Shouls I apply for an artist in residence program?
October 14, 2012 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Can you tell me about artist in residence programs? For photographers, specifically. Having trouble finding answers to the questions I have anywhere online..

So I have been pretty into film photography for a good decade or so now, and I have amassed a body of work that I am quite pleased with. Within the past year or so I have finally started to "put myself out there" as an artist. While I don't have any illusions that I'd ever be able to parlay my work into a full time artist gig, I do take it very seriously.

I've also got the travel bug pretty bad right now,, and about a year's worth of time before I intend to go back to school (for something unrelated to photography).

As an obvious link between the two factors mentioned above, I have been looking at the many, many opportunities for artist in residence programs throughout the world. I'm wondering if anybody has any experiences with these programs? Did you find them helpful? Worthwhile? How difficult is the application and selection process?

What I struggle with the most is having a "reason" to apply to any particular program.. I'm not yet sure what I would hope to accomplish, artistically, aside from "go somewhere cool, have an adventure, and take lots of pretty photograhs". Making connections and possibly exposure or an exhibition would be great too. But these seem like they would be viewed as pretty flimsy "excuses" or reasons to apply, and kind of doubt the liklihood that I would ever be accepted if that's all I can come up with. But on the other hand, it seems like these are the very reasons that these programs exist? Everything I read online seems rather open-ended as far as reasons one might wish to apply to a program, but when I look at the applications themselves it seems like most programs are looking for a better defined artistic vision.

Any thoughts on the medium I use (medium format and 35mm film) and how that might translate to a residency program? I don't process my own film, but scan my negatives and use photoshop for post-processing. I worry that the turn-around time for having a lab do the processing might not mesh with the length of my stay, and the expectation that some programs have that a piece of work be completed by the time the residency comes to a close.
I would love to re-learn darkroom processes but have yet to find a suitable residency program that might assist me with that.

I don't yet have a very impressive CV relating to art.. one juried group exhibition, inclusion in a few blogs here and there but that's about it. Should I focus more on building my portfolio in my local area before trying something like this?

So anyway, sorry that got long. Just asking for some general information on artist in residence programs (personal experiences, links, literature etc), and whether one might realistic for me, being not-too-far along in my artistic career.
posted by wats to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Most arts residencies are based around a physical property where you go in order to have space to work. That's sort of the point of a residency -- you leave your everyday life, have a dedicated workspace, and get some networking time with other people who do what you do.

It's not really conducive to, say, travel photography. It's not a hotel for you to stay in while you take photos out and about in the local area.

Most people I know who have gone to residencies have gone in order to sort of hole up and have space to think about creative work. It's not really a travel opportunity. Yes, you are traveling to a place, and some residencies are held in spectacular locations. And there is some enjoyment of the local area. But it's not a vacation, and if you apply to them as if they are travel destinations rather than an opportunity for creative work, you will probably not be chosen.

All of the above said, with the popularity of travel photography, there might be special programs for what you want to do. You should definitely do research into artists residencies specifically for travel photographers.

Unless you're not a travel photographer. In that case, you should find a residency that works for the kind of photography you usually do, and plan to do that kind of photography while there. The goal of a residency is typically to allow artists space and time to do the kind of work they already do. If you don't have any particular style of photography or approach to photography, you just enjoy snapping fun pictures, you might want to develop more of a specific body of work before applying.

You should definitely think long and hard about whether a residency would be for you if you need access to professional photo processing services -- usually residencies are in remote areas.

Re your CV and portfolio -- my understanding is that the work is the most important part. Everybody has to start somewhere. Maybe apply to less ambitious ones for now, and see how you like the residency process.

If you just want someplace interesting to travel to where you could take lots of neat photographs and then process them at your leisure, maybe look into WWOOFing?
posted by Sara C. at 12:38 PM on October 14, 2012

The National Science Foundation runs an artists and writers program in Antarctica. A writer friend has been a couple of times and raves about it.
posted by rtha at 1:00 PM on October 14, 2012

Thanks for the response.

