SFA art students hike into Santa Elena Canyon

SFA art students hike into Santa Elena Canyon in the southern part of Big Bend National Park during a Maymester photography field trip.

Students enjoy a photo stop during a canoe trip on the Rio Grande River

Students enjoy a photo stop during a canoe trip on the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park.

SFA art students photograph the desert landscape in Big Bend National Park

SFA art students photograph the desert landscape in Big Bend National Park.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas – In the first field course that Stephen F. Austin State University School of Art has been able to offer since COVID-19 shut down the nation in 2020, SFA students traveled to Big Bend National Park in West Texas in May. They spent a week camping and photographing breathtaking desert landscapes before returning to campus to edit and print their images.

Photographing sunsets in the Chisos Mountains, canoeing along the Rio Grande River between the Texas and Mexico borders, and visiting the McDonald Observatory were among the trip highlights designed to broaden the students’ views of the possibilities of where and how their desire to pursue a career in photography can take them, according to Amanda Breitbach, assistant professor of art at SFA.

“One thing I think that is really important about the Maymester field class is that it provides an opportunity to expose students to new places, ideas and activities they may never have tried before,” Breitbach said. “I often have students who have never camped before on the trip, and by the end, they feel like experts setting up a tent and cooking on a propane stove. I did a survey at the end of the course, and all of them said they are more likely to camp, hike or canoe on their own after taking this class.”

Student Kat Bulpitt, a senior from Pearland majoring in filmmaking, said, "I loved being able to meet other photographers, and as a first-time camper, having a group was nice."

"I had a blast,” said Tina Pee Glaze, a sophomore from Pollok majoring in art education. “It was fun to photograph in a different environment. There are places around here that are really pretty, but we were able to see all different kinds of scenery, such as the way the sun goes down over the mountains. That’s a different kind of light, and you have to take pictures differently."

The field study included visits to Monahans Sandhills State Park, the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Davis Mountains State Park, and numerous sites in Big Bend. The canoe trip down the Rio Grande River was a favorite activity for many students.

“Only one of the students in the class had ever been in a canoe before,” Breitbach said, “so it was an opportunity to try something new and adventurous, and they all loved it.”

Past Maymester field trips by the School of Art have included photo trips to Santa Fe, New Mexico; scenic drawing/painting residencies in Iceland; and art history studies in Florence, Italy.

“Another fun thing about the photo Maymester class is that it is open to students of all levels ­–  from advanced photo students to students who have never taken a photo class before,” Breitbach said. “That creates a unique dynamic where students share their work on the spot and learn from each other while they are photographing in different environments and lighting situations.”

For more information about the School of Art, call (936) 468-4804, or visit art.sfasu.edu.