By Madison Mathews
Johnson City Press
MILLIGAN COLLEGE — When Alice Anthony was given her first camera when she was a young child, she never thought photography would be her career of choice.
Treating photography as more of a hobby when she was young, Anthony didn’t realize the few art classes she took while in high school would lead to more than 20 years of teaching photography to students in the area. Nearly 18 of those years have been spent at Milligan College.
But photography wasn’t always Anthony’s first career choice.
“When I went to college, I majored in biology. I wanted to be a med-tech and I did,” she said.
After working as a medical lab technician in Missouri for four years, Alice Anthony decided it was time to pursue a new career path.
When the Memphis native and her husband moved to Johnson City in 1981, Anthony began thinking of returning to the classroom after picking up a Yashica 35mm camera. That camera eventually led Anthony to the classrooms of East Tennessee State University.
“I went to ETSU and began to take a couple of classes in photography. I thought, ‘I think I would like that.’ Once I took the first class, I was hooked. It just became a huge part of my life. I realized that was the way I could express myself artistically,” she said.
With a newfound love and appreciation for photography, Anthony’s professor began to talk to her about taking graduate courses in photography at ETSU. Knowing that she would have to teach a basic photography course as part of her graduate work, Anthony was hesitant at first.
“Eventually, I said OK. I had my first class and it was a very large class and it scared me to death. But I learned a lot that first semester. From then on, I kind of got into the teaching part of it,” she said.
The teaching bug caught up with Anthony as she worked as an adjunct professor at both ETSU and Milligan College for a number of years.
In the early 90s, Anthony helped form the Fine Arts program at Milligan along with fellow professors Dick Major and Nick Blosser. Due to the new program, more students began to enroll, which created a need for both more classes and more professors.
In 1997, Anthony was brought on as full-time professor at Milligan and began to teach solely at the college.
“I enjoyed teaching at ETSU. I enjoyed the students. There’s not a lot of difference between the two schools as far as students go, but my relationship with them is probably a lot different,” Anthony said.
“Here, you get to know the students a lot better than you do at a school where a lot of people are coming and going. Here, you establish more of a one-on-one relationship with your students.”
That special relationship, coupled with the fact that Anthony was now solely teaching at a Christian institution, created an extremely positive atmosphere for the photography professor.
“I think that when you have a good relationship with a student, they’re going to learn better. It’s not only a matter of learning about photography, but a little bit about life too. Hopefully, some life lessons are taught as well as the great art of photography. I enjoy it. I hope my love of photography rubs off on those students as well,” she said.
With the digital revolution, it’s important for Anthony to teach her students the basics of photography and nurture an appreciation for traditional photography techniques.
“I feel like when you have to slow down and learn the traditional way, it makes you a much better photographer. You pay attention to things you are seeing. You develop an eye. You learn about exposure. There’s just so much more you learn and I get to watch this growing process from beginning to end,” she said.
Getting to experience each student’s transformation is one of the many perks of Anthony’s job.
Andy Frost had never really worked with photography before enrolling in Anthony’s basic photography class during his freshman year at Milligan.
“She was really amazing at kind of pushing you along and understanding where you are as a student and as a photographer. She’s really great at giving you the level of encouragement and pressure that you need while also maintaining a strong relationship,” Frost said.
After graduating from the college in 2008, Frost served as Milligan’s artist in residence from August 2008 to May. He’s just one of the many students Anthony has watched grow in both their art and as a person.
“She has taught me a great appreciation for the attention to detail. From the very beginning, she talks a lot of about how you need to pay attention to details and that really makes a difference in the long run,” he said.
After all these years teaching the basics of composing photographs, history of photography and a little bit about life, the relationship with students, much like the one she shares with Frost, is what keeps Anthony in the classroom surrounded by students. Anthony said teaching the courses each year also allow her to learn something new each time she sits down with a group of students who have signed up for one of her courses.
“I think it’s been a growing experience for me too. And you’re continually learning things. You’re always learning. The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know, so it’s a constant learning experience,” she said.