RIP: Shirley Fisher, photo teacher + inspiration for LOUIE of the week

photo courtesy of Toni

A few weeks ago, I found out one of my old college teachers died. Shirley Fisher was a photography teacher at De Anza College. The class I took with her had an official name of “intermediate photography,” but it was really all about experimental photography, using the camera as a creative tool. I took this course before Photoshop was ever invented, and it was one of my most enjoyable college courses I ever took. I remember trying out all sorts of different film stocks for her assignments – infa-red film, Kodalith, and I even played with some liquid photo emulsion. Through this course, I developed some great friendships I’m still in contact with, and I discovered some contemporary artists that pushed the frontiers of photographic art.

The one thing I loved about Shirley Fisher was her enthusiasm for the creative spirit. She encouraged her students to explore outside their typical circles of consciousness, and mix things up whenever possible.

Not long after I took her course, I got involved with KFJC Radio at Foothill College, which was linked in the same district as De Anza College. When the big MAXIMUM LOUIE LOUIE marathon took place, there were a lot of different LOUIE performances by all sorts of musical groups.

One of the musical groups that submitted a unique rendition of LOUIE LOUIE was known as “Shirley Fisher’s Creative Techniques Class.” Sandwiched between “Screaming Faucets” and “Sparking Godzillas,” this musical group was a collective of vocals, and guitars hammering out yet another semi-standard version that got lost amongst the 800+ versions that were aired during this very special marathon.

I have no idea if Shirley Fisher was actually involved with this recording, or even knew about its existence, but it was nice to know that she was an inspiration for recording this rendition.

KFJC log sheet for Shirley Fisher photo course

After I graduated from De Anza, I never kept track of what happened to Shirley Fisher. I never went back to visit to say hello.

After a friend told me that Shirley Fisher might have died, I did a Google search to see if I could find an obituary on her. The only thing I could find was a mention of an art show that paid tribute to her, honoring her memory by exhibiting some of her photographs. She passed away in 2002, and actually taught at De Anza College for 30 years.

I wish I had a photograph of her, but unfortunately I never took one.

To honor one of my favorite teachers, I’ll share an MP3 audio recording of “SHIRLEY FISHER’S CREATIVE TECHNIQUES CLASS” performing “LOUIE LOUIE.” I have no idea who’s actually part of this recording, but I think Shirley would probably approve.

It’ll be this week’s LOUIE of the Week!

Thank you, Shirley Fisher! You will not be forgotten!


UPDATE (July 2012):
Arlene shared an article that included a photograph of Shirley.

Click HERE to download the hi-resolution copy.

ANOTHER UPDATE (December 2012):
Shirley’s niece Toni shared the portrait of her beloved Aunt Shirley, which is now at the top of the page!

14 comments to RIP: Shirley Fisher, photo teacher + inspiration for LOUIE of the week

  • Robert

    I Loved her classes. She was such a dedicated instructor (her and Mr. Craven.)I have over the last few years searched for her work on the internet hoping to find her and tell her how much I enjoyed her classes.
    I will never forget the earthquake we felt one day in class, only to find the following day that at the time of the earthquake Ansel Adams had passed.
    I will miss her always.

  • EP… I just discovered your blog (at least in my conscious mind) and found this entry on DeAnza and Ms.Fischer. Though I only survived one semester, I remember her & Craven well…
    I bet she would be REAL surprised to see my current profession… Thanks for the memory!

  • Glen

    Today I was responding to the question, “Who are the people who have influenced your career the most?”

    I began my response with this . . . “So many photographers have influenced me over the years it’s hard to limit my response. Shirley Fischer opened the door to my future when she enthusiastically taught me and many others the techniques and fun of photography at De Anza College in Cupertino, California. It was then, the first time I saw a photographic print appear in the darkroom, that I began a photographic journey that has yet to end. I was hooked.”

    Then I hopped online to see what I could find out about Shirley . . . and I came across this bog. Reading this post is a happy sad experience for me. Shirley Fischer set me on a path in 1972 that I have been on to this day (Okay with a couple of detours here and there).

