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Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Photography & Preservation

Interdisciplinary collaboration is a key aspect of LSU art & design faculty research, and now student curriculum, with numerous courses offered that span across disciplines.

Johanna Warwick, assistant professor of photography, collaborated with landscape architecture assistant professor Nicholas Serrano to teach the course ART 4941 Special Topics: Photography & Preservation in spring 2020. The course is a direct result of Warwick’s work The Bottom, a photography series investigation of the historic neighborhood Old South Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Assistant professor Serrano saw her lecture about the project in Greenville, SC in fall 2019 and the two proposed a collaborative course focused on the relationship of photography in preservation.

“Seeing my work through the lens of being preservation, we became incredibly excited about the relationship between photography and conservation efforts,” Warwick said. “We built this course together with the belief and goal that our students from different disciplines would be able to educate and collaborate with different areas of expertise, for joint goals.”

The course was designed to investigate the historical role of photography in preservation, bringing together art and design students to examine the topics from different vantage points. Photography and landscape architecture students explored the topic of preservation through memorials, monuments, culture, climate and landscape. The students worked together researching and photographing sites in Baton Rouge that are on National Registers, and making recommendations for sites to be added.

“This course covers the history, theory, and practices of historic preservation, with a particular focus on the historical geographies of the American South,” Serrano said. “Students explore how to identify, investigate, and give voice to the historical narratives of spaces, places, and memories embedded in the built environment.”

For each site students worked together to conduct in-depth research and produce visual evidence. “Partners work closely with each other, sharing their knowledge, skills, and understanding so that each party feels confident in working in new ways,” he said in the course overview. “This means landscape architecture students make photographs as well, and photography students are also be conducting research.”

In future semesters, Warwick and Serrano plan for the entire class to work together to research and document the historic Plank Road neighborhood in Baton Rouge and make recommendations to the city for architecture to be preserved. “We hope to run this course again in the future and address projects that we had to postpone due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.

This course contributed to the college’s goal of cross-collaboration between the School of Art and the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, merging the disciplines of art and design to work together to address issues in local communities.