Dreyfoos photography teacher puts students in focus

Jan 31, 2018
  • By Faran Fagen
  • Special to The Palm Beach Post
Professional photographer Peter Stodolak, who has taught a variety of photography and design classes at Dreyfoos School of the Arts for 18 years, teaches his high school students to “Be knowledgeable of your subject matter, and be aware of what you are photographing, and why you are photographing it.” His students’ work will be on display at FAU in Boca Raton in March. CONTRIBUTED

MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Peter Stodolak, 63

He’s been a photographer for 40 years and a teacher for 37 years — 18 at Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach.

Peter Stodolak’s proudest accomplishment? Encouraging his students to experience the many opportunities photography provides for personal expression.

“I motivate my students to capture the moment and believe in what they’re pursuing,” said Stodolak, of Boynton Beach. “Be knowledgeable of your subject matter, and be aware of what you are photographing, and why you are photographing it.”

Stodolak was one of the founding organizers of the Palm Beach County Scholastic Arts Regional Exhibition, now sponsored by EG2. He was also mentioned in the Young Arts publication in an article titled, “A Look at America’s Best Photography Teachers.”

As a professional photographer, he’s currently working on two different concepts dealing with anthropology and sociology in both rural and urban communities: the first, “Storefront Churches,” and the second, “Traditional Barbershops.” He’s done event photography, portrait photography, and fashion photography for profit.

At Dreyfoos, he teaches various design classes, as well as creative photography, cinematography and senior portfolio. Stodolak exposes his students to film-based photography — including small, medium and large format — darkroom experience from gray scales, photograms, pinhole exposures, and alternative processes. Digital photography methods using Photoshop and Lightroom software are also in his teaching range.

Last year, he enrolled a group of students in the National Society of Arts and Letters (NSAL) high school photography exhibit at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Students from four high schools in South Florida submitted their top photographs for display at a special FAU exhibit for more than a month.

NSAL secured Fred Conrad, a former New York Times photojournalist who gave all the students private critiques and taught a master class and a hands-on interactive lighting seminar for all four schools at the event. Stodolak is excited to be a part of the NSAL program again in March, when his students’ work will be back on display at FAU.

“I believe the event provided students an environment to interact with students from other schools,” Stodolak said. “The event and exhibition reinforced their interest in photography, enhanced self-confidence and allowed them to create and critique.”

Stodolak, 63, is originally from Hamilton, Ontario and immigrated to Lorain, Ohio (his mother, Jeanette Swanson’s, hometown) in the summer of 1961, following his father’s death. He graduated from the Design Art and Architecture College of the University of Cincinnati with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and certification to teach art to students in kindergarden to 12th grade.

His love for the arts, and passing on that passion to his students, never wavered.

“I seek to have a positive impact on the community to enhance the arts and education,” Stodolak said.