The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Photography sends NE instructor abroad and back

By Casey Holder/reporter

After putting everything he could into nabbing a big account shooting pictures for the only manufacturer of swivel straws and club sandwich swords in the United States, and then failing, one TCC instructor had an epiphany.

NE Campus photography instructor Peter Calvin helps a Photography I student as he prints in black and white. Calvin has taught at TCC since 2008 and also currently teaches classes in Dallas and Collin counties.
Casey Holder/The Collegian

“I decided, to hell with this, I’m going to Mexico,” said the neatly dressed instructor.

And with that decision, photography adjunct instructor Peter Calvin packed everything he could fit into his 1974 Alfa Romeo Spider and set off for Ajijic, Mexico, a small town on the northern shore of Mexico’s largest freshwater lake and where his mother and stepfather retired.

“I didn’t know if I was ever going to come back. You know, it was like stepping off a cliff,” he said.

Calvin left college behind in 1972 and began an exciting job as a freelance photojournalist. He was the local go-to man for many big-name publications like The Washington Post, Forbes, Newsweek, Time and Texas Monthly.

“As a freelancer, you’re the regional guy,” Calvin said. “They’re not going to put a guy on a plane from New York to come to Dallas to shoot pictures of Ross Perot in his office or something.”

As the ’70s moved into the ’80s, the work kept coming in for Calvin, and he began shooting projects like Coca-Cola’s 100th anniversary show, doing large-scale multimedia slideshows and presenting 10 screen panoramas run by 54 projectors for the National Association of Broadcasters.

He opened a studio and began shooting products and working as a commercial photographer.

It wasn’t until the club-sandwich incident in the late ’80s that Calvin realized he wasn’t happy.

“I needed the money. I started thinking, you know, how far have I come from where I began in photography if I want to shoot swivel straws?”

In Mexico, life was simpler. Calvin began writing stories and shooting pictures for The Guadalajara Reporter, an English-language newspaper that covered the area.

He built furniture and cabinets, and most importantly, made pictures for himself.

While in Ajijic, Calvin met, fell in love and married his wife.

In 1991, Calvin and his pregnant wife returned to the United States because of the slow Mexican economy, and Calvin began to search for work to support his small family.

“My wife was expecting our son,” Calvin said. “We had no health insurance and no job. No nothing. It was scramble time.”

After a decade of not quite finding a fit, he wrote to Ohio University and was able to complete, through the proof of life experiences, the Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography he had abandoned in 1972.

He then began the process of completing his Master of Fine Arts in photography at Texas A&M-Commerce.

“Going to graduate school made a big difference in my personal work and my professional work, my attitude about things,” Calvin said. “And it’s given me the opportunity to both teach and shoot.”

Calvin began teaching photography at TCC in 2008 and also currently teaches classes at community colleges in Collin and Dallas counties.

“It was his Renaissance. He came back and wanted to give back by teaching,” said Richard Doherty, coordinator of the photography program.

His attention to detail is clear. When examining a student’s print, Calvin gets so close his nose nearly grazes the print’s surface.

He then rattles off filter adjustments and burn techniques until the student’s eyes are wide. His intention to instill in students the best possible photographic education is intimidating to some.

“He hasn’t frustrated me yet,” said Jordan Peters, one of Calvin’s students. “I spent five hours in here yesterday just doing prints on my own, so if he wants me to re-do something, I think that’s pretty sweet, man. He’s helping me get the best pictures, and I’m all for that.”

As for the future, he doesn’t know. He knows this, though:

When he was 15, he took an informal photography class from an MIT-trained architect on Tuesday nights. This architect introduced him to the work of such photographers as Walker Evans and Edward Weston.

“At the end of that class, I told the guy that was teaching it, who is still a friend of mine, I told him that ‘I want to make a life in photography,’” he said.

Before that, Calvin said he wanted to be an archeologist. But he had enjoyed that day so much, he decided he wanted to teach photography.

“And that was when I was 15,” he said.

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