    I can’t even remember how many times I’ve thought of Shirley over the years and have been grateful for her guidance and influence.

  • Toni

    Shirley was my aunt. She did pass away and her last name is spelled Fisher not Fischer. Thank you all for the kind thoughts.

  • Sheridan

    Thinking about old friends, I googled Shirley and was sorry to see that she had passed. We worked together at SJSC (now SJSU). I enjoyed knowing her, I have several photographs that she had taken. At that time she was interested in B&W. I remember her talking of her brother (an electrician), her roommate, living in San Mateo, etc. Many coffee breaks. Her big “blue” eyes.

  • James Burke

    I studied under Shirley in the early 70’s and was greatly influenced by both her and George Craven I actually got my MFA later in life but my insights to Photography as a fine Art was tremendously influenced by Shirley, George also taught me a great deal about commercial photography. I have been A PPA Master of photography and Photographic Craftsman and am one of only a few who hold both titles. I always acknowledge that De Anza was a tremendous influence on my calibre of photography whether Fine Art or Portrait. I miss them both. I did return from Kentucky in the later 70’s to give a lecture on the classical Portrait style that I developed. And enjoyed the experience greatly.

  • Glen Jensen

    My dad introduced me to photography and Shirley taught me how to take photographs. Now for a few thoughts:
    During the ZONE SYSTEM study, I never seemed to be able to get my blacks, black enough.
    We had talked several times about her working with Ansel a couple of summers.
    Remember the picture of the dairy on her door, reading “OUR COWS ARE OUTSTANDING IN THEIR FIELD”.
    The two of us arguing like old Jewish grandmothers.
    The quest for the photo to really make her smile.
    I did try to go back and tell her what she did for me, but I never caught her in or she had moved on (and the school would not give and address of phone number, nor forward mail).

  • I was at De Anza in the late 70s. I often think of Shirley I. Fisher while teaching my community college courses. I teach a course called Art & Photography Using Digital Media. I remember Shirley’s imaginative assignments and insightful critiques. I try to emulate the encouragement she gave to her students.

  • Arlene

    I am so saddened to learn of this. Shirley taught, I tried to learn. I am proud she counted me among her friends. She helped me through Mr. C’ classes, worked with me while I was the photo editor of the school paper, and listened when I needed a sounding board. I remember Shirley would drag me to openings at the Focus Gallery, promising extra credit. I still have the postcards she sent me from her summer travels. My favorite is from Easter Island. Shirley honored me twice, first with one of her prints, she called me her “sister photographer”. This print has been on display in my living room for 17 years. Second, she asked me to take her picture for an article to be published on her work in South America. While we lost touch in the 90’s, she has always been with me for each press of the shutter button. My dear sister photographer, you are missed.

  • Judith Lowry

    Shirley Fisher had a profound influence on my art carer. Aside from the sense of wonder she brought to her teaching, she made us all see the possibilities in being an artist.
    I now enjoy a successful exhibition career and my works proudly reside in some important collections.
    When it comes to maintaining humility, I just remember back to the first time she was critiquing our assignments in beginning photography. She leveled her glare across the classroom to where I was sitting (trembling) and said, “That’s Fisher, without a “c”. Learn to spell my name.”
    I never forgot after that and I have never forgotten this wonderful woman who was mystery, teacher and muse, all in one.

  • richad cheng

    Shirley was the closest friend with Mignonette Yin at Ohio University. Right after they graduated with MFA in ’59, Mignonette and I got married and Shirley was our photographer. She even put together many copies of our wedding photo albums for us. She also took many pictures of Mignonette working in the OU Print Studio…. They were such close friends that Shirley was known as “little sister” to the family, in Chinese yet :-). Shirley worked in Detroit for a bit and then moved West. Mignonette also started her long career as a professor at University of Michigan. All this time, we have been in occasional touch and we knew that Shirley loved her travel all over the world.

    Mignonette passed away in 2009 and I have been trying, in vain, to contact Shirley to tell her of this. Our family published a retrospective book – Mignonette Yin Cheng. Some of the pictures Shirley took of their OU days were included. It is only yesterday that someone sent me this blog and I found out that Shirley actually preceded Mignonette in death. It is wonderful to know that Shirley had inspired so many students but It is a very devastating to me to learn of her passing on a very personal basis.

