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New scholarship honors memorable teacher

“At first I didn’t like him” says Jacolyn Baker Bucksbaum ’84 (photo illustration), recalling her first class with photography professor Owen Butler.

“His first assignment required us to shoot and process at least 20 rolls of black and white film and have proof sheets in 24 hours. It was pretty daunting. We were all just in shock – it was a real test for us.”

Owen Butler has been a faculty member for 37 years.

She passed that test and grew to respect and appreciate Butler – so much, in fact, that Bucksbaum and her husband, John, have established a scholarship fund in Butler’s honor.

“I was surprised,” says Butler, a graduate of RIT’s photography program and a faculty member for 37 years. “At the same time, as arrogant as it may sound, I was not surprised. I think if I’m doing my job I’m making an impression on my students. That’s part of the job description.”

Bucksbaum, who lives in Chicago, credits Butler with teaching her “a different way to see the world. He made me think about things differently, he made me do things differently.”

Bucksbaum spent her childhood in the Rochester area, then moved to Arizona as a junior in high school. She went to Northern Arizona University for two years and then applied to the Rhode Island School of Design and RIT. Both accepted her, but she chose RIT.

Her goal was to work in the motion picture industry in some capacity, and she viewed photography as a “life skill, something I wanted to learn.”

After graduation, Bucksbaum traveled to New York City and Los Angeles before settling in Chicago. She worked as a free-lancer for Joe Sedelmaier, creator of ground-breaking TV commercials including “Where’s the beef?” for Wendy’s and the fast-talker series for FedEx. When Sedelmaier’s assistant recommended her for the job of location scout for the Crime Story TV series, she found her niche.

“I did about 11 feature films as location manager,” she says. She helped find the settings and create environments for Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Dennis the Menace, Flatliners and – her favorite – Natural Born Killers. “Part of my job was very creative, very visual – actually traveling around, taking photos and video of locations to show to the director and helping create the look of the film. Then, as manager, I dealt with the logistics, getting permits, schedules – all that part.”

Bucksbaum’s next steps were to assistant director and production manager before setting movies aside for marriage, motherhood and volunteer work. She and her husband, a shopping mall developer, have two sons: Max, age 7, and Eli, 4.

She reconnected with RIT on a visit to Rochester a couple of years ago and the idea of setting up a scholarship fund began to take shape. “When I went to school I was poor as a church mouse,” she says. She got through on loans, grants and a job at a nearby restaurant-night spot, Red Creek.

Butler views the scholarship as more than a
personal honor. “What I think is important is that it could lead to other scholarships. This support is very needed – and very much appreciated by students.”

A native of New York City, Butler was drawn to RIT for the same reason as Bucksbaum – the outstanding reputation of the photography program. Over his years on the faculty, he has developed strong opinions about his role.

“The purpose of the education goes beyond the specific discipline,” he says. “I think students should develop independent and reasoned minds – as painful as that may be. Photography is an excellent portal. You have to bring students to literally see things, to listen, to experience.”

Butler served as chair of the applied photography program for four years and co-chair of the military photo journalism program for eight years. He has taught large-format photography, underwater photography and photographic communications as well as commercial and fine art studio photography. He’s embraced the digital era and has a particular interest in digital books and teaches a class in that subject.

He founded OB Press, publisher of Teaching Photography: Notes Assembled by Philip Perkis, now in its fourth edition.

“It’s been 37 years and I’m still doing new things,” Butler comments.

The Owen Butler Scholar will go to a third- or fourth-year student selected on the basis of academic excellence, submission of a portfolio, and interest in book arts. People wishing to learn more should contact Lisa Cauda, associate vice president of development, at 585-475-5911, or e-mail: lacdar@rit.edu.