Maybe what I'm not getting is what the main focus of a photography residence program would be. Where in other disciplines (painting, poetry, writing, etc), I see the obvious benefit of having that work space and tools and a "place to get away from it all" and really focus on your work, what is it that these programs inviting photographers are offering? Especially considering that most of the ones I've seen tend to list all kinds of equipment that don't directly relate to photography. Which aspect of the photographic process is it that these programs are geared toward? I do not see any benefit in going somewhere, paying money, and sitting in a room post-processing on a computer, which I do very minimally as it is.

And no, I do not consider myself a "travel photographer" per se, with my main areas of interest being landscape, street, and architecture.. but if those landscapes etc that I wish to photograph happen to be somewhere that I must travel to,, where is the distinction between "travel" vs other forms of photography?
posted by wats at 1:07 PM on October 14, 2012

what is it that these programs inviting photographers are offering?

The same thing, presumably.

Writers face the same basic questions, and yet lots of writers do residencies. You can write anywhere. You don't need special equipment to write. You don't even really require privacy or a lot of time. I used to outline essays and short stories on post-it notes behind the cash register of the shop where I worked in college. But some writers need to get away from their everyday lives in order to finish a large scale project. Some writers need a lot more solitude than others. Some writers relish having a dedicated space that is only for writing. Other writers are happy to sit in bed with a laptop, or have a Word document open on their work computer. Those writers don't tend to apply to residency programs.

If you have no use for a photographic residency, don't do one.

with my main areas of interest being landscape, street, and architecture.. but if those landscapes etc that I wish to photograph happen to be somewhere that I must travel to,, where is the distinction between "travel" vs other forms of photography?

You might want to find a residency that is in a place that you want to photograph. Spend some days shooting the local architecture or whatever, and spend others in the studio, scanning and editing and doing the part of photography that isn't the shooting part. Apply to the residency with exactly that angle -- I've always wanted to shoot a photo series of X local thing, and your residency would enable me to do so while also providing me a local studio to process my work. This would benefit my artistic career for Y and Z reasons.

Also from what I understand residencies where you pay to attend usually are less selective than those that are free to attend. You might want to do that once, just to see if you get anything out of residencies. Then you'd have more on your CV for if you decide to apply for the more selective free ones.

An alternative, if you don't see the benefit of a residency, and you'd probably be paying for the opportunity even if you did, would be to use that money on simply traveling to make photographs. Which people do all the time.
posted by Sara C. at 1:20 PM on October 14, 2012

I'm a professional artist, and I've done a few residencies.

Now, residencies can be great. But they can also suck - you're away from home, you don't know where facilities are... it's a matter of working out what's best for you in your career development. Recently, I've stopped applying for opportunities that would take me away from my home base, and prefer to work with creative people who I've built up a relationship with.

It sounds to me like you want to find a residency that teaches you more about photography, rather than use the skills you already have to expand a body of work. Most of the programs I am familiar with are looking for contemporary artists who work in any medium to come and work on a project. Perhaps something you could work on now would be to find out what parts of photography interest you, and develop some projects that can be channelled into residencies.

One of the big downsides of residencies is that you are working for a group, coming into a place as an outsider, and you are expected to produce something from your time with the group. Going somewhere and exploring might be better, even if it doesn't register on your CV - but perhaps there are local photography and/or art groups to where you are, or where you want to study, that would be useful for your technical development?

Working in any form of creative practice requires a lot of discipline. The best thing you can do is to show you have the discipline to make your projects happen, whatever it is you want to create. Residencies are just one tool for that, and if you think that it's the one that'll help you now, go ahead and apply for them. Here's a guide to writing a CV for the arts, and here's a book that I found moderately helpful. The best help is to surround yourself with people who support you. Good luck!

