Faculty Spotlight: Sandra Dyas

The Prague Summer Program is excited to welcome a new faculty member into our photography program, Sandra Dyas.

From the Director, Richard Katrovas:

Sandra Dyas will join Jan Pohribny to form the Prague Summer Program’s new photography unit. What I find so exciting about this team is how starkly the two artists contrast: Jan’s work embodies multiple dream worlds that quaver just beyond the Bohemia landscapes as well as the bustling cityscapes of his at once ancient and wholly-in-the-moment Prague.  Many of Sandra’s images seem to emerge from the cornfields of Iowa; they are starkly, unapologetically of the American heartland. Jan’s work captures Bohemian dreams; Sandra’s captures, and celebrates, American dreamers. Both love their art profoundly, and relish teaching technique, as well as everything beyond the realm of technique.

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Sandra also took the time to answer a few questions from Shana Wolstein, PSP Assistant, through email:

PSP: Not all creative people are born teachers, how did you find your way into becoming a teacher? What’s your favorite part of teaching?

SD: A big reason I actively enjoy teaching is because I know that I can change a person’s life by encouraging and mentoring them. You can make a difference by how you teach. I can sense that certain students are drawn naturally to art and then they find photography and it just opens them up. It is so rewarding to see a student find something they connect with. I like sharing the passion I have for art. I also enjoy pushing students to develop into themselves—to grow. It is really the most fun job someone can have—to teach. Yes, it is really challenging in many ways and sometimes very exhausting but worth the effort. I feel like I am growing too. It is never the same, it is always changing.

SD (cont.): When I was a grade school girl, I would come home from school, go upstairs and play school. I had a desk and a blackboard with chalk. I had books I used for lessons, I gave exams, kept track of imaginary student’s progress. Looking back on this I see how I was meant to teach. I took it very seriously. I have three girl cousins and when we were young, I relished being the teacher (I was the oldest). We played school at my Aunt LaVonne and Uncle Greg’s house in Bellevue or at our house on the farm. My younger brother had to play too. I do not think he was a fan.

One would think that I was destined to become a teacher in my twenties, but our guidance counselor at my school nixed the idea of me going to college. When I was a Junior in high school he told me that becoming a teacher was only a fantasy of mine. Shocking yes, but that is how it was in a small town high school in 1969. Mr. Wilson believed I would not make it in college because I did not like math or science. Oddly I was a very good student who maintained A’s and B’s. Instead of going to a four-year college I enrolled in a Junior College. Not such a bad plan but because I did not have anyone assisting me with my career plans I finished in two years and got married. A few years later, I bought a portrait studio business and set-up shop first downtown and soon after in my home.

My photography studio business was perfect for me. I loved taking photos and I got along with people easily. The business became a very big success. Somewhere within my stint of nearly twelve years of running the studio, I divorced and had my two daughters to support by myself. The studio business taught me a lot about portraiture (I took workshops in the summer) and a lot about being able to deal with people while shooting their wedding. I learned how to direct people and how to think extremely quickly. My photography was very highly appreciated and admired. After nearly twelve years and over 500 weddings, I was ready for a new challenge. I decided to move my daughters and myself to Iowa City. I enrolled in undergraduate college at the University of Iowa when I was about 34 years old. First a theatre major and then an art major, I found my way into the Intermedia program. I received my MFA in 1998 in Intermedia which is an area devoted to performance art and video.

While in graduate school I taught several art classes including photography. I loved teaching and knew it was what I wanted to do in the real world. In 1999, I was hired to teach photography at Cornell College and I am still there. Being a teacher is definitely part of my identity.

PSP: How do you feel travel can affect people’s art?

SD: In 2002, I applied for a McConnell Travel Grant through Cornell College. It funded my first trip to Prague for three weeks. My intention was to roam the streets using a 35mm film camera. I shot all black and white film. It was my first real experience of working outside of Iowa as an artist. My experience taught me that in order to make authentic work in an unfamiliar place, I needed to spend a week just site-seeing and being a tourist. You need some time to sink into where you are. Only after being a tourist can you begin to see beyond the surface of things. Traveling is wonderful in the way we have the opportunity to explore a new city or location with a camera. It is easy to wander, to lose yourself in new surroundings. I love walking all over a city by myself. I tend to revisit the same area many times and each time I am able to see more than I did the first time. Being able to travel is a gift in and of itself. It is a challenge and a joy. It is hard work and true pleasure all put together in a tight little package. I am very grateful for this next upcoming adventure in Prague.

PSP: What are you looking forward to this summer in Prague?

SD: So many things! Meeting the artists involved in the Prague Summer Program will be fun. I am also looking forward to the field trip to visit and personally meet Jindrich Streit with our students. I love his work. I know that my time spent in the Czech Republic will be invaluable. Meeting new people and spending time together in another culture is challenging and rewarding. It will be exciting to be working in Prague again with my camera. Thinking of using my Holga as well as my DSLR. I am anticipating a great trip and experience. Several years ago, I looked into teaching at the Prague Summer Program. Since that time I have been in Prague twice. My third visit will be as a photo teacher in the program’s 20th anniversary!


To find more information about Sandra Dyas, and to see more of her work, please see her website http://www.sandydyas.com.

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