At a point in time when inspiration and motivation are in high demand, Shannon Benine, associate professor of photography’s expertise in inspiring and telling stories through imagery during times of crisis is, well, inspirational.
Benine, who began her tenure in fall 2019, specializes in the field of expanded documentary. She is also interim program chair for the photography department.
Besides her work updating the University’s photography program and facilities, and as moving her department’s spring semester classes online in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that caused the current campus closure, Benine is also working on a project documenting lepers in Hawaii.
Her project will tell the story of the last functioning Leper colony in Hawaii, where on the island of Molokai is home to the last so-called leprosy community, inhabited by those who chose to stay after Hawaii’s leprosy law was lifted in 1969. Benine uses multimedia installations to inquire about the politics and human rights issues that have played a pivotal role in the story of the leper colony.
In August 2019, Benine made the switch from wine country to the orange groves of La Verne, when she moved from Sonoma State University to La Verne. She said she made the move down to Southern California to experience the Los Angeles art scene and be closer to a big city.
Her goal at ULV was to place her creative footprint on the photography department and truly connect with the students and her fellow faculty members, something she said she feels she has begun to accomplish.
“A few tweaks to the curriculum, and a few tweaks to the facility have really revolutionized the place,” Benine said.
Having grown up just outside of Seattle, Washington, Benine was inspired to get into photography when she took part in a science project during the seventh grade for which she built a pinhole camera out of a matchbox.
“I fell in love with the whole camera magic of photography right then and there and it has had a hold on me ever since,” Benine said.
This paved the way for Benine to pursue a career in photography. She attended The University of Washington where earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary visual arts with a minor in art history, and also went on to get her bachelor of fine arts in photography.
During her undergraduate experience she discovered her passion for teaching and motivating those around her. Inspired by her own professors, she began participating in afterschool programs for the inner-city schools of Seattle, where she found joy in interacting and critiquing young artists.
She then attended The University of Illinois at Chicago where she got her master’s degree in photography, which she said connected her to college teaching opportunities.
Like the rest of the ULV community, Benine has had to deal with the fast migration to online-only classes due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the suspected difficulty of technical errors, Benine has drawn on her experiences in education and her own positive personality to excel in the virtual classroom and make online life for students as engaging and enjoyable as possible.
When Benine’s fellow faculty members and students comment on her it is no surprise they all refer to her personality. Gallery intern and sophomore photography student Rachel Kendrick believes that it is Benine’s positive mentality that makes her such an influential professor at ULV.
“She’s a very uplifting bright person,” Kendrick said. “She is full of energy, and she’s really determined in making the photography department a really great place for us.
Kendrick said that it was apparent that Benine wanted to make changes.
“She was determined to improve every section of the department,” Kendrick said.
Another who appreciated Benine’s forward thinking is adjunct professor of photography Andrew Thompson.
“She is really aware of representation, diversity, accessibility and equality,” Thompson said.
Upon Benine’s arrival, she changed the whole demographic of the department, which went from a team full of white men and one woman to now a whole new diverse team of varying individuals, Thompson said.
Among her peers, many describe her to have a special connection with interim photography department manager D. Hill.
Hill believes this is due their shared teaching philosophies.
“We have the same approach, we have a familiar aesthetic, and that’s how our connection occurred,” Hill said.
Despite the world being in peculiar and uncharted times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Benine is confident that not only the photography department at ULV, but the entire community, can make positive changes toward growth in times like these.
“As artists, we are ready to invent new methods of working and we are often most creative during these times of uncertain moments,” Benine said.
Charles Green can be reached at email@example.com.