Janine Coyne, a Fine Arts Adjunct Professor at Kingsborough Community College since 1977, who teaches Photography, is not only knowledgeable about all aspects of her field, but she has been creating artwork for decades. With a keen eye for spotting photos with potential, she instills a basic foundation in her students, while helping them develop their own artistic voices.
Now in her last semester teaching at KCC, she looks forward to aiding her last batch of would-be-photographers one last time, before beginning the next chapter of her career.
“You can learn from everyone, but you want to stay true to the way you photograph. Because that’s you; that’s the way it’s gonna come out. It’s like a writer—you’re gonna write in your own style; you’re gonna photograph in your own style,” Coyne said. “We can expose students to a lot of different ways of seeing, but every student is different so you can only guide them on their own path.”
Her students are appreciative of her unorthodox approach to teaching—by letting them learn through trial and error, instead of reading through books and memorizing definitions.
“She was fun. I like the way that she taught the class,” said Cristian Morans, a Liberal Arts student who plans on pursuing photography as a career. “She was very hands on with teaching me everything. The best advice she gave me was to be myself and not worry about the picture I just took, but worry about the next picture you’re gonna take.”
Her hands on approach proved to be popular among the students and made her one of the more popular photography professors at KCC.
“She seemed really laid back and down to earth, very approachable,”said Anthony Alvarez, a Criminal Justice Major. “I think her approach to teaching was very hands on instructional, and I enjoyed that very much because she would go step-by-step to show you how it’s done. It’s the best way I like to learn.”
Born and raised in the Marine Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, where she currently resides, Coyne’s academic trajectory is not far off from the same path Brooklyn students are embarking on today. She was a Kingsborough student before transferring to Brooklyn College, where she began to pursue photography.
“I had an Art Professor, his name was Barney Cole. He was a great teacher; I think that’s what influenced me the most. He was a very good photographer, but he really devoted himself to teaching,” Coyne said. “He was so accessible and really opened up everything for me. When I graduated, there wasn’t that many professors to study with, so he was the main one.”
Coyne found her own artistic voice through photo essays: a set of photographs that are made to create series of emotions in the viewer. Her work mostly focuses on the human condition, but on her travels to countries like Italy and Turkey, she’s also drawn to the history told through ruins of places that were once standing.
“When I go to Italy I’m entranced with the people there,” Coyne said. “It’s almost like the photo essays contain the people stories, and then I’m documenting the ruins of what’s left. It’s very historical.”
Her proudest work, produced right here in the city where she was born and raised, is a photo essay of Ellis Island. Coyne was granted a solo show at the Statue of Liberty, in addition to photographs from that series being displayed in several museums as part of their collection.
“The Ellis Island one was the most comprehensive. I spent about a year and a half on the island before it was open to the public, and I just photographed every inch of it,” Coyne said. “In terms of the actual experience, working on location, spending a lot of time going back to the same place, I would have to say Ellis Island.”
Coyne, now in her last semester at Kingsborough CC, doesn’t plan on taking it easy, but instead is planning to continue working and exploring new ventures. Still, her love of teaching and interacting with students is deeply rooted in her, making walking away from Kingsborough CC a bittersweet moment.
“My heart breaks that I won’t be teaching in the capacity that I have been, but I want to make sure I explore other things as well. I have to say, there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t been happy when I came in,” Coyne said. “So, I’m a little apprehensive about that. I have to be honest, I’m like ‘wow, what am I gonna do without my students’. I’m so used to seeing tons of new work all the time, fixing cameras, looking at new ideas, finding the new photographer. All those things I am gonna miss.”