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photojournalism grad programs

Hello everyone. This is my first time on this site. I hope you’ll all indulge my verbose post and give me some desperately needed good advice.

I am looking for a photojournalism graduate program. I am interested in the following five:
ICP, University of Texas, Boston University, Missouri School of Journalism and LCC (London College of Communication).

ICP seems to get rave reviews on this site but I haven’t found much information here on the others. Let me tell you a little about myself: I passionately want to be a photojournalist. I have a BA in Comparative Literature, and am finishing up my MFA in creative writing. I have taken a smattering of photo courses but mainly I am self-taught. I really want the space and structure of a grad program in pj; I’m sure it’s what I need to become a better photographer.

So – some of my concerns in applying to these places: I don’t really have photography professionals to recommend me, though I am going to the Mountain Workshop in a couple of weeks and maybe can make a contact or two there. I do have writers who will say that I am creative and work hard. Also, I have no idea if these schools are going to give my application much of a chance since I don’t have a very strong photography background in academia or in actual work experience. Anyone know how much weight experiences like the above carry in an application?

ICP is a specific concern – this is really where I want to go but trying to get ahold of anyone there is like being in a Kafka novel – no one answers the phone, no one responds to email; I’m beginning to wonder if the school really exists! So – does anyone know the competition stats for the pj program there? For someone who wants a career-oriented program is ICP the way to go? What about the other schools?

Thank you so much for reading this long post. I look forward to reading your advice!

by Sarah O'Brien at 2006-10-04 18:24:34 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) Iowa City, Iowa , United States | Bookmark | | Report spam→

Hi Sarah. I can’t speak of ICP, but I earned my M.A. in Journalism from Missouri and can highly recommend the PJ program there. When I applied in 2002, they didn’t even require a portfolio for entrance- written essays were important, though. As a writer, you should have no issue with that. In a nutshell, two of the best parts of the program are Pictures of the Year International and Missouri Photo Workshop. Students have the opportunity to be involved intimately with both and network with well-known and experienced PJs. Not to mention, of course, being exposed to some of the most amazing imagery in the world for the contest- judging is open to the public and students are encouraged to help out. And then there are the great professors and quality work coming from other students. Anyways, I’ve rambled enough. If you have more questions, PM me and I’d be happy to answer them or put you in touch with professors.

by Becca Young Williams | 04 Oct 2006 19:10 | St. Louis, United States | | Report spam→
Oh well, I’ll bite. I have a soft spot for lit students, having been one myself. You write:

“I have taken a smattering of photo courses but mainly I am self-taught. I really want the space and structure of a grad program in pj; I’m sure it’s what I need to become a better photographer.”

It worries me to hear you put it that way: space and structure of a grad program needed in order to become better. Oh boy. Having been a scion of middle class America and its education system, you no doubt feel the need for “space and structure”, but unfortunately the only people who survive in this business and have anything worthwhile to say are those who can dispense with such luxuries and live amidst chaos, uncertainty, irregular paychecks, unanswered phone calls, trashed emails, Kafkaesque logic, bad food, bad health, no insurance, etc etc etc. The sooner you dispense with the padding, the sooner you will arrive at the nitty-gritty and the “genius” that drives you to shoot well. This is not a career; it is demonic possession. It is a calling. That doesnt mean of course that you just chuck all caution to the wind, no. Attack the problem with the usual precision, punctiliousness, and discipline that have served the bourgeoisie so well since the rise of that class. However, you need to recognize that most of the real learning here is on the ground, in the field, in the trenches — pick whatever cliché best describes the conditions you are likely to encounter in the stories you want to shoot.

There are LS members who graduated from ICP and think well of the program. It seems the whole of Verasimages comes out of that school, and their solid work is recommendation enough it would seem for the value of an ICP education. There are also people from other schools as well. Let them chime in. I am content to be a quasi-dissenting voice.

I was a grad student when I decided to ditch literature and switch to photography. I had no money for further schooling so I interned at ICP initially as a lab asst and later as a teacher’s asst. I was only interested in the technical classes: I wanted to perfect my printing, play with alternative methods like Platinum, learn a bit about lighting and so on. The creative stuff I ignored, because I figured I either had good ideas or I didnt but no class was going to give me them at that point. If I hadnt already learned something by reading Montaigne and Balzac and Freud and Foucault, then I probably wasnt going to learn much more and I had better pack it in. Perhaps I was wrong, but the path I have followed has certainly exposed me to all the major new photographic ideas of our time, and the lessons were free. The technical background was extremely useful, the rest I learned by working, first as an assistant on commercial jobs, and as an intern at Black Star. However, one thing such schools can give you is access to ideas and inspiration through the fellowship you form with other students, whose imagination and dedication and experimentation are sometimes just what is needed to push you to greater heights. Still, the idea of paying I dont know how many thousands of dollars for what is basically in the end just vocational training somehow puts me off the whole idea of an “education” in photojournalism. Most of the photographers I know never were schooled as such.

