Williston Academy’s first darkroom was in the basement of the Homestead, where Bob Couch first began teaching students the art of photography. As a student at Williston, he focused more on singing than slinging a camera, but he learned how to develop photographs in his father’s newspaper’s darkroom in Dalton, MA. He’s seen the school weather many transitions—from two campuses to a unified campus, for example—and many incarnations of darkrooms. He taught math and photography at Williston for 40 years, and lived on campus for 30 of those years with his wife, Janet, and five children.
How did you feel when you first came to Williston Academy as a boarder?
I was really lost. I was not particularly happy. One thing that’s stayed true to Williston is that everyone was friendly. I sat down in math class and a junior introduced himself. That helped a lot. Even though I was still homesick—I was the youngest of four brothers—by the time the end of year came around I couldn’t wait to get back for the next year.
What did you sing in the Glee Club?
We sang a lot at Williston, just in general. We had chapel every day at 9:00 a.m. We’d always sing a hymn. On Sunday, they’d have an outside speaker come in, and we’d sing three or four hymns. Everybody sang. Townspeople used to stand across the street to hear the singing from the chapel.
As a photographer, what’s one of your favorite images you took at Williston?
I was fortunate to get a grant from the school to go to Newfoundland and photograph in 1992. I spent a month up there. I’ve never been in that situation before where I could devote all my time to just photographing. That was really a wonderful experience. I’ve also taken the sports team photos since 1959 for the wall in the gym, and I have been taking them ever since. I don’t think many schools have a display as good as that one.
What was your philosophy to teaching photography?
I taught math for 22 years. It’s about a 180-degree turn from teaching something so objective as math to subjective as photography. One of the things I would tell them on the first day was that I wanted them to fail. You’re going to mess up. You’re going to put film in the camera wrong or get a double exposure. But you learn from that stuff. The basic idea was to get them to try new things. The first assignment I gave was to take a picture of something common and make it look different.
What’s one of your favorite memories of Williston?
We used to play hockey on the pond—we had two rinks. We’d check the weather report. If it was going to be really cold at night, we’d get the hoses out from the gym and we’d flood the rink. Of course if we were going to have practice and it snowed, the kids had to shovel the snow off. It was a little different than having a Zamboni. The third hockey team used to play the faculty. The headmaster and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Stevens, played and their son David was on the third hockey team. David got the puck and he was coming up the ice toward his parents. And somebody said, ‘How often does this happen?’