Too Cool For Photography School?
June 14, 2005 7:00 PM   Subscribe

Next year I will graduate from college with a double concentration in English and French. As much as I love literature and reading, graduate school in those fields doesn't seem like the right thing for me. However, my love of photography has blown up in the past few years and I'm pretty serious about making a career of it. Where are the good photography schools? Is there any way to get an MFA with my experience? Otherwise, is a second BA worth the money and hassle?

Experience: I've taken one semester of photography at my college and then two semesters in my junior year abroad at Spéos, the photographic institute of Paris. I've enjoyed digital photography since high school and am proficient in PhotoShop.

I would love to go back to Spéos for the full-time program, but I don't think I'd get any official degree. Googling has consistently brought me to the Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts, the Brooks Institute of Photography and the Academy of Art University. Is anyone familiar with these or other photography schools?

I guess the biggest question is how much would a second B.A. in photography help me start a career compared to an MFA? Is an MFA even possible at this point?
posted by themadjuggler to Education (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you're considering a second bachelor's degree purely for your own edification and enjoyment, that's cool. But in terms of helping your resume or boosting your job prospects, there's no comparison: Any postgraduate degree will carry far more weight than any second bachelor's degree.

Three semesters' worth of classes won't qualify you for a postgrad photography program. You've earned the bachelor's. Go get some experience.

It's a common question, once you discover your passion: Education or experience? Attend college, or pursue an apprenticeship? The deciding factor is often the value society places on a bachelor's degree. You've got that already. I'd advise the other route.
posted by cribcage at 7:55 PM on June 14, 2005

An MFA might not be possible - find out how much cross-credit you can get in a fine arts degree at various universities. Also check their cross-credit across universities, as I suspect you'll need to find somewhere with generious policy. At mine, a BFA allowed up to 36 credits out of 144 to be cross credited from most arts and sciences subjects. Which, as 36 is intended to be a year's courseload, basically means you'd spend 3 more years getting a bachelor of fine arts instead of four, and probably four years to get a MFA instead of five, but there might be some way to wrangly an MFA into 3 years.

I imagine some institutions would be more flexible, but the Fine Arts degree where I went was as distinct from Arts as Science or Commerce. You needed 108 points from fine arts courses for a fine arts degree.

On preview: I agree with cribcage - if the purpose of the degree is just getting a job, a second degree is putting a hell of a lot of time, work, and money into very dimished returns.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:59 PM on June 14, 2005

Um... why bother with a degree? Get out in the world and shoot, show your stuff to others, listen to any critiques. There are thousands of books on art theory, composition and photography, find a good library and they're all free.

Chuck Jones said "the first 10,000 drawings you do are going to be bad. You might as well get them out of the way." Ditto photographs. Get them out of the way now.

Make art, don't study it.
posted by Marky at 8:01 PM on June 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

This might not apply, but there is also something to be said for not making your love/hobby your career. Society is hung up on on dismissing stuff like photography if it doesn't come from a professional, but my experience (design, not photography) is that a lot of the time you can do far superior (and more satisfying) stuff than the pros when you're a hobbyist, because when you're doing it professionally, there are all sorts of business considerations getting in the way, governing the overall direction, hobbling work with deadlines, ruling out as irrelevant to the current project various avenues that someone really should explore, etc.

As a pro you get nicer toys, and there are obviously lots of other perks, eg spending all day with very talented people is a big one. :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 8:13 PM on June 14, 2005

I have a good friend who was recently deciding which photography program to enter. He wanted something completely immersive, intense, challenging, and prepatory to make a go at a professional career.

For him it was between the Boston University program you mentioned, and The Hallmark Institute.

He ultimately went with the BU program, but from all his research on Hallmark, including a visit to their facilities which were top notch and filled with the latest and best equipment, they run an excellent program too.

Ultimately, he chose the BU program because it was ALL digital, and it was part of a larger program that included people pursuing other interesting paths in the digital arts, and he thought some of that cross pollination would prove helpful.

In contrast, at Hallmark, all you would do is live, sleep, and breathe photography, and nothing else. Which might be the perfect route for some.

Best of luck!
posted by extrabox at 9:26 PM on June 14, 2005

If you've got a good portfolio and any undergrad degree, you can go to the Academy of Art University in the MFA program. If they don't think your portfolio is up to it, they may tell you to take a semester of "portfolio prep" before you start the MFA program as a test run of your abilities.

It's expensive and your advisors won't always (ever) know what's best for you, but the teachers are working professionals and they're certainly focused on getting you employable, not just taking great pictures. I'd consider it more for fashion photography, advertising photography, etc. than art photography, simply because I've never heard of another school prepping their students on the business of art as much as AAU.