That said, you can always take what courses you need to fill in the holes and try to start working immediately and thereby learn the business. Or you could consider applying for internships at the major agencies. Or stringing for your local paper, at least until you figure out just where you are heading. OK, enough dissent. Let others with a more positive view chip in.

by Jon Anderson | 04 Oct 2006 19:10 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Hi, Sarah. I have a BA in English and an MFA in creative writing (Florida) and there is no way in hell I would go back to school for another master’s degree. What do you want out of a photojournalism degree program? Professional direction? Industry contacts? The imprimatur of a journalism program? These things may be helpful but they don’t prevent you from pursuing this endeavor on your own. The oversupply in the market, just as it is for MFAs, means that you will graduate with precious few salaried-job prospects. There’s no inherent advantage to having a degree—you still gotta have the pictures.

I’m not saying that the program won’t be helpful to you personally or professionally, but since you are just completing one master’s degree, why don’t you pack your cameras and a duffle bag, buy a plane ticket, and spend six months in Africa or India, or somewhere else that intrigues you, and see what you come back with. You might find that once you are out there doing it, some grad seminar isn’t going to seem very appealing — and if you do want to pursue another degree, figure out exactly why you are committing two years of your life and however much money to complete it.

by [former member] | 04 Oct 2006 19:10 | New York City, United States | | Report spam→
Whoa! and I thought I would be the only dissenting voice here. Dale, Preston, dale! Sarah, you might consider what Preston recommends. After sitting around for a year writing up your Master’s Thesis, you might welcome a break from study and travel instead. After all, that is what a journalist does. You carry your desk with you, you dont want to become too fixed. Also, your background as a writer will help tremendously. Many photographers hunt down writers in order to ride their coattails (pardon the mixed metaphors): the writers have greater influence because text rules the magazines. If you can write as well as shoot, you can write your own stories and get paid for both!!!

You dont have a gallery up yet. That is the first order of business: get your photos up and show em to the world.

by Jon Anderson | 04 Oct 2006 19:10 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Hi Sarah…welcome to LS….First order of business…..step outside and start shooting !!! All the best !

by Nile Tuzun | 04 Oct 2006 20:10 | Los Angeles, United States | | Report spam→
Yes, Jon, I’m all for getting out and about!

In my wanderings, I have found that most challenges are ones of basic journalism, not photography (any idiot can snap a photo—we all know that). But the personal investment required in getting “the shot” can be considerable. You have to be a diplomat, with a slight mercenary bent. You must be able to communicate, not necessarily in a foreign language, but if you can’t make common cause with your subject, you aren’t going to get very far. You should be as learned as possible about the history, culture, and politics you’re working in, not just to get better photos but for your own safety. There’s really no excuse for a lack of preparation, especially with the Internet. You don’t need grad school for this. You need experience, imagination, determination, some luck. In short, you need to challenge yourself. Grad schools are good for forcing you to complete assignments on deadline, but you can always hold your own feet to the fire.

by [former member] | 04 Oct 2006 20:10 | New York City, United States | | Report spam→
Very good formulae, Preston! I especially like the diplomacy with a mercenary edge. Ha! Right on target.

I was thinking it might be nice to hear more from Sarah about what sort of stories she wants to shoot or has shot and where her particular interests lie. “photojournalism” is such a broad term. One needs to have a focus anyway, so let’s start there.

by Jon Anderson | 04 Oct 2006 20:10 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Preston, I think you said it well “.. experience, imagination, determination and some luck…” I also think hard work is important too because the harder one works, the luckier he/she seems to get…i also agree that any idiot can snap a photo but no idiot will get any better at it if he/she does not start somewhere and keep shooting. Photography is very much tied to liberal arts but the core is in one’s self and for that one does not need grad school.

by Nile Tuzun | 04 Oct 2006 20:10 | Los Angeles, United States | | Report spam→
Everyone always seems to slant towards the negative when it comes to grad school on these boards. It understandable, but I wonder if anybody has anything more positive to say about them. Personally, I’ve been considering it myself for something to do over the next couple of years. My motivations behind it would be to gain more industry contacts, get myself the hell out of the city I live in, and to have a good set of critical voices looking over my work. Yes, I want photoj boot camp. Over the past year, most of my clients and editors have been telling me what a great job i’ve been doing. That’s fine and all, but honeslty it would be nice to be around people that have much more experience then me kicking my ass from assignment to assignment. Yes I know I could figure out most of the things on my own, but i figure going to a grad school with a good program I wouldn’t be flying blind as much as I am now. And yes, I am use to the chaos and the paychecks that never come in on time and the almost lack of a personal life and many of the other romantic things that come with freelance. Its just over the past year I’ve started to really stray from the type of work I want to do, with some of that relative to the area I live in.

With all that out of my system, I have to admitt that I’m pretty damn cynical about higher education. I knew going into college that it wasn’t going to be some magic bullet that would get me a job. Although I value my time in school, I realize that 90% of the reason I am in photography today (because that was not my major in school, nor did they have any real photo program) is because I pussed myself pursued it with a passion threw most of my time in college (key to the dark rooms). The one thing that helped me cross the line though was help from the director of photography of the local paper my final semester in college. He saw potential, but was honest enough to kick my ass when my pics weren’t up to snuff. If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t have a career in photography (if you want to call it a career). So yeah, I guess I’m just looking for that extra 10% that I haven’t gotten lately.