Finally, as everybody is different and I'm pretty much making huge generalisations, feel free to memail me any further questions. I'm UK based, and in a different field, but I might be able to give a little bit of help on some topics.
posted by The River Ivel at 2:44 PM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been to a few residencies for photography, and also assisted an artist (photographer, makes his living from selling art internationally) who went to lots of residencies.

Generally speaking, at a residency you get:
(in no particular order)
- a line on your CV that makes you look more serious
- the implication that your art practice is developed enough to warrant a month away from your day job (justification for asking for time off of work?)
- new surroundings for inspiration
- fewer distractions than at home
- meals and lodging taken care of (some artists go from residency to residency for months at a time)
- if it's not a solitary one, you get to meet and network with other artists
- collaboration opportunities
- opportunities to lecture about your work, sometimes
- sometimes there are more prestigious visiting artists whom you can invite to your studio and talk about your project

I once went to one month-long residency while I was shooting a film project. I brought my scanner and a laptop with me, and I had my car. Once a week I drove to the nearest city, about an hour away, and would drop off my (color) film for processing. I'd have lunch and then pick it up. When I needed workprints, I'd send the digital files to an overnight printing place and have them Fed-Exed to the residency.

Another residency had a graphics center with printers for everyone's use. Often they will have projectors on hand that you can hook your laptop up to in order to show your work in your studio if you choose not to print.

Anecdotally, the one time I applied to a place because I was already working on an idea set in its local area, I did not get in. On the other hand, they may have wanted more mid-career artists with lots of previous exhibitions, which I did not have. The artist I worked for usually got into the places he applied -- he photographed local flora and fauna and incorporated them into his images. He would sometimes hire a local guide/driver and go out exploring while in an exotic destination.

I've also seen photographers transpose their work to the place of the residency. One artist who did portraits of people from various subcultures would just find the local subcultures and photograph the people.

You might be interested in two residencies specific to photographers:
Lightwork in Syracuse
SVA NYC summer residency program
posted by xo at 2:52 PM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, my understanding of residency programs is that they're opportunities to focus on your art, away from your everyday life. I know people who have done residencies at SFAI and Chinati.

If you're still kind of starting out, maybe something more like the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops might be more up your alley? You pay for classes, but you live on their campus.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 6:16 PM on October 14, 2012

It sounds like your photography approach is somewhat similar to mine. I also shoot on film and mostly do urban landscapes and street photography, as opposed to straightforward travel photography, project-based documentary work, formal portraits, or nature photography. I'd love to have a residency in a bustling city where I could just hit the sidewalks with my camera every day -- but realistically, most artists residencies I've read about are in more rural, bucolic settings, where the local roads are usually empty, film labs are far away, on-site darkrooms would be unlikely, and even decent digital workstations wouldn't be a given. So trying to shoot or develop new work in a residency like that would be perplexing to me, and likely you as well.

But to take a different approach -- instead of using a residency to shoot new work, what about using one to sort through all the work you've already got? You say you've been shooting for a decade but haven't done much with your photos yet. How about proposing that you gather together a whole bunch of work prints from what you've shot already, and then take the time to sort through them and come up with projects from them? Mix and match them, discover connections and common threads, try to figure out the aesthetic you've already come up with and which of your photos encapsulate your style the best. Maybe you could come up with the idea for a book; then narrow down your choices to 30 photos and sequence them. (You could also bring along a ton of other photo books and study their sequencing -- it can make or break a book.) Or maybe you'll come up with an idea for a website or another new project. Maybe you'll realize you actually don't like 30% of what you've brought with you, but you'll then be able to figure out what you like about the remaining 70% and focus more on that in the future. Being a photographer isn't just about shooting; it's also about editing what you present to the rest of the world, and that in turn might affect what you shoot in the future. A residency could be ideal for that kind of work, away from your cameras. Good luck!
posted by lisa g at 1:30 AM on October 15, 2012

I just came across this essay about working on artist's retreats which might be relevant to your interests.
posted by The River Ivel at 9:45 AM on October 15, 2012

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