With a total of 42 years of teaching under his belt, Odessa College Professor of Photography Steve Goff has probably taken more photos and impacted more students than most people could ever dream of.
Goff has logged 37 years at Odessa College and five years in Ohio. He’ll retire at the end of the summer, but that doesn’t mean he’ll stop snapping photos or imparting his knowledge to others. He wants to stay around and teach part time and freelance.
“I have a lot of things I want to do. I have two books in the works that I want to finish when I have more time,” Goff added.
Both books are photography related. One will focus on Felipe Ortega and relates to the summer landscape class he has offered for the past 18 or 19 years at La Madera in Northern New Mexico.
“We really love the man who had that place (Ortega). He passed away three years ago with cancer in ‘18 and we want to do a tribute to him because he’s such a special person to the instructors here and all the students that he met,” Goff said.
The book will be a collection of photographs, either of Ortega, or in his home in La Madera. He honed his craft and taught at Owl Peak Pottery.
On the internet, Goff said, it’s listed as a bed and breakfast.
“It’s a little bit more like a hippie commune and people would come from all over to study pottery with him. He was Jicarilla Apache and he did these earth pots that were all functional, cooking pots and that type of thing. People would come from all around to study with him and cook with him. He is an incredible cook.”
The second book is about Leonard Crow Dog, a Sicangu Lakota. He said his wife, Beckwith Thompson, a part-time photo instructor at OC and fellow photographer, introduced him to the Lakota Sun Dance and people that follow the path of the red road and all traditional native Lakota ceremonies.
“… The big spiritual festival is called the Sundance. We’ve been going since the very first one and making photographs. Leonard Crow Dog, who’s like the chief of chiefs, comes down for this. We’ve been able, after a period of time, and it took a long time for them to either trust me or whatever, but I finally got to start making photos during the ceremonies,” Goff said.
Goff said he and Mike Hall, also a photographer, have been gathering his photos of Leonard Crow Dog for the book.
The photos are finished for both books, “It’s a matter of writing to complete those.”
He is looking for a publisher for the Leonard Crow Dog book and the Ortega book will be self-published, he said.
Goff said he’s not walking away from OC and teaching. He’s also planning to continue his work on the Texas Photographic Society and Odessa Arts.
“Maybe it’s just a switch from full time to part time because … I want to continue teaching, if the new people will have me,” he added.
“I still want to be connected. OC’s my family. I feel … a lot of close connections and I’ve been treated really well. I think I brought a lot of good publicity to the school through the years …,” Goff said.
Through the years, Goff has taught many future photographers and instructors.
“I think teaching is in my DNA and I really love it,” Goff said.
Kate Mahoney, who has taken many classes from Goff, said his leaving is a huge loss for the college.
“He’s a great teacher and mentor. He really encourages people. He allows a lot of experimentation,” Mahoney said.
She added that Goff is always interested in his students’ work and is an inspiration.
Mahoney said she’s not sure whether she’ll take more photo classes.
“Some of it will depend on who takes over, what kind of policies they have, whether they offer some of the same classes. … I’m certainly hoping they continue to offer the alternative photography,” she added.
Chris Stanley, associate professor of art at University of Texas Permian Basin, said Goff is a legendary teacher.
“He, along with Beckwith Thompson, have been champions for art education in our region since his arrival at Odessa College. As a visionary educator, he helped plot a clear course for the inclusion of photography as an academic field in our region. His studio-classroom at Odessa College has always been a place of inspiration for me,” Stanley said in a text message.
A native of Springfield, Ohio, Goff earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts photography from Ohio University in Athens. He taught in Cleveland for five years before coming to OC.
Goff began taking photos in high school and has used all manner of cameras, including cell phones.
“My mom always had a camera for me to use and play with,” he said.
He added that his mother always had Look and Life magazine at home, which also led him to his profession.
“I remember looking through that and thinking about the photos I was seeing and how they were made and how they communicated through the visual senses,” Goff said. “I was always pretty blown away by that.”
He admires Walker Evans, a photographer who was active in the 1930s.
“He was hired by Roy Stryker and … the Works Progress Administration. Then through that, there was another little group called the FSA, Farm Security Administration … and about the eight (other photographers) traveled across the South. They were charged with photographing the impact of the Depression on families and poverty at that time in the middle 30s. And so he has always been one of my favorite photographers. Because of that, I always loved how he had a sense of respect for people, even if they were really, really poor and had nothing.”
A lot of Goff’s work is digital now instead of film, but he does like doing black and white photography and using big negatives and cameras.
“I still have a five by seven and eight by ten film camera that I want to hold on to …,” he said.
He added that digital photography has been a benefit, especially for teaching.
Something he likes to do as an instructor is get students out of the classroom.
“For example, our architecture class … we go out and photograph in places around our community — the Wagner Noël (Performing Arts Center), the Ellen Noël (Art Museum). We went to the Petroleum Museum in Midland, UTPB. We tried to go to several churches in our area and make photos as well, and just have an experience outside of the classroom. So we’ll go out and photograph and then come back and then process the pictures for their portfolios,” Goff said.
He added that he is very proud of trips to New Mexico with students that started about 20 years ago.
“We do this five-day trip and we stop in Santa Fe for the day and we visit the photography galleries and have a nice meal and have some time on the plaza to photograph and then we go on up to La Madera and get situated in our rooms. Then each day, we’d go out and photograph and travel around Northern New Mexico because the light is so beautiful out there. It’s in the mountains and it’s really nice to be away from Odessa in July,” Goff said.
They visit the home of Georgia O’Keeffe in Abiquiú and (her) studio. That’s always a big thrill for people,” he said.
“There’s a mosque that we have gotten access to. We can always walk around and if there’s not a big convention or something going on, we get to go inside. That was a whole new experience for almost everybody,” Goff added.
Goff was wearing a baseball-style hat that said “Be Kind” on it. He said he tries to share that sentiment in class to nudge students to be nice, open minded, kinder and gentler.
Goff said his parents were always supportive of his vocation. But his dad did want him to be a plumber.
“He said I’d never want for money if I was a plumber,” Goff said.
“They knew I found something I really love doing and they were pleased with that,” he added.
Goff also has spoken to high school students about the dark skies initiative and simple cell phone techniques to take photos at dusk.
“I did two trips down to the tri-county area, Presidio, Terlingua, Marfa and Fort Davis,” Goff said.
He noted that he was supposed to go present in Alpine, but that was the weekend of the prom.
“We met about a half hour before it got dark and we talked about dusk and how to make pictures on the cell phone with that. So that was fun. That was just really recent. Some of those kids are going to be in the show at the Museum of the Big Bend next month,” Goff said.
The exhibit is called “At Night” and it runs June 11 through Sept. 5.
Goff said what drives him about photography is the beauty of the object itself and the communication that happens in a photo.
“I really appreciate well-crafted photographs. … I get a real satisfaction from looking at something that’s made it really, really well. And then also, the ability of that of the photograph to communicate ideas, feelings,” he added.
He remembered a photo from Life Magazine that went with a story on submarines with a captain at the periscope and the sub was hitting an enemy ship.
“… It was starting to sink and I remember thinking, oh my God. What was the feeling like on that submarine for that crew. To have been able to do that and that that came across in the photos to me; made a really big impact. I see something that makes me feel the beauty of a person. The beauty of light striking something is so rich and powerful for me. I have a lot of respect for documentary style photography and journalism. Those two are kind of contained, I think. Those are the things that really satisfy my visual and aesthetic appetite,” he said.