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Teaching at Placer is picture perfect for East Coast native

By: Michael Kirby
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Elise Ryerson has had some big shoes to fill since she stepped into retired longtime Placer High School photography teacher Kim Brown's position at the beginning of the school year, "My teaching job in Santa Cruz was a similar situation, the job I filled there was after a longtime teacher had left," Ryerson said. "I just know how I am with kids, and I really enjoy teaching high school age students photography." Ryerson's journey to Auburn was not by any means what you would call a short cut. She was born and raised in Pennsylvania and attended college in upstate New York at the Rochester Institute of Technology, graduating in 1998 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in photographic illustration. She then moved across the country to San Francisco where Ryerson took a job teaching elementary school art. Finding it hard to make a living teaching art in elementary schools through the nonprofit agency she was affiliated with, Ryerson had the opportunity of taking a second job for a semester in Oakland filling in for a high school photography teacher who was going on sabbatical. It was there that she discovered the joys of teaching high school students photography, a subject she was passionate about. "I realized how much I loved working with high school kids, and how much I liked teaching photography," Ryerson said. "I like high school age kids, and feel I'm still young enough to relate well with them offering help, assistance, and guidance." Though teaching has always been what Ryerson wanted to do, she has taken a few side trips exploring all of her career possibilities. She worked for a while doing commercial product photography, taking pictures of everything from cosmetics to bicycles, and did a stint as a rock 'n' roll concert photographer. During her first full-time photo teaching position at Aptos High School near Santa Cruz in 2002, Ryerson realized that she still had the desire to travel, having not explored much outside of the U.S. "I started planning my summer vacation, my first paid summer, and got an itch and wondered what it would be like to teach abroad," said Ryerson. "I Googled, 'teach photography Thailand,' because that's where I was going, and the fourth hit was an opening at the International School of Bangkok." After an e-mailed resume and a phone interview, five days later Ryerson found herself with a one-year contract teaching photography in Thailand that eventually turned into two years. After returning to the U.S. in 2005, Ryerson wanted some time to regroup and put together a body of work of the thousands of photos she had shot in her travels abroad, but fell into a computer graphics teaching position in Santa Cruz. Then the job at Placer High opened. Ryerson applied for it and got the job as the new photo teacher at Placer High School. Ryerson's starts her beginning students with black and white 35mm film and SLR cameras teaching composition, processing and printing. The advanced students are learning digital photography, if they choose to. "I really want film to be kept alive, it's fine art and magical," Ryerson said. "I think having a good relationship with the kids compels most of the students to want to go out and do well and take pictures." Ryerson is single and recently purchased a home in Auburn, which reminds her of her hometown. She spends a lot of time painting and decorating her home and has plans for a home photo studio. "I still have lots of pictures and a vision of getting a studio together in my home and getting some of the ideas I've had in my head out and in some physical form in the real world," Ryerson said.