ASC Honors, Cato Lifetime Achievement in Teaching Award: Byron Baldwin, Art

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ASC Honors-Lifetime Achievement in the Field of Arts, Science or History celebrates the lifetime achievements of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg resident in the visual, design or performing arts, history, literature or science. Thanks to the generosity of the Cato Corporation, ASC is also able to honor lifetime achievement in teaching art, science and history for Pre-K-12 teachers from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region with the ASC Honors-Cato Lifetime Achievement in Teaching Awards. 

By Bea Quirk 

Is Byron Baldwin a photographer who teaches, or a teacher who does photography?

Actually, when he started as a photography teacher at Myers Park high School in 1972, he was just looking for a job.

Teacher Byron Baldwin honored with the Cato Lifetime Achievement in Teaching Award

After getting out of the Navy, Baldwin realized photography had more meaning for him than his degree in history. So he earned a graduate degree in photography at Ohio University. Upon graduating, he came to Charlotte looking for a job in commercial photography. It didn’t pan out, so he went to MPHS when he heard they were looking for a photography teacher. He was hired on the spot.

For the next 30 years, Baldwin taught more than a thousand students not only how to take pictures, but also how to use photography as “a way to embrace themselves. I showed them that having a camera around their necks was a great way to discover the world – and themselves.

“Most people are lazy observers of the world,” he adds. “My job was to make students aware of the visual delights that surround them every day.”

But while Baldwin’s students were learning photography and how to use it as a mode for self-exploration, so was Baldwin. Every Friday, everyone – including himself – had to turn in a new work. During that Friday Photo Session, students took turns jurying each others’ work — as well as Baldwin’s. “They could be brutal,” he recalls. “I liked that, especially when they really trashed my work. It made me work harder the next week.”

Baldwin’s influence has been felt well beyond MPHS: in 1973 he was one of the co-founders of Charlotte’s The Light Factory, now a nationally-acclaimed photography center. Today, a decade after he retired from MPHS, he is still teaching – now at Central Piedmont Community College.

“Teaching is a lot like growing tomatoes,” he observes. “You can prepare the soil, add a little fertilizer and water occasionally, but in the end, the tomatoes grow themselves.”

Baldwin’s work has been exhibited widely and is included in such venues as the High Museum in Atlanta, the Library of Congress and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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