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.