Ok, commence with the piss and vinegar.

by Dan Anderson | 04 Oct 2006 21:10 | Mobile, Ala., United States | | Report spam→
Good answers all. One idea you might consider is a combination of what Preston is saying and a shorter, non degree seeking program to make some contacts and hone some technical skills- for example, buy that plane ticket to India, shoot as much PJ & doc photo personal projects as you can, maybe even sell some stuff, and then return to something like one of the following-

Dukes Documentary Arts Certificate (a summer program)


or, albeit more expensive, the SALT documentary program


though these may not be PJ focused enough for you, I think they would be good foundations and networking, combined with your own personal portfolio of project passion. Also, though I may get some flaming for this, some of the VII seminars, short ICP summer classes, Maine Workshops, etc might help too- and would likeky be way less in cost than a Masters Degree, shorter, and allow you to work shooting while attending classes more sporadically. Get a website up with a agllery as well- absolutley a must. Interning can be another good option. Travel in much of the developing world is so cheap,and I always feel like I learn so much about life and photography and myself every time I go out there, as it were- I have a hard time imagining that a Master’s Degree will be able to stand in for that.

by [former member] | 04 Oct 2006 21:10 | Salt Lake City, United States | | Report spam→
I’m not sure I can offer the most credible advice, as I am not a pro and never have been. But I understand a lot about the profession, have a number of friends who do make their living from photography, work with journalists every day, and am an old fart to boot, with a shitload of wisdom (just ask me!).

I would stringly suggest that first you read this good interview with Jason Pagan by fellow LS member Wayne Yang: http://wayneyang.wordpress.com/2006/09/27/jason-pagan-training-a-photographer/

The notion that you just pack off to Africa or India with a bag full of camera equipment strikes me as excessively romantic. You need to know a whole lot about the technical aspects of photography, especially with the digital world so clearly dominating (hell, it took me years to feel comfortable with shooting film and working in the darkroom). You also need feedback, which you are not going to get from a village chieftain in Namibia, no matter how photogenic his community may be (or compelling its story). You need encouragement from peers who understand your growing pains. And you need to make contacts that can be leveraged to get your work into the hands of people who will pay you for your work. Those are just the obvious things. You are tempting the adverse fates by not building those skills. Only the strong survive in that profession/craft.

The bottom line is that you need to find a way to build those skills. Getting a masters degree may be it, but there may be others as well. Taking some of the beginning courses at some of the schools you mention might be one (some might accept you as a non-degree student). Doing that will also put you into a community of photographers, which you need to belong to in order to grow. Lightstalkers is a great virtual community, but it’s hard to get all of what you really need from the wonderful and incredibly generous people in this community.

See, I told you I know some shit!

by [former member] | 04 Oct 2006 21:10 (ed. Oct 4 2006) | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Wow. Thank you all for the responses, so much.

Jon — By “space and structure” I meant getting my ass kicked daily by people pushing me to be a better photographer…I suppose I could kick my own ass but I did think and do think that the opportunity to work with people who really know the business could help me, a kid with literature and poetry degrees and little to no experience working as a photographer. I know I’ll be good at it because I will work HARD, but I’m just worried about someone giving me a chance. I assumed that grad school would be the “ticket” to that chance, probably because I come from a culture that has taught me to worry about having the right letters after my name when I apply for a job. But that’s why I came to this site – because all of you might tell me if there’s another way to do it.

& Preston — I love the travel suggestion. The reason I have no experience as anything at all is because for the past 6 years of my life I have never once stuck around during the summer or winter break and worked or applied for an internship or something like that. I have been on the road whenever possible; I lived in South Africa for one year, and in Paris for another. I’ve been to Bolivia, Vietnam and Mozambique, among many other places. And I speak three languages. I’m not trying to make myself sound good, lord knows I’m totally crap at most other things, but travel is an absolute passion and necessity. And I have served countless cups of coffee to fund my trips. I could go on…but let me stop and say this about the travel suggestion – I will always travel, now I want to start working (and traveling to work).

And that brings me to another of Jon’s questions. What do I want to do, what kind of photojournalism? I don’t even know how to break it down exactly, but I am most interested in telling stories, stories about places in the world that don’t usually get much attention. Or maybe I want to pay a different attention to places that usually get only a certain kind of attention. I want to get a little bit of the lives and stories of one group of people into the lives of people somewhere else. Mix it up a bit. This probably fits in quite a few categories. Social documentary? Travel photography? Conflict photography? …I spend a lot of time looking at the portfolios of the people on Fifty Crows’ website and the portfolios of the photographers in VII, so that probably says a lot.

So: I thought that school would be the way to go. My parents always say that credentials don’t hurt. But what would you do instead? What city would you move to? What job/internship would you try to get? Where would you start?

And of course I would still love to hear from those of you who think grad school is a good idea!
(and I’ll work on getting a gallery up asap).

by Sarah O'Brien | 04 Oct 2006 21:10 (ed. Oct 4 2006) | Iowa City, Iowa, United States | | Report spam→
Oh — and I forgot to post an important point. I need work on the technical aspects of my photography. I’m pretty good at relating to people, and I am insatiably curious about the world – I’m not sure you can learn those things anyway. But I don’t really understand much about lighting and I suck at photoshop.

