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FORUMS Photography Talk by Genre General Photography Talk
Thread started 03 Oct 2017 (Tuesday) 17:12
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Photography "Education"

 
MrWho
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Oct 03, 2017 17:12 |  #1

Lately I've been eating lunch across from the wall where eventually the new crop of "Masters Thesis" works from the photography students will be posted in the arts building. I understand for those vouching for a photography education, but I noticed a worrying trend. Something I feel that I have to speak out against.

Now I'm primarily a video guy. I don't have the crutch of putting together a string of beautiful shots and editing them together. Middle school and high school students are already doing that. I've done almost every crew role at least once, multiple times for audio, lighting, and editing. On occasion I even direct, but mainly for stage, sometimes for film. I've also worn many hats there.

The one thing that puzzles me is how the works currently on the wall required an education. What passes for examples of work from the photography department is just bad. Shockingly bad. I'm talking about I taught one of my crews (as key grip on set) how to capture better images in one weekend bad. Sure, the composition is good. It's a good technical photo, but it is void of any action. There's no sense of motion or urgency in the image. Yes, the lighting was good. They were taught well. There's just no story whatsoever.

Most of what's out there in the "education" realm are things that I've picked up on after some experimentation and about one hour of youtube. Am I knocking photography as a minor? Of course not. Am I knocking it in general? Definitely not.

My problem is with teaching the technical aspects in a university setting which can be learned from 30 minutes of youtube and a book. It costs way less than an "education" in photography. The photography department in the modern era feels like a department that's trying to justify it's own existence. The master's education they're getting will make them more proficient at their hobby, but the quality of their work is what I can capture with my phone on a random weekend downtown. Actually, I could capture better images.

As mentioned earlier, by the nature of what I do, story is king. My product is only as good as the set that we can get built (for stage), and for video, the performances, story, lighting, and audio. At a screening were a week long shoot was aired on an auditorium screen, the best films were praised for story and acting. No one ever once mentioned "oh that's a great shot!" or "wow, the high ISO of that camera is amazing!". The films that did have excellent low light shots, composition, and the like, often had a weak story and got mediocre to poor reviews.

And that's photography "education" falls short. Teaching technical aspects, churning out students who know gear inside and out, but can't tell an effective story in a single image to save their lives. Or at the very least, justify having a 5D level camera (which they go on to use phone quality shots). I know this is hardly fitting of a master's level education, dedicated university, or even a workshop. And I know this isn't the only instance.


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ejenner
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Oct 03, 2017 23:38 |  #2

So what you are saying is that you are wondering how these universities manage to sell these classes? Me too. But I have the same question about a number of other subjects/courses.

I also have a peeve about how art is taught in schools, including the way I was taught art in general. IMO you should be able to get something out of the class without having much in the way of drawing/painting talent.

But you know the 'fitting of a .....' level education happens on a lot of levels. Sure a Ph.D. from MIT is more involved than a BS from XYZ uni, but within that the range, 'fitting' is really rather large. Even at that level it becomes pretty clear what the primary purpose of these institutions is. So yes, even MIT (and every other university) awards Ph.D.'s (in technical scientific subjects) that are worthless piles of poo.


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airfrogusmc
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Joined May 2007
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Post has been last edited 2 months ago by airfrogusmc. 6 edits done in total.
Oct 04, 2017 10:02 |  #3

I don't know, I have a B/A in photography and I learned more in those 4 years about technique but even more important I learned who I am as a photographer than all the other 36 years put together. I have been supporting the family full time with this since graduating in 1986. I always get very amused at all of these arguments for ignorance. Any graduate degree should be for personal growth first and if that growth is achieved then how could that be a pile of poo.

It takes years to become a good photographer. Some, as we clearly see in forum land, have a lot of horizontal growth but very little vertical growth after they reach a certain level. What I mean by this is we see a lot of people are hitting a level of technical ability and they become very good imitations of others but very little movement beyond that. Just take a look around and see all the images that look like everyone else images. I think Ernst Haas and once said I'm paraphrasing I would rather make crappy photographs that are my crappy photographs than to make photographs that look like everyone else photographs.

I think the greatest compliment that any photographer can get is when someone looks at his work and say that he knew who made the photograph without seeing the signature. Having a style and developing a personal way of seeing is one of the very hardest things to achieve in any artistic field. In photography as in many others it is critical in my opinion.

