Q/A with a Valpo Professor

Inside the College

What brought you to Valpo?

I had to look this place up on a map. I had no idea where Valparaiso was, and I sure couldn’t spell it. I found the University motto, “In Thy Light We See Light.” To a photographer, those words resonate as that is the foundation for why and how every photographer works and thinks. When I hear or see those words, it reinforces that I am exactly where I need to be.

Why is teaching photography significant to you?

I love making photographs and teaching others how to make photographs. I love looking at pictures, whether my own, my students’, or the works of great photographers. I love looking at historical photographs and at personal photographs. Teaching photography is a remarkable gift.

I expect a lot out of my students. I expect them to produce interesting work and to extend themselves toward my class. I teach a subject rooted in my personal quest, but it’s also in everyone else’s. Who doesn’t take photographs? And what do you make photographs of? Think about your family photo album, if it’s an old pasted-together book or something presented electronically, it contains the biggest moments of our lives. My goal is to make my students see the value in their own images in a way that others can see and value them too, but maybe not for the same reasons.

Any changes in the art department since you became chair?

Between Professor Sirko’s tenure as chair and mine, we did a major curriculum overhaul. We’re always fine-tuning and making adjustments. I’ve worked with the library to start their permanent collection. Through their student art purchase program, they purchase about a thousand dollars’ worth of student artwork annually, and it’s permanently hung in the library.

Students voluntarily submit their work, following guidelines similar to if they were entering a show. They meet deadlines, price their work, and talk about their work at a public presentation before a selection committee assembled by the Christopher Center.

Outside the College

How do you showcase your creative side?

Photography Exhibitions. As a documentary photographer, I immerse myself in these big, long-term projects. Taking me back to my roots as a 4-Her, I began photographing 4-H kids about five years ago as my own creative work and research. I’ve exhibited this work at the Porter County Fair and on campus.

I began photographing a couple 9- and 10-year-old kids, who I intend to chronicle until they graduate at 19. These kids take on a number of projects and grow up.

There is absolutely nothing I photograph that I don’t care about. While I may not have known each of these 4-H kids very well initially, I do now. What is their personality and how do I portray that? Their attributes? Their quirks?

I’ll probably be photographing the fair from my wheelchair. This project will outlast me.

Where are you if you’re not on campus?

At my home, in the middle of a farm field. I grew up with family who liked to garden. I remember weeding and thinking ‘this is punishment, it’s terrible, I’m going to die out here!’ All of a sudden I’m 30, and I think ‘I must raise my own food,’ so your perspective changes. Canning food is great, too. I learned to can from my mother, and it was a project when I was in 4-H. I also have flowers. The more flowers, the less lawn I have to mow.

I may plant food and buy organic meat, but I also go to Duffy’s. Give me those tater tots! I love the cheeseburger, the Chicago-style hot dog, chicken wings. I love the fact Duffy’s has music and the community there. I don’t think I’ve ever missed a Valparaiso Jazz Band appearance, unless it conflicts with Mardi Gras, which I’ve attended for nearly 20 years.

How else do you spend your free time?

My grandfather lived to be 103 and never had respiratory disease because he played the tuba. I thought I should take up the tuba as it seems to be the vehicle to good health. I’m not good at all. I don’t practice enough, so my poor teacher has to endure me not practicing, but it’s a lot of fun.

I play with the Valparaiso Jazz Band for the Christmas concert. I also play in TubaChristmas.

At a Glance

Aimee Tomasek, MFA, department chair and associate professor of art, is well known and beloved by Valpo students and alumni. Her spirited personality meshes with students as she teaches them to make photos inside and outside of the classroom — even at the Porter County, Ind. Fairgrounds. When she’s not making one of her famous “It’s a Beautiful Day in Paradise” posts for Instagram, you can find her carrying the presidential mace as she leads the president before convocation or commencement ceremonies.