Please keep the comments coming!

by Sarah O'Brien | 04 Oct 2006 21:10 (ed. Oct 4 2006) | Iowa City, Iowa, United States | | Report spam→
First of all a caveat; none of the bs that I regularly sling on this site should be interpreted as conclusory and certainly never swallowed whole. I dont mean to be too negative about schools, i have basically been a teacher for most of my life, and I also benefitted from my training at ICP. But I dont think you should have too high expections.

Both Dan and Sarah spoke of the need for someone to kick their asses and make them work harder, live up to higher standards. First of all, I dont know that these careerist oriented schools are the place to get that kind of criticism, and alot of what i see coming out of such schools is cookie cutter PJ work. Institutions do not exist to promote change or foster true originality; they exist largely to preserve their little domain, foster their particular ideology, and generally tend toward mediocrity (you dont have to believe me, and we can all point to exceptions, but as the great sociologist Max Weber pointed out, bureaucratic institutions tend toward mediocrity as a matter of sheer survival). That is not to say you wont encounter many original people teaching the classes there — ICP for example regularly offers classes taught by all the biggest names in the business, and you may well learn new things from them and thereby perfect your work — but honestly I dont see how. You can see their work anywhere, you understand photography, you decide on the basis of your needs and your taste which techniques will serve your purposes and which wont. Do you need to meet the people to learn from them what they have done? I have met many well known photographers, count a few of them as my friends, but in all honesty my personal connection with them hasnt mattered one bit in terms of the esthetic and sentimental education I have given myself on the basis of my own quest. Vision is not something you can “improve” or learn; you just have to learn to dig down into yourself to find it. My ultimate point is that you learn more from being with your colleagues and working on the things that move you than you do from classes given by masters. I am myself my severest critic. You too should be your own severest critic. Then you dont need anyone else. And honestly, I have been through the wringer with enough editors and critics and photographers to know that most of the time the commentary proceeds from their personal needs, viewpoints, ideological horizons, whatever you want to call it, just dont call it subjectivity. It has got nothing to do with me or my intentions. Sure we all have times when we have mistakenly loved a picture that was in fact shit; but more often I have had the experience that some idiot editor — who may in fact be very smart — has told me to my face that such and such a picture is no good, only to have that picture win an award or be admired by others. Most of the asskicking out there, whether from teachers you admire or editors you dont, is no better than the asskissing that they render to the big names. It isnt based on anything solid that you can benefit from.

Secondly the beauty of this business is that it is just nuts! No, you dont need the right initials after your name — a master’s degree in photojournalism? what a crock! This is not a profession in the usual sense, and god forbid that it should become yet another “career choice” with a clearly laid out path to its achievement. I got into this precisely because it was so unlike academe, there was no single accepted channel, and there was no formal education or formation involved. You simply went out and did it. sure you had to learn things, you had to learn your way around a camera and the lab, learn the business — but it was all informal and improvised. The proliferation of all these schools, which foster the “professionalization” of this practice of photography in my view is a lamentable development. This was one of the few spheres left in the developed world that hadnt been entirely “rationalized”; it hadnt lost its magic (again, Max Weber). Now everyone just talks about the “business.”

You worried about someone giving you a chance? You get the work by being there, by being in the right places at the right time. If you have a genius for travel, then thank your lucky stars because that will be of much greater service to you than a host of classes and a degree. No editor will buy a degree; they want stories,a nd you get them by travelling to the places where the stories occur (and not just any story: the media has its prejudices. Haiti is great right? Full of stories! But try and publish them. Elections and Cité Soleil is all you ever see.) They will give you a chance based on their needs, pure and simple. And later, as you begin to develop a reputation of your own, you may find that editors will take time to listen to your ideas and maybe even accept a pitch when there is no immediate need for that particular story, because it behooves them to publish a story with your name attached. Brace yourself and cinch your belt; that moment will likely not arrive for many years.

If you are still undecided about the kinds of stories you want to shoot, or the kind of photography you want to pursue, then yes you have a bit of a problem. Success comes with the choices you make. Focus, focus, focus. Stick to the things that really move you. It shouldnt be a matter of choosing an abstract category like “conflict” — I mean, really, just what the hell does that mean anyway? When Tiananmen Square erupted in violence all the PJ types rushed in there and some good photos came out. Sebastiao Salgado was in China shooting for his “Workers” book. Did he rush to the scene? Nope. He stayed in the automobile factory and kept shooting. That is the kind of resolve you must have if you are to make anything of yourself and have work of lasting value in the end. You have to ask yourself what you like to do with a camera, first of all, and then where you want to point it. what is it that moves you most deeply? that is what you must do. It is not a rational choice; it is more like an obsession. It chooses you.

Finally let me reply to the old fart on this thread ( I can call him that because I am even older and fartier): “You need encouragement from peers who understand your growing pains. And you need to make contacts that can be leveraged to get your work into the hands of people who will pay you for your work.” Very important, both points. But while school can certainly provide the former, I am not sure if it provides the latter. The school teachers are not usually the ones with the real connections and the genuine shooters who sometimes teach at ICP (1) often have a hard enough time of their own getting work, and (2) cannot be expected to be every student’s lucky break or valuable contact, so while they encourage you they also struggle to keep the students at arm’s length. They just have to. I think the best contacts are made out in the working world (sometimes here on LS too). And camaraderie can be had in various forms. When I was starting out at Black Star there was a bunch of us who shot together regularly. But that didnt last long, and solitary endeavor is the rule, so get used to mumbling to yourself in rundown hotel rooms

by Jon Anderson | 04 Oct 2006 23:10 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Sorry, one more. I just wanted to cite the new interview with Teru, because it seemed apt:

How, when under pressure, do you try and make sure the image is as good as possible?