There are classes like color theory, art history, and many others where if you really apply yourself you can get a lot out of without having to draw or paint.

BTW I believe and agree with Winogrand when he stated that single photographs do not tell stories. I do believe that you can tell a story with a body of work like a documentary project. But even those have some kind of written narrative like an artist statement or a foreword. In newspapers there are usually written stories to explain whats going on or theres a photo spread and there is always at least captions. Heres a great piece by Winogrand and he touches on the story telling aspect of single photographs. At about 1:26 minutes in through about 2:46
https://www.youtube.co​m/watch?v=Tl4f-QFCUek (external link)

I do believe if you are going to be successful in your personal work or your professional work you have got to be able to find your own way of seeing. If you look at your work and it looks like everything else you are seeing then you are part of the herd and that is not a good place to be. There is absolutely nothing special about having work that looks like everyone else work. Why would anyone pay what you need to charge to earn a good living at this if everyone else is doing the same thing? In todays world they could probably get the someone else that maybe doing it for free or almost free. You need to have something that is different. Something that a client would need to come to you to get. The art world is also like that.

The real reason to go to a school with a good photography or art program would be not so much for the technical part but to be in a creative environment where you are encouraged too follow your vision. I think that creativity is something that might not be able to be taught but it certainly can be nurtured. Raw talent without being nurtured and hard work on the person that has the talent usually leads no where. Michael Jordan without the right coaches and putting in a lot of really hard work would have probably been just another basketball player.

I can tell you I know without my education I would not have been as successful as I have been. Some of the classes I took that at the time I thought were not going to be much help turned out to be some of my most valuable lessons. I photograph commercial/advertising to feed the beast (no wedding or family portraits) and mostly work in healthcare advertising. Besides working for about 25 different hospitals I also have several fortune 500 corporations as clients, a couple of universities as clients and I also work with a couple of agencies. I did work for a hospital as a staff photographer for 10 years and to get hired I had to have at least a B/A in photography, 5 years professional experience, A killer portfolio and I went through a 4 month interview process. So without my education I would not have been able to get even an interview for the job. My education gave me other skills that as well as my photography skills that enabled me to be a strong candidate and thus getting the job. I would not be working in the field I now work in without the education. And it is not just the paper but more important the actual education I received that has helped me in my career.

I use things I learned in college almost everyday when working with other visual professionals like art directors, graphic designers, account managers, marketing managers etc. Most are also educated in the arts.

If you are just going to do this as a hobby and take photographs of the family then of course an MFA might be overkill. But who knows what creative possibilities being around other creative people all day every day might unleash. I never buy into arguments for ignorance. Learn all you can. Keep you mind open and if you don't love art and have a burning desire to create and find your own way then maybe a creative hobby and/or field might not be your calling. All the greats loved art and all have/had a burning desire to create and find there own way of expressing that.

BTW I also wanted to say that a formal education is not the only path. Many greats like Adams were not formally educated in photography but look at his circle of friends and who he was inspired by. His friend read like a whose who of 20th century artists, writers and musicians. And he kept educating himself and he had a passion for art, literature, photography, music and many other art forms. Some did take a formal education path. Bresson, Winogrand, Ulesmann to name a few. With the internet and the world wide web getting educated and gaining knowledge has never been easier.

A great piece by another great photographer. Only a couple of minutes long but well worth the watch
https://www.youtube.co​m/watch?v=B8hekPi8WW4 (external link)

Sorry, one more thing. I am a photographer. It's not a hat I put on just to feed the family. I love it and have for 40 years. I did it part time for while before and through college. It has defined me for 3 decades. I have had some success with my personal work with exhibits and selling work but that is not near enough to give my family the quality of life that they deserve. So my professional work is a base that pays for it all, mortgage equipment, trips, health insurance, etc, and give me freedom with my personal work. Professional work is ultimately the clients and it is many times a collaboration with other visual professionals. My personal work is all mine. I don't have to please anyone but myself. And that is how I have been able to not become burned out and hate what I do for a living. I have something that is all mine. My education has been critical to who I am as a person and the photographer I am today.