    I just hope that Shirley’s niece, Toni, might come across this and somehow contact me soon. I would appreciate that very very much.

  • Scott Duncan

    I had the privilege of being a student in Shirley Fisher’s photo classes in 1969 & 1970. She was a great teacher and an exemplary person. In fact I’m pretty sure that if you search the meaning of outstanding human being you will see Shirley Fisher. I found this web site as a result of receiving an email from the Weston Gallery in Carmel which highlighted, among other photographers, a photo by Oliver Gagliani. When I saw his name it brought back a flood of memories recalling the foundness in Ms. Fisher’s voice when she spoke of her friend “Ollie”. It was through her that I acquired an appreciation of so many great photographers, including Jerry Uelsmann, Minor White, and of course, some guy by the name of Ansel Adams. Looking back on it, that she personally knew these greats was simply remarkable. It was enough for me to know Shirley. What a wonderful time it was. I feel compelled to add; in her class most negatives were turned into positives. (Please forgive me Shirley).

  • connie poquette

    She was a exceptional teacher, pushing us to take risks in photography. Well before Photoshop existed I knew the power of “fixing” photos. She called her Mother person-to-person once. She got me as the Operator and had no idea who I was but I knew her voice and when her Mother, who was at a nursing home, answered the phone I advised her Mother that I was indeed one of her daughter’s students and that she was a wonderful teacher, with patience and a nuturing spirit and added that she should be so proud to have raised such a kind and loving daughter. Her Mother was thrilled to hear such an unsolicited testimonial. All day Monday Shirley searched the faces of her students to figure out whom she had talked to on the phone over the weekend. When I finally revealed myself she was so taken aback, she said she had no idea I worked, let alone working for Pac Bell full time. I laughed and said how could you not hear my accent? Getting to meet Ansel and Virginia Adams while with other Zone System students on a field trip to Carmel, as our other teacher, Wes Craven and Shirley played chaperone was a highlight of my student years.

  • Pamela Marshall Ganné

    2 Nov 2021
    Le Blanc, Indre, France

    I would like to thank you so much for having written this homage to Shirley “S.I.” Fisher here online where it could be found by others fairly easily. I too searched for her and found this page several years ago. At that time I did not comment but I wanted to do so today because it was 50 years ago, in Fall 1971 that I took her Photo 51A course at DeAnza Junior College and Winter 1972 that I took her Photo 51B course. One of those courses, no doubt, was taught by Professor Craven but I suspect that both of my lab courses were with Professor Fisher.

    I have never forgotten Shirley “S.I.” Fisher and had once called her and spoken with her for a few minutes on the telephone back in 1985-86. I still think of her from time to time, such as today when I went to run a new search in Google just to see if anything new had turned up in cyberspace. Even as I type here I can still smell the chemicals in the processing lab. And working in that lab at DeAnza led to a work/study stint in the NASA Photo Lab for me back then. I had forgotten about that!

    I don’t know if anyone who has commented above remembers the “Young California Photographer, 1972” publication that Professor Fisher mentored and brought to publication that year. Strangely enough, in a photo by Art Hall, I ended up on the cover of that modest volume. The Index lists 19 student photographers:

    1) Geoff Ashby
    2) Karen Balch*
    3) Steve Behrens
    4) Rich Beldon
    5) Mac Booth
    6) Forrest Brown
    7) Frank Castro
    8) Glen Clark
    9) Jacqueline Cathcart*
    10) Kevin DeSelms
    11) Art Hall
    12) Jeffery Hall
    13) Pamela Marshall*
    14) Harriet Morias*
    15) Tom Picarello
    16) Radim Ryzl
    17) David Simone
    18) Dick Specht
    19) Bruce Waller

    Perhaps you are one of them, or know someone who is. I still have 2 copies of that book on my bookshelves here in rural central France. I have to admit that half a century does not feel nearly as long ago and as far away now and it did back then.

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