I owe a lot of my career to my AAU degree and I love teaching there, despite the money grubbing reputation they have. (Don't expect much financial aid.)

I'm not in the photography department, but if you need more info on AAU, drop me a line.
posted by Gucky at 9:38 PM on June 14, 2005

OK, maybe I'm wandering into an academic thread with my very pragmatic life experience here, but ... why do you need to go to school? Why can't you just, well, do it? It's pretty easy to get people to pay you to take pictures of them; this combined with stock photography sales is a good way to get started and to pay the bills while you develop your art.
posted by SpecialK at 12:34 AM on June 15, 2005

Thanks everyone for the great responses so far! I guess I should address those more general questions first like "why should I do this?" and "should my hobbies remain separate from work?"

Why can't you just, well, do it? It's pretty easy to get people to pay you to take pictures of them...

I hear that photography is actual a very competitive marketplace, which is the only reason I worry about the education side. Like you all, I feel like my skills would only improve with practice and real-life experience; I only worry about being able to survive from the start.
posted by themadjuggler at 5:14 AM on June 15, 2005

I only worry about being able to survive from the start.

I can tell you from experience that what separates the professionals from the amateurs or the no-longer-professionals is tenacity and a healthy amount of luck. The financial costs of entering the pro field are staggering; just staying in business for more than a couple of years puts you ahead of the competition. But as for going to school for it... why? I mean, if you really feel your technique needs work, by all means go take some classes. But I'd personally rather have the $50,000-some-odd dollars to spend on equipment.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:27 AM on June 15, 2005

I'm actually in school studying Photography right now. I went for one year to a major University (majoring in something TOTALLY different), hated it, dropped out, took a few years off, went to a Community College, took Photography as an elective, realized I could Do This, and applied to a big 'ol art school in nyc (along with a couple others, but the big 'ol art school is the one I really wanted). I'm now going into my third year, and I'm glad I'm doing it.

From what I've seen and people I've talked to, it's a VERY competitive field (especially in nyc). For me, I don't know if I'd have the confidence to do this without school behind me. Sure, there are people who have become very successful without having gone to art school (or who have dropped out of school), but from what I've seen they're few and far between. It is true that not one person is going to ask for your degree when you're showing your portfolio or whatever - they're going to look at your pictures, and in the end, that's what's gonna make you stand out.

But. I have no doubt in my mind that school was the best thing for me. I've learned a LOT, and I have access to pretty much any kind of equipment that I can imagine. Not that expensive equipment is the key to a good photographer (I've seen some horrible pictures shot with a $10K camera), but it's stuff that you need to learn.

If you're not ready for full-fledged school yet, see if you can get a job as a photographer's assistant (even if it's just on the weekends or something - if you hate it, quit. At the very least you'll learn SOMETHING). Take a photo class at a community college or something like that. Visit some galleries - I see you're in MA, not sure what the Boston scene is like, is nyc too far for a day trip? (Not that nyc is the be-all and end-all of photography, but there are SO MANY galleries there, and they're free!)

Oh, and everyone who's mentioned it is right - take pictures. Take a LOT of pictures. Buy film in bulk and just blow through it. (if you have a decent digital camera, even better!) You'll shoot a lot of crap, but you'll also start to look at things differently. Give yourself assignments. Work on "projects", even if you're the only one who is going to see them.

As far as deciding if you want to make your hobbly/love your career, that's up to you completely, and I can't really give you any advice on that. I'd say before you completely rule it out though, get involved in the "scene" or whatever you want to call it. Like anything, it can be intimidating, but for me, it's this subculture that I had no idea existed until I came to school, and as silly and pretentious and "artsy" as it can be sometimes, the good outweighs the bad.

Anyway, I'm rambling here, so if you have any specific questions (like where in nyc you should go if you want to go look at galleries & stuff), you can email me (address in profile).
posted by AlisonM at 6:35 AM on June 15, 2005

I'm not sure if this applies to MFA art programs like it does MFA writing or grad humanities stuff, but: if you do opt for the MFA route, unless you have solid darkroom skills you likely won't be able to get funding in the form of teaching assistantships. Art school is pricey & [if you don't have wealthy family members to subsidize your education] going into debt for an MFA degree may not be worth it.

As for getting into a grad program without a BFA, you might have more luck with more interdisciplinary/experimental programs (if you're interested in that). I know people with humanities backgrounds who've gotten into Carnegie Mellon and the Art Institute of Chicago for grad fine arts degrees.
posted by soviet sleepover at 7:36 AM on June 15, 2005

« Older Tomorrow's Classics   |   Status of publishing markets abroad? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.