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kf095
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Post has been last edited 2 months ago by kf095. 3 edits done in total.
Oct 04, 2017 14:07 |  #4

Taste, preferences and learning path are different and individual.

I'm video guy since 1991. For living. Yet, in 2007 I switched for my free time to stills. Our first daughter did amazing video production by her own. Yet, she switched to paid photography work.

Photographers I respect most (HCB and GW) both have education in the art. And this is how I often feel about their photography.

IMO, if someone wants to have their photography to looks like art, the art should be studied to help student to understand her/his gift and to be able to control it.
Gift less student will also benefit from it. It helps to produce something more regular and easier in appeal. Where are more gift less photographers, always. But plenty of good, trade photography from them. I call it as solid. Here is nothing wrong with using of cliche and mastering use of it. Often less gifted trade photography is better than gifted amateur. Due to use of common in trade cliche. On shooting and during editing. IMO.

Good teaching of photography is not just about technicalities. It teaches how to deal with people. Photography for living is something like 90% dealing with people under many aspects and 10% is actual photography.


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Left ­ Handed ­ Brisket
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Oct 04, 2017 14:20 |  #5

School's for fools!

But really, I'm sure there are some kids that really "get it" while still in school, but there is no education in the world that will equal getting out and actually doing something real.

The worst thing a school can do is crank out kids who are not prepared to get smacked in the mouth. I know it happens all the time, there is nothing that can be done about it. Half those kids will never be pro photogs.

Frankly, I don't really care. :D


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airfrogusmc
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Joined May 2007
Oak Park, Illinois
Oct 04, 2017 21:54 |  #6

Left Handed Brisket wrote in post #18465968 (external link)
School's for fools!

But really, I'm sure there are some kids that really "get it" while still in school, but there is no education in the world that will equal getting out and actually doing something real.

The worst thing a school can do is crank out kids who are not prepared to get smacked in the mouth. I know it happens all the time, there is nothing that can be done about it. Half those kids will never be pro photogs.

Frankly, I don't really care. :D


What do you think you do in photography classes in school? You are doing it. You are graded on portfolios which is your work and you have a critique every week for every class. Nice to be able to make a lot of mistakes in school where you get a lot of do overs.

Just like only maybe 10% of say basketball players in college become successful in the pros. Theres now enough work out there for all the photographers but you definitely increase the chances the more tools that you have. And knowledge is just another tool. I will not hire assistants without a B/A in photography. I don't have time on jobs to teach what the art director is talking about.

I got cranked me out and I've done pretty well.




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MrWho
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Oct 04, 2017 22:26 |  #7

A lot of excellent replies, some putting my point in far better words, so thank you for that.

In case anyone was wondering, I am referring exactly to sending photography students to art history or art appreciation classes instead of spending a month going over the exposure triangle in three separate classes. The work that I'm referring to in my original post is the type of work that is no different than the millions of cell phone snaps already out there. Standards are falling, and I'm not sure how to improve what's coming out of the programs, but something's falling short somewhere.


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airfrogusmc
I'm a chimper. There I said it...
Joined May 2007
Oak Park, Illinois
Post has been last edited 2 months ago by airfrogusmc. 2 edits done in total.
Oct 04, 2017 22:44 |  #8

MrWho wrote in post #18466225 (external link)
A lot of excellent replies, some putting my point in far better words, so thank you for that.

In case anyone was wondering, I am referring exactly to sending photography students to art history or art appreciation classes instead of spending a month going over the exposure triangle in three separate classes. The work that I'm referring to in my original post is the type of work that is no different than the millions of cell phone snaps already out there. Standards are falling, and I'm not sure how to improve what's coming out of the programs, but something's falling short somewhere.

I think any time anything gets so oversaturated then there is bound to be a lot of work being made that might not be anything special. That's the way it has always been though. That's why those creating images that go beyond nouns or as Weston called it the obvious are always going to be in the minority and a very small minority at that. It's those that can see beyond the obvious and have the ability to put a little of themselves in the work that will make interesting images that will hold up over time. Im not sure standards are falling there is just a lot more work to plow through and to me a lot of it all looks the same. A lot of in focus very sharp images of nouns. Yep thats a sharp picture of a ________ and it looks like every other sharp picture of a _________. Nothing remotely interesting in that. The hardest part of all of this is being able to create images that not only go beyond the obvious but also give us a clue is to what the creator felt about what is being photographed and maybe if we are lucky we even get a glimpse of the creator in the work.

