Professor shows students ‘real world’

MCC photography teacher looks at life from
a different angle

Staff Writer

MCC photography teacher looks at life from
a different angle
Staff Writer

MIGUEL JUAREZ staff Middlesex County College student Julie Petrova photographs model Nadia Deba during her midterm exam for Professor Whitey Warner’s class Feb. 27.MIGUEL JUAREZ staff Middlesex County College student Julie Petrova photographs model Nadia Deba during her midterm exam for Professor Whitey Warner’s class Feb. 27.

The story of Whitey Warner’s career as a photographer, businessman and educator is one of enterprise and adventure.

And his students at Middlesex County College, Edison, are the beneficiaries of his experience.

Warner teaches his photography students not from a textbook but from the book of the real world.

His aim? "To give them a working knowledge of the real world working environment, not just a craft."

"Working with people would be the key — working with clients," he said.

It’s more than just art for art’s sake, he said over coffee recently at the Barnes & Noble in East Brunswick. "It’s also about delivering a product."

Warner, who was born and raised in North Brunswick, said he decided he wanted to become an artist while in high school.

Instead, he wound up in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, where he found his sketches didn’t fare too well slogging through the rice paddies.

Eventually, he got his hands on a camera and found his true artistic calling was as a photographer.

Upon returning stateside, Warner found freelance work with a local daily newspaper and then entered the photography program at the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif.

After graduation, Warner and a fellow Brooks grad, Steve Kiser, embarked on a bicycling tour of Europe to build their portfolios, which turned into a six-year endeavor. The two ended up documenting their travels, picking up corporate sponsorship along the way.

"We came back with $3,000 more than we left with," Warner said.

Returning to his native Middlesex County, Warner worked briefly for The Star-Ledger, covering the Statehouse before starting his own businesses and beginning to teach at Middlesex.

One of those businesses perfectly illustrates Warner’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Founded in the mid-’70s, Photo Identifications Inc. filled a unique void, specializing in performing legal services not widely available at the time, such as providing photographic documentation of items valued at $100,000 or more for insurance purposes, and shooting accident scenes and re-enactments for court cases.

Over the years, Warner has also been an official photographer for the Miss New Jersey and Miss America pageants, and worked for a host of corporate clients, including Johnson and Johnson and Squibb Pharmaceuticals.

But he seems most excited about teaching, becoming animated and energetic when he talks about it.

"A lot of talented people, if they don’t get connected with the right guidance at the right time, they’ll never end up doing what they’re really good at," he said.

To that end, Warner begins each of his courses by asking the students to write a short essay detailing what their career aims are and what they hope to gain from his class.

"My reasoning is simple," he says. "Not every one of my students are photo majors. Many are art, graphics and computer design majors."

But regardless of whether they all aspire to careers as photographers, "they must know what problems a pho­tographer encounters, in order to better communicate with them when assign­ing a job."

Warner’s approach has proved to be overwhelmingly popular, as evidenced by the waiting list for his advanced-level course in professional studio lighting.

It’s also proved quite successful, as many of his students have reaped the rewards of his tutelage in the profes­sional arena.

Sean Lach interned with Warner as a student at Middlesex County Col­lege in the early ’90s, and eventually bought out Warner’s Strictly Black and White Labs.

"It was a great experience," Lach says. "Whitey has a natural talent for teaching others. He always tries to bring a practical application."

Another former student, Tiffany Harned, now resides in Orange County, Calif., and works as a free­lance photographer in the music indus­try.

She’s shot such acts as CKY and Biohazard, and has documented tours like OzzFest and the Warped Tour.

"[Whitey] was the best professor I ever had," Harned says. "He’s just not traditional in his ways of teaching, he works with you one-on-one, hands-on. He lets you use your own creativity and imagination."

A current student, Maxim Maxi­mov, is a finalist in a college photog­raphy competition sponsored by Pho­tographer’s Forum magazine and Nikon.

Practicality is Warner’s thrust as a teacher.

As such, he makes sure to introduce the fundamental concepts of photogra­phy to his students hand-in-hand with the realities of rapidly evolving tech­nology.

For example, he talks about fine grain films while relating them to the concept of pixel resolution in digital photography.

However, Warner also takes great care to impress upon his students that technology is only a tool.

"These students today are poisoned by the idea that digital technology can do everything," he said. "Although the technology is always changing, the ba­sics remain the same: good lighting, good composition and expression.

"New inventions and techniques must do more than merely add a few new gimmicks to old ones," he said.

Jim Stewart is the chairman of the Media Arts and Design Department at Middlesex County College. He said having adjunct professors like Warner who have actually worked professionally in their field is a per­fect fit.

"One of the main thrusts of a county college is to prepare students for the real world," he says. "Whitey takes people to various places to do shoots like a real assignment: it’s very bene­ficial [for students] to do things like you’re doing it for a living."

On Feb. 27, Warner brought his class to an old warehouse in New Brunswick for its midterm exam, one that reflected his real world orienta­tion. Set up like a real fashion shoot, students must operate under conditions much like those they would encounter on a real job.

It’s all in line with Warner’s phi­losophy.

"I’m really trying to develop a sense of ‘show me, don’t tell me,’ and get away from the textbooks," he said. "You’re not going to train people out of a book, you need real world experi­ence."