GPI – Leslie Starobin, professor of studio art

What is your educational and professional background?  

I have my bachelor’s in literature and my graduate degree is a Master’s of Fine Arts, specifically in photography. For me, that turned out to be a really great combination. If I had to do it over again, I might major in art history, but I love to read and appreciate good writing. And I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I was leaning towards possibly going into journalism, and maybe photojournalism, so I thought an English major was a great [option]. 

What is your role here at FSU and what does your job entail?

I’ve been here for almost my entire career since I graduated from grad school, and I’m kind of winding it down now, but I am a full professor. … I came here and photography was in the darkroom. Basically, at some point, early on before cameras went digital, we had computers. And so students were actually only printing in the darkroom, which I thought was great. I think it gives people really more of an appreciation of the craft of photography and also the whole concept of light and being able to read light and how important that is to the medium of photography. But because of environmental issues, they wanted to get us out of the darkroom, so we got scanners. The students would develop their film and they would scan it into the scanner, and then work on it in the lab. We had that before we had the digital cameras. Then when digital cameras came around, we started to segue the program to digital photography.

What do you like most about your work?

Well, there’s something nice about teaching because … you learn a lot from students. That keeps you fresh. … The use of digital photography, for example, in the beginning, I was like, “I don’t want to use the camera, I’m not really interested.” I liked the way I was working, but every new thing that comes around, you have to introduce it to the students. It forces you to go out and do it, and keeps you fresh as an image maker, as an artist, as a photographer, and as an instructor. So that’s one of the things that I like. I think you have to like to be around other people, and be open to listening and learning from other people. We’re different from other professions that might be way more isolated. … In graduate school, I was a TA, and I enjoyed the teaching and being in the classroom, and so, it was kind of more of a natural choice for me. … I was lucky. Honestly, it’s very hard to get these jobs and I got this job and it wasn’t supposed to be my quote unquote “forever job,” and I’ve been here many years and I’ve had a lot of time to do my own work. I’ve had a lot of projects that I’ve worked on over the years. Now I’m kind of winding down, and I really want to just be doing my own [thing]. There’s a point in your life where you’re like, “OK, I’m not going to be here forever.” “What are the projects that I’ve been working on and how can I finish them?” and “How can I get them out there?” 

What would students be surprised to know about you? 

Maybe that I’ve traveled a lot. I love the smell of the beach – going to the Cape and just smelling the ocean and walking on the dunes. Before COVID, I loved to travel and I’ve been to many, many places. I also love museums – that, people would probably know.

What advice do you have for students?

Follow your passion, but make sure that you have some skill that you can master. … When I was younger, I realized it’s hard to make your living as any kind of a visual artist, and you have to be practical enough to, let’s say, do a commercial job if you need the money. What my parents told me, and what I told my children, is follow your passion. You need to be flexible, and you need to be willing to observe – to reevaluate where you are at every time period. I don’t know if that advice right now, in the middle of this crazy world we’re living in with COVID, is necessarily [applicable]. We just don’t know what’s going to be happening with jobs. But my other advice would be to be engaged in what’s going on around you. You need to vote, for one thing, and you need to read the newspaper. … I look at The [Boston] Globe headlines. I listen to the radio. I feel like you need to be plugged in to the here and the now – where you are. … If you don’t want to get up in the morning to do that [your job] badly enough, that shouldn’t be what you’re going to do. I mean, I guess in a way that’s a luxury and a privilege because some people don’t have those opportunities. But, if you have the opportunities and you have an education and you want to start off by aiming for something, aim high and be flexible enough to readjust your dreams as you go on. But you’ve got to have the dream. I guess that would be one, and then hopefully, if you’re healthy, you live a long life. You never know when you’re in your 20s what it’s going to be in your 30s – in the next decade, so you have to have that kind of flexibility.