The problem is as I see it there are far to many looking for the one great photo when all of the greats worked in bodies of work. One great photograph will no more make a great photographer as one great at bat will put a baseball player in the hall of fame.




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Phoenixkh
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Oct 04, 2017 23:04 |  #9

I'm not sure if I should even put my two cents in here. I don't have a college education, other than a degree from a mission school in Indonesia.

That said, I've always valued education. I was able to pay for three college degrees: my wife's and two sons. I'm self educated. I know a lot about a few things... and a little bit about some things because I read a lot of books.

What I'm not is artistic. I'm a decent bird photographer because we live in Florida and I can get close to them. The camera enables me to get shots now that in the film days only a handful of very talented people were able to shoot.

I want to be more artistic in my photography but I really don't have the innate talent. My wife does. She hates the technical side, but man, can she "see" a scene and capture it on a sensor. I am learning from her, but mainly by copying. I guess a man's got to know his limitations.

So, I think an education centered on photography could be a great thing. Learning environments are usually quite rewarding. In my case, it might have been wasted, but one never knows. I read all kinds of photography books, including those about having a visions, seeing things in your mind, etc. and I do try to put the things I read into practice. I take photographs for personal pleasure. I can't tell you have much fun I've had and continue to have. Getting out into nature is good for my mental health.

I will never be a professional photographer. I don't have the talent, I don't believe and I know I don't have the desire. But I have great respect for most professional photographers... though I think we'd all agree, they are not created equal.


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ejenner
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Post has been last edited 2 months ago by ejenner. 2 edits done in total.
Oct 04, 2017 23:21 as a reply to Phoenixkh's post |  #10

I think you should put your 2-c in and I also think that others posted here, including the OP think that there should be courses and classes in various educational institutions (from High school to universities) in photography and various aspects of art can be extremely worthwhile.

MrWho wrote in post #18466225 (external link)
Standards are falling, and I'm not sure how to improve what's coming out of the programs, but something's falling short somewhere.

Garbage in = garbage out.

What makes the best university programs successful is that they can afford choose who to admit into the program in the first place. Those people are going to be successful almost whatever they do, the programs are seen as successful, they can charge more and attract better teachers which attracts more gifted students and the cycle (hopefully for them) continues.

For instance, if you had a program that output a bunch of successful higher-profile professional photographers, even if the program was not directly responsible for their success, you might be able to start something high-quality. You could take people in with talent, make them pay, have high-quality teachers and make them work hard and standards would improve.

Just saw this:

http://photography-on-the.net .../showthread.php?t=1​487153


Edward Jenner
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Left ­ Handed ­ Brisket
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Oct 05, 2017 05:15 |  #11

airfrogusmc wrote in post #18466215 (external link)
What do you think you do in photography classes in school? You are doing it. You are graded on portfolios which is your work and you have a critique every week for every class. Nice to be able to make a lot of mistakes in school where you get a lot of do overs.

Just like only maybe 10% of say basketball players in college become successful in the pros. Theres now enough work out there for all the photographers but you definitely increase the chances the more tools that you have. And knowledge is just another tool. I will not hire assistants without a B/A in photography. I don't have time on jobs to teach what the art director is talking about.

I got cranked me out and I've done pretty well.

The cranked out part was intended to point out that different schools provide greatly varying levels of graduates. Even within lesser schools individuals can excel, while at the best schools graduates can suck.

A local technical college was at one time very well regarded for their photography school, I assume they are still, but probably to a somewhat lesser extent. I know a number of teachers are still there years later. I have spoken with a couple of graduates, and worked directly with one for a period of time. I was freaking shocked with the level of work they were putting out. I mean, it was really very, very, bad. The grads were happy with their results. Their understanding of quite a few simple things was almost absent, and seemed to have some romantic notion that auto focus and external lighting was bad.

Neither had ever worked under another photographer.

I went to a "proper" 4 year school for a lot of undergraduate work and a few art department classes. This was back in the early 90s and that school did not have a decent computer graphics program. I left and went to a technical school to study advertising design and photography. I had already worked under two very accomplished photographers.

