opposed to how we look, and you need to focus on mass as opposed to line in drawing.”

What Fay ultimately hoped for students to gain from the class was time, talent, and technique, as well as for them to get off to a healthy and disciplined start toward developing their personal and artistic process. 

“Creativity doesn’t spring spontaneously from natural talent in a vacuum,” Fay said. “It comes from a passion that devotes the time necessary to learn and then create new techniques, and ultimately discovering one’s own artistic voice and vision. Doing this is inherently stressful, so I also challenge them to produce and to think, and as in the case of reportage art, go out into the world and actively engage with people directly.”

Fay obtained a sense of understanding of young artists by teaching, and that is what he has been appreciative of during his time at LVC. 

“My artistic experience as a working war and reportage artist has resonated with small art programs as a unique and valuable offering for their students. So, I’m grateful that my real-world experience and academic background have found a home at LVC,” he said.

Fay served in Afghanistan and Iraq and created paintings and drawings during these deployments depicting the feelings and hardships of the soldiers. He won awards from Marine Corps Heritage Foundation for distinguished examples of feature writing and artistic media by an individual dealing with U.S. Marine Corps history or life. He has participated in one-man and group shows and has been featured on multiple television and radio networks as well as national newspapers and magazines.