Photography is an instinctive act for me. Even after 15 years of doing it, I still don’t really understand how it works – where the photographs come from – but I’ve accepted the fact that they always seem to come. All I can do is trust my instincts, let them work.

If there is one piece of advice you would give to a photojournalist starting out on a career, what would it be?

I’d advise them not to take any career advice from me.

by Jon Anderson | 05 Oct 2006 00:10 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
well, there are some great programs in photo j in UK…..one of the photographers i respect the most from my recent experiences covering lebanon is ap photographer leftaris pitarakis (on LS) who just completed an MA in photo j at london westminister…….he loved it. there are also brilliant programs at goldsmiths in london for photo ma. like urban photography programs.

i am currently working on a program at SOAS in london for global media…mostly theory. wanted to enhance my writing as well as my images with stronger inner debate. UK MA’s great for a few reasons…..only one year as opposed to two (with exception columbia journo) and it is so much cheaper for education costs! (however, living…..)

anyway. good luck!

by [former member] | 05 Oct 2006 00:10 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
With all due respect to Neal above and Wayne in the other thread, the “technical aspects of photography” just aren’t that hard. Yeah, you need to know Camera 101 (f-stops, shutter speeds), and some basics about digital (RAW or JPEG?), but you won’t learn any of this until you are out doing it. And you’ll learn more if you work without a net. Traveling gets you out of your comfort zone and forces you to make choices. You can learn by shooting in your backyard, too, but you will learn faster in fluid situations where there are no do-overs and where there are, say, power cuts, dust, limitations on what you can carry, language and cultural barriers you must surmount, weird food you have to eat, etc. Trying to get a portrait of that village chieftain in Namibia and the 100 mm lens is on your kitchen counter at home? You’ll just have to make the wide angle work, somehow. Lost a CF card down a storm drain getting out of a taxi? Sucks. Guess you’ll have to figure out what to do about it. Space on that hard drive filling up faster than you thought? Can’t meet your contacts across town because there’s a workers’ strike blocking traffic? Camera says Error 99 for no apparent reason? Hmm.

The technical stuff can get ultra technical (see the recent thread here about 8 bit vs 16 bit), or not. Either a photographer has a basic visual acuity or he or she doesn’t. Studying the work of other people goes without saying. You can’t learn without shooting, and the more at stake, the more readily you’ll learn. You can become a digital photography expert, mastering color spaces and sharpening algorithms, figuring out which set of archival printer inks works best with which paper and which driver to be viewed under which lighting — or not. Most of this stuff just doesn’t matter. The technical aspects of photography have never been difficult, and digital only complicates things if you want them to be complicated. Photography is still a point and shoot endeavor. The little machines will even expose and focus for you — allowing you to worry about what makes a photograph worth looking at for more than a few seconds.

by [former member] | 05 Oct 2006 00:10 (ed. Oct 5 2006) | New York City, United States | | Report spam→
My head is still reeling from the 8 bit/16 bit debate.

by Jon Anderson | 05 Oct 2006 00:10 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
It really did approach the existential, didn’t it?

by [former member] | 05 Oct 2006 00:10 | New York City, United States | | Report spam→
Old fart back (and, no, Jon, I am SURE I am older than you, not to mention greater rippage capacity, though I’m not sure how we can (or really want to prove) the latter capacity!).

You know, the 8 vs 6 bit stuff really does matter (headspinner that it may be). Within 24 hours there was a need to call upon it to fix a problem someone had posted. Sure enough, the 8/16 savants applied their knowlwdge and the solution was found. In the Namibia outback, the chief isn’t going to help you. And if you don’t have a satphone (which can be a bitch to learn to operate with a computer), you may well not get access to the massive LS store of learning.

Forgive me a personal story. After knowing a lot about film, and applying it in the 60’s (yes, Jon, the 1960s, when you were probably in elementary school – :-)))) and 1970s, fast forward to 2000, when I return to photography. There is this digital stuff which I wish initially to ignore. But then there was a great 2004 trip to India with a bag full of Nikon film gear and one Fuji S-7000 prosumer digi. I ended up lending my film stuff to my buddy to use and using the digi exclusively, and got some GREAT shots. Ever since then I have been working to learn this digital stuff, which is not a walk in the park. It is tricky stuff, not just 8 and 16 bit processing but a score of other unique concepts. I am still struggling to get to where I was in film. And if I was in Namibia, I’d be making even less progress.

As for contacts, the best contacts I have had have been peers, not teachers. That’s what I meant in the post above. There are no peers in the village in Namibia, no matter how many great shots there are. The peers currently or previously in or around a photo school setting tell you about job openings, photo opportunities, going rates, free drinks, internships, photo assistant opportunities, dinner parties with functionalries from the Magnum offices, eligible dates who like photography and photographers, receptions with free food, rent-controlled apartments, cheap flights to Mali, Mongolia or Montana, etc. etc. No, teachers never tell you that stuff. It’s your friends and acquaintances. And it’s not the Namibian chief.

by [former member] | 05 Oct 2006 03:10 (ed. Oct 5 2006) | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
wow, you are all writing A LOT here – it should all really come down to this… Sarah, if you have the cash or ability to take out a loan (for grad school), for gods sake spend it instead on:

1. equipment
2. plane tickets

in the meantime, research other photographers, past and current, a little history of photography, the ins and outs of the digital/technical world, and locations and stories that will make a difference. if you want the guidance of an ‘expert,’ offer some time up for an internship or assistantship with a photographer that you respect.

by [former member] | 05 Oct 2006 03:10 | New York, NY, United States | | Report spam→
Jennnifer old farts reserve the right to talk the young uns to death. But you pretty much said it all.

Neal I was in elementary school in the 60s, it is true, learning math from Mrs Seagal and hating, as did the rest of the school, Mrs Kaufman, who wasnt really a bad teacher but what a hairdo! I had a brownie camera. But I was born when Ike was in his second term. Didnt know him well enough to decide whether to like him. Actually, hindsight indicates he was a pretty good president but overshadowed by the more charismatic Kennedy.

by Jon Anderson | 05 Oct 2006 03:10 (ed. Oct 5 2006) | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
I’m going to chime in in defense of grad school.

Is grad school a ticket to success or a perfect “career” or economic stability? No, nothing is. I went to Missouri about 10 years ago for my MA. I met some amazing people there, both students, professors and professionals, that have aided me in my personal and professional life and continue to today. A fellow grad student who I went through the program with came in a sports photographer who wanted to do travel photography but ended up eventually creating this business called MediaStorm. It never would have existed without Brian attending Missouri for his MA. His vision in combining audio with pictures and seeing possibilities of storytelling in New Media made a huge impact on a lot of other photogrpahers at the time. He obviously has continued to do so.

There’s just as much conformity and a lack of originality from non-institutionallly educated folks. Don’t get me wrong, i agree with a lot of what many of the grad school detractors have written, but it’s not the program or where you choose to travel to, it’s the camera to ground connection. I can’t count the number of “conforming non-conformist, I traveled the world” portfolios I’ve seen. Almost as many as those from “careerist” schools, as Jon says. A person with a true spark of originality in their work and the way they see the world will find a way to foster it no matter where they are. You have to do what works for you, period. The community that you have as a grad student is awesome, it worked better for me than solo traveling. Still does.

The important thing for me was to remember why I was there and I stayed focused on that. I figured I’d have the rest of my life to work on projects and feed my passions and irrational impulses but that was something I wanted at that point in my life and I think I got the most of out it I could have. It laid a foundation that continues to provide me with whatever insight I have.

Does one NEED grad school, absolutely not? it could be as much of a disadvantage as an advantage. it’s not just about going to learn how to make good pictures in a classroom, sure you can do that with a back pack and a song in your heart. But it’s not like photoj grad students sit in the library all day. Not to be cliche, but you get out of it what you put into it. Ironically, Missouri’s curriculum wasn’t that technical at all. They kind of had Preston’s attitude in that the technical isn’t THAT hard and can be learned by a monkey to some degree, its’ all basic math. And at some point, you gotta choose to be that monkey so you learn it. But the professors, and other students, who were there when I was there fostered an environment where you were encouraged to not follow formulas and persue your own point of view. At Missouri there’s 2 options for your thesis. One is a traditional thesis and the other, Plan B, is producing some piece of journalism that you spend at least a semester working on. It’s not a research heavy institution like Columbia or Texas, where I did undergrad.

My suggestion would be to research the programs, talk to professors and current and former students and try to go with the one that seems to make the most sense to you. Ohio University in Athens also has a great program. Or don’t go and buy a plane ticket somewhere. Best of luck.


by [former member] | 05 Oct 2006 06:10 | New Jersey, United States | | Report spam→
Sarah, you won’t get a better discussion of your options anywhere than above. In your heart you will find an answer somewhere in those posts. But it has to be an answer for YOU, not me or any of the others making their points.

So, welcome to Lightstalkers. You are now officially in the community, where there is no shortage of passion.

by [former member] | 05 Oct 2006 11:10 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Hi Sarah,

Well, you have got some good advice here. I have been where you are at. I have an MA in Comparative Literature and did the one year PJ program at ICP (2000). When I asked my first photojournalism mentor (a Vietnam War objector who went to Harvard and ended up in Canada) his advice on becoming a photojournalist (years before I ended up in New York at ICP), he said, “my advice to you is don’t become a photojournalist.” Fortunately I decided to go ahead and try anyhow. We all have our different routes, but I find my background in Comp Lit fitting to photojournalism – both vocations demand very flexible, creative and diverse approaches to translating the world as we see (or read) it in meaningful, rigorous ways. I also have years of technical training from working in the film industry, but I know of very successful photojournalists (especially those who started in the digital age) who know very little technically, and it doesn’t seem to deter them. That said, above all else you should be in a hurry to get shooting as soon as possible. There is no time to waste (of course some might say procrastinating around on Lightstalkers is wasting some time) – which doesn’t mean you can’t start when you are “older” (both Nachtwey and Salgado began working as photojournalists in their late 20s). Salgado, btw, has an MA in economics and completed his course work for a doctorate at the University of Paris; and Nachtwey has a degree in Art History and Political Science; Nina Berman, who is one of my favorite pjs, has an MA from the Columbia School of Journalism. Despite the ignorant generalizations of some, a lot of photojournalists are highly educated people (it’s the old bullshit writers vs. photographers debate – and you will find your writing skills will give you an edge once you get the photography thing more down). The other respondents to your posting, the “distinguished gentlemen of a certain age” are right – you have to be obsessed. I asked the superp photojournalist Stephen Ferry once why he was a photojournalist and he told me: “I never felt suited to anything else.” I think you have to really need to do this, not just want it. Otherwise I would have given up long ago. Feel free to contact me privately if you’d like to chat more. I’d love to know what your areas of specialty are in Comp Lit. rita@ritaleistner.com

by [former member] | 05 Oct 2006 22:10 (ed. Oct 5 2006) | Brooklyn, United States | | Report spam→
“…distinguished gentlemen of a certain age”

That surely is not Jon Anderson!

by [former member] | 05 Oct 2006 22:10 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Rita, interesting to learn that you were also a lit student once, and I think that what you say about your background fitting into PJism is very true. I have certainly found it so. Actually I have said it before, I find many photographers to be highly literate, and some of the posts on LS are strong evidence of the fact. Who says you cant mix your textual with your visual skills, right? Being a good writer is a real asset: for one thing, you can write up grant applications, and for another you can be your own writer when selling story pitches. Writers appear to get more respect anyway.

As for age, everyone has their own rhythm in life, their own “season” in which they are ripe for the undertaking they contemplate. I began shooting rather late, in my mid-to-late 30s. And it took me a long time to figure out why photography interested me and what kind of photography i wanted (or needed) to practice. So age should never be a barrier. Some people start early and consume the world like a ball of fire, others roll slowly like snowball, and some are dark horses ;) But with age comes wisdom (or so you hope), and that can be as great or greater an asset in field than youthful energy and zeal.

by Jon Anderson | 05 Oct 2006 22:10 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
sorry, I meant “old farts.”

by [former member] | 05 Oct 2006 22:10 | Brooklyn, United States | | Report spam→
That’s more like it!

by Jon Anderson | 05 Oct 2006 22:10 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
That’s a nice message Jon. Sorry Neal, I’ll have to stick with DGCA – distinguished gentlemen of a certain age. The expression will bode well for me soon enough.

by [former member] | 05 Oct 2006 22:10 | Brooklyn, United States | | Report spam→
Wow, there is some weird time delay here, which makes our repartee a little odd. Ok, ok, old farts it is!!

by [former member] | 05 Oct 2006 22:10 | Brooklyn, United States | | Report spam→

by [former member] | 06 Oct 2006 03:10 | Toronto (home sweet), Canada | | Report spam→
Well, Rita, you are obviously classier than Jon and me….DGCA obviously is more natural to you….bien elevee!

by [former member] | 06 Oct 2006 12:10 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
drop out of school
quit your job
worker bees can leave
even drones can fly away
the queen is their slave

by [former member] | 06 Oct 2006 18:10 (ed. Oct 7 2006) | Oakland, CA, United States | | Report spam→
I thought I’d add a personal touch to it. My visa allowing my stay in the UK runs out next september unless I get a salaried job or enrol in a postgrad course. If it runs out, I get to go back to Turkey and do my 12 months compulsory military service. Probably the only way I could get back to the UK and therefore closer to the ‘market’ of photojournalism would be a tourist visa.
Of course I would like to spend months photographing somewhere I would enjoy, but that would mean losing my UK residence rights. Unfortunately Turkey is not the greatest place for getting work at international standards, especially for a newcomer.

That’s why I’m most probably going to do a photojournalism postgrad at LCC. Hopefully it will give me vital contacts and buy me time.

by | 06 Oct 2006 23:10 (ed. Oct 6 2006) | Istanbul, Turkey | | Report spam→
Bolton University in the UK run an MA based in China on documentary photography and photojournalism. www.photoma.org

i am currently studying on it and can recommend it.


by Adam Dean | 07 Oct 2006 10:10 | Dalian, China | | Report spam→
If there is one thing grad school has taught me, it is that I can teach myself anything in 1 day to 6 months. And if that doesn’t work I can find someone to help me for free or for a small amount of money. This way you learn what you need to know when you need it. Sarah, you obviously have critical thinking skills and travel and personal relations under your belt. Take a 1 week photoshop course and find some “old farts” or “young shits” in your community to talk to and get contacts and experience stories from. Then put yourself in situations that you have to respond to without thinking over and over and over again and see your results over and over and over again.
I just saw Robert Frank speak and when asked what he thought makes a good picture he responded, “…… I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it”. When asked what photographic/life advice he wanted to impart on the audience of young and old alike he responded, “look…… and if it’s interesting look longer”.
2 bits of good advice.

If anything you should see from all these postings that pj’s are a generous and highly motivated group of people and chances are you will get more out of following up on the contacts you have made on this one page than you will out of how ever many years in grad school.

This is just one young shit’s opinion.

by Andrew Stanbridge | 07 Oct 2006 17:10 | Boston, United States | | Report spam→
I just want to chime back in to say thank you to everyone for taking the time to reply to my post. I have been thinking a lot about all of your responses and suddenly grad school seems almost silly. I have contacted a phenomenal photojournalist living in Iowa City and hopefully he’ll email me back – if not I’ll have to just track him down for his advice (it’s obvious that one must be persistent in this field) and then, I don’t know – I just want to talk to as many people as possible, show people my portfolio, etc. I agree with Andrew about the fact that one can learn anything in a quick workshop…I guess I was thinking of grad school mostly for contacts, but many of you have said that there are other ways to go about getting those.

I still don’t know exactly where to start but this conversation has opened up a whole set of options that I had never considered. So thank you, to all the old farts and young shits out there.

by Sarah O'Brien | 07 Oct 2006 19:10 | Iowa City, Iowa, United States | | Report spam→
I can’t believe I read all those posts and now you have decided not to bother! Im currently studying on the Documentary Photography BA at university of Wales, Newport. It is an amazing course which has taught me loads already and there is certainly as much ass kicking as you can take! Newport has the best photo facilities in the UK and is strictly professional from day one. It has a great reputation (well deserved) and the students have won the most prestigious photo award in the UK (for young photographers, the Observer Hodge award) for the last 4 years running. It can be done as a one year or a two year course and being based in Newport is a LOT cheaper than studying in the London based universities mentioned so far in this post. I also think that studying in a different country can’t be a bad thing to give you a slightly different look on the world which is what we are all trying to do as photographers anyway.

check out www.newport.ac.uk

There have been alot of people saying that there is no point in studying a masters but on another recent post where someone was thinking about not going to uni or dropping out the overwhelming verdict from LS was that he should stay in uni rather than packing his gear and jumping on a plane. Also a lot of the people advising against it said that they didn’t have one, no one said that they did one and it was crap and they wished they hadn’t taken it. But lets not forget the price (EVERYTHING in photography is expensive so why should education be any different?) as an international student it will cost approx USD 15,000 but i have no idea as to how much a MFA would cost in the states so i don’t know if that is expensive.

Maybe people will disagree but im sure its not getting any easier to get into the business with more and more photographers qualifying from degree courses every year and more and more thinking that they can make it just by picking up a digital camera, not to even mention citizen journalism! So although having a BA or MFA wont help to get your work published, having better photographic practice will.

by [former member] | 07 Oct 2006 21:10 | Newport, Wales, United Kingdom | | Report spam→

Hi, I am currently in the Grad program at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. I understand all the comments made, and had generally agreed up till now. I will pass the judgment up to you but have one suggestion. Please talk to Bob Sacha and Chad Stevens while you are at the Mt. Workshop. They are currently both at OU on fellowships and are extremely approachable. Personally, it is the best thing I have ever done.

Michael Kleinfeld

by Michael Kleinfeld | 14 Oct 2006 21:10 | washington, Afghanistan | | Report spam→
I recently posed the question about J-schools to former Mizzou student / LSer John Loomis. W

by Wayne E. Yang | 15 Oct 2006 12:10 (ed. Oct 15 2006) | New York, United States | | Report spam→

Another interesting perspective. I recently interviewed fellow LSer Kitra Cahana, a student at McGill University whose work has appeared on the front pages of NYT and USA Today. Kitra talks about life as both a photojournalist and college student.

Kitra interview

by Wayne E. Yang | 16 Oct 2006 18:10 | New York, United States | | Report spam→
Sarah, you say you want a course because, “I need work on the technical aspects of my photography. I’m pretty good at relating to people, and I am insatiably curious about the world – I’m not sure you can learn those things anyway. But I don’t really understand much about lighting and I suck at photoshop.”

If you do go back to college then make sure they DO cover these technical aspects! I had a friend who spent three years doing a photography degree at a highly regarded university, who then asked me if I knew a good course where she could “learn how to use her camera”…she’d spent the entire 3 years too scared to use it in anything other than program mode and no one had ever made her! Madness!

I think you should find a short course that covers the technical aspects that you are worried about, plus a short course in photojournalism and then use the rest of your money to go out and actually travel and take pictures.

by Nicola J Cutts | 17 Oct 2006 12:10 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Two cents from someone coming late to the creative sphere … You already went to grad school. So did I. Repeatedly doing grad school until you figure out what you really want or doing it for the entertainment value can get costly. Why didn’t you go to PJ school in the first place? Does it matter? Nothing wrong with multiple interests, or course, but school isn’t required to pursue your passions and interests. Just get out there and do it. Create pictures. Make contacts. Build your portfolio and your network. I can’t believe how mediocre, even awful, my pictures look to me. The critical eye I’ve gained in the last few months and years from obsessive pouring over of other people’s work seems unlikely to be gained from sitting in a classroom or going out to do some professor’s assignment. Jennifer Warren, who said above, to spend your money on equipment (after much research of course) and plane tickets has got it in my opinion.

by [former member] | 17 Oct 2006 17:10 (ed. Oct 17 2006) | San Francisco, California, United States | | Report spam→

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Sarah O'Brien, Sarah O'Brien
Iowa City, Iowa , United States
Becca Young Williams, Photographer-Teacher Becca Young Williams
St. Louis, Mo , United States
Jon Anderson, Photographer & Writer Jon Anderson
Photographer & Writer
Ocala Florida , United States
Nile