Yet I was under no false illusions that I was ready to take on professional photography. After a few years I was in a position where I was sending work to the two guys I had worked under. This provided an opportunity to learn even more.

Over the last 8 years I have flipped from almost all design work and a little photography, to almost all photography and little design work.

So just to be clear, school is NOT for fools, but if one finishes school and thinks they are ready for the real world, they are fools. This is not to say there won't be that occasional exceptional student that starts a business and excels right out the gate, but this person will still have plenty of problems to overcome and will need to be able to be creative in his solutions.

Likewise there is an occasional photographer who has no formal training or experience that can quickly build a viable business. Both are rare cases.


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airfrogusmc
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Oct 05, 2017 10:04 |  #12

I think what you describe can be said for a lot of professions. How many MBA's when they first graduate are actually prepared for forming their own corp? Most work for several years for a corporation. How many chefs open their own restaurant after graduating culinary school? Most work in another chefs kitchen for a while. How many (put your profession of choice here) you get the drift.

I can't speak for the school you mention but there are some very good places in the Chicago area to study photography. If you want to assist me you have to have a B/A. You also have to have a good knowledge of color theory and quality of light. Which modifiers to us e to get the quality needed. I usually ask a lot of questions like "if an art director say I need an low key type photograph with a complimentary color scheme that will give me the most color vibration. I need my assistant to know how to do that without a lot of input from me. There is no time for lessons on a shoot.

Most photographers that are not in some kind of structured learning situations will not go out of their way to learn color theory or study anything but what they are interested in. In most credible photography programs in oder to graduate you will have had to have several classes that cover color theory, design and other art classes. Also lighting and understanding what type of quality different modifiers will give you and in what situation are those modifiers usually best used in. In my world that is important knowledge and if you don't know some of these basic understandings of color and light I would pass on using you. Most not all that do have a degree from a good program should know these things and if I ask the right questions in an interview I can usually find out if that knowledge did indeed stick or was taught in the first place.




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Left ­ Handed ­ Brisket
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Oct 05, 2017 16:49 |  #13

I agree.

But does it seem new photogs are more likely to have irrational confidence in their abilities?


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Owain ­ Shaw
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Oct 06, 2017 04:55 |  #14

I think others have already offered a very good analysis of the merits of Photography and Arts education to those interested. I believe in education for education's sake and feel that any knowledge is desirable. That said, I can see why there could be doubts about certain programmes and the way they are conducted, especially from my own experience. What follows may be a largely personal post ...

I studied a Photography programme about ten years ago now. I have some reservations about both the quality of tuition we received and also about the dedication of the majority of my fellow students. I can recall being asked to stop debating an issue (regarding an essay by Victor Burgin) with a tutor because people were hoping that the seminar would wind up early and they could leave. People frequently booked trains that required them to leave seminars early; skipped classes; failed to read set texts for theoretical discussions; produced second-rate work showing minimal effort. I tried to take the term 'full-time student' and see myself as someone whose job was to work full-time on Photography during term time. I can't say that I succeeded 100% but I had a near-perfect attendance record for lectures, seminars and workshops and spent countless hours working on sketchbooks (largely unnecessarily but to say that I wasn't engaging with Photography would be cruel) and feel able to offer some criticism of the tuition we received which I think was too entangled with the world of contemporary Art Photography and did not offer enough practical training in studio, darkroom (black and white or colour) or other areas of technique, or technical theory rather than artistic theory. The tuition I received from my degree course would not see me through Allen's interview questions for becoming his assistant. We were allowed, or not sufficiently punished when shown, to be lax in technical aspects of photography.

I'm not advocating for a purely technical course, as I believe the artistic side to be very important for development as a photographer taking interesting photographs and not merely technically proficient ones - however, our course was, in my opinion, too light on this important aspect of photography, particularly for those forging a career in Photography. Those of us with an interest in our craft developed it, but often merely within our own field of interest. I enjoyed having the time and space to work on ideas, to work on Photography exclusively and dedicate all my time to it. I freely admit to producing some questionable work with perhaps incomplete or ill-conceived ideas, or with too many ideas floating around, but it was a time and environment in which to work those things out. I still come back to and reflect on things I learned, by tuition or through my own experiments and experiences during that period, today and perhaps I would not have continued with Photograph as I have were it not for taking that time to study it.

