When SAAS photography teacher, Rebekah Rocha first started at Seattle Academy, the photography program had only been around for a couple of years and consisted of just three classes with no more than seven students in each. Fast-forward to twelve years later where she has managed to add three new classes to the curriculum and make photography the elective in highest demand every trimester.
Rebekah has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in design from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She had always been interested in the arts and recognized design as a good foundation, so she decided to pursue design as an undergrad. “Design taught me how to use my space and communicate my ideas, which allowed me to be successful in other areas as well,” Rebekah says.
After graduation, Rebekah moved back to her hometown of Shoreline and accepted a job offer from a small design firm where she worked for six years. The small firm was a great opportunity for her to be involved in all aspects of design. She worked on anything from logos and advertisements, to presentation boards and face-to-face meetings and consultations with clients. Having a wide variety of clients allowed Rebekah to have more creative license and use different artistic voices. However, even with that creativity she explains that there is a lack of emotion in design, so she painted, drew, and took photos on the side as a better outlet.
The small design firm contrasted greatly from Rebekah’s later contract with Microsoft, when they wanted to bring a more professional appearance to their consumer products. While the greater pay for working in-house and the added benefits were appreciated, she found there to be considerably less room for creativity in her work and much preferred the experience of working for a design house.
The opportunity to join the University of Georgia’s study abroad program in Corona, Italy, provide Rebekah with a much-needed change of pace. The program was 10 weeks long and influenced her to attend grad school and focus more on photography along with design. While attending grad school she did a lot of freelance photography work before taking a part-time job at the Photographic Center Northwest, in Capitol Hill. The job at the Center allowed her to continue taking classes while working.
While teaching at the Photographic Center Northwest, Rebekah heard of the opening at SAAS for a photography teacher. Her previous experiences working with youth at Coyote Central inspired her to apply for the position. Although the job was initially part-time, Rebekah quickly became an integral piece of Seattle Academy’s arts program.
Originally only two black and white photography classes and one basic digital class, the program now also offers advanced photography, graphic design, and experimental photography. Rebekah hopes to develop the curriculum here at SAAS. In the future, she plans to bring in more local visiting artists and explore the experimental processes of developing film. While Rebekah wants to start working more with the surrounding art community, she also wants to find a way for SAAS students to share their work and engage with international students. “Having seen how my students learn from and are inspired by each other, I think there is a lot to gain from having the same type of artistic interactions but on a larger, international scale,” she explains.
Undeterred by the time consuming work of being a teacher, Rebekah still finds the time to work on her own photography and art outside of school. “I think it’s extremely important to be a working artist if you are teaching so you can see how techniques and styles are changing, and how people are using art to respond to current events,” Rebekah says. Following that philosophy, Rebekah pushes herself to enter a couple of art shows every month, a goal that has paid off numerous times with various awards and honors. More recently, one of Rebekah’s alternatives process photos won juror's pick at the SOHO Photo Gallery in New York.
Even with her own success as an artist, Rebekah’s main passion is in teaching. “I find a lot of joy in helping my students find their artistic voice and decide what they want their work to say,” Rebekah describes. Her dedication to her students and the arts is sure to be the driving force in her future plans to expand and improve the already excellent photography and design program.