Another missing element in our tuition was the true nature of the business of Photography. Getting students to engage with Fine Art and the artistic theory of Contemporary Art Photography is all well and good but the reality is and was that this was going to be of very little practical use or relevance to the majority of us going forwards. How many photographers make a living through Art? However many it is, I suspect the number is insignificantly small compared to those working as commercial or editorial photographers and a disproportionately small amount of time was given over to producing portfolios for commercial work, approaching or interacting with potential clients, assisting work, or other practical career development. Some of this is and should be on the student, but a degree programme that doesn't provide its students with some help and preparation for life after they leave the University Fine Art bubble is setting its students up for failure in all of the other things they have been educated in.

Looking back now, there are things I could and probably should have done differently as a student - even as one of my course's more dedicated and applied students, if perhaps one with other shortcomings and some naivety - but there are things that I feel were missing or understated in our tuition that need to be addressed.


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airfrogusmc
I'm a chimper. There I said it...
Joined May 2007
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Post has been edited 2 months ago by airfrogusmc.
Oct 06, 2017 11:04 |  #15

Hi Owain,

I think what you have demonstrated is why it is so important to get into a good program with the right professors. When I was in school there were a host of folks there just in a photography program because they though ti would be an easy degree. They usually didn't last long when they realized it was actually a lot of hard work. I'm glad that my schools slant was more toward th artistic side but still with a heavy emphasis on the technical side. The techniques of photography are the easy part. It;s finding out who you are as a photographer and finding your own direction that is infinitely difficult. And attending full time when and where I studied was a much different experience than those that were attending part time.

I was very motivated. I think I got the self discipline to be a really good student in the Marines and I was older than most I was in class with. So I made sure my time in classes was well spent. On days that I only had say one class I would ask other professors if I could work in the darkroom during their classes and a lot of times I would be there working form 0900 to 2200. 9am-10pm. I also shot wedding on the weekends and while in school.

I did receive a photographer of the year scholarship award which was a huge financial help. The award was based on a portfolio of work. You had to also have an artist statement and there was a defense of the work where 3 professors grilled you one the work and how well the work supported the statement. The first year I submitted a portfolio I never made it to the defense portion. The second year I received the award.

A lot of what happens in the real world both in the gallery scene and the profession world especially early on is a lot of rejection. Persistence is key. I was lucky that i was able to get jobs with well established successful photographers once ai graduated. I had a job they day classes ended for me in spring of 1986. I worked for one photographer shooting, developing and doing custom B&W and color printing. Did that for a couple of years and got job with one of the top photographers in the area doing the same. Was there for about 3 years and those 5 years I learned so much about the business of photography. But the skills I received in college both technical and especially visual where key to my early success and without the work experience, the degree (B/A), my portfolio and the way I presented myself in the 4 month interview process for the hospital job ( also skill I acquired in college) I would have never been able to get the that job. The min requirements were at least a B/A in photography, 5 years experience, a current portfolio and of course the interview process. Now a large portion of my client base is healthcare and my 10 years experience at that hospital and all the connections I made there are essential to my business now so without the education I wouldn't have been hired at the hospital and my business would not be in the direction it is now in and I would probably not be a professional photographer.

But like any profession that there is success in one needs to have the ability to adapt quickly to a constantly changing environment. The ability to consistently exceed the clients expectations. A strong ability to work with others when collaboration is required. To have something that the client will go out of the way to to hire you for that separates you from the masses or herd. And a little luck and a lot of persistence.

So if I were hiring a photographer for a position and I had two candidates with equally strong portfolios, both equal in the personality fitting in with business and one also has a B/A in photography the other doesn't, I know which one I would hire. The degree proves to me the commitment the educated photographer has. He started something and finished it.

For me it is even more than making a living doing this. The professional side feeds the family but it's my personal work that feeds my soul. Without my education I know I wouldn't have found who I was as a photographer as quickly as I did. I know I wouldn't be as successful in both my business and in my personal work.

Like most professions the formal education is only a step in the process. Learning does't or I should say shouldn't stop at graduation and it should be a spring board to more growth but visually and technically. Mine gave me a real strong foundation both technically and even more important visually to build on.

That's my 2 cents so take it for what it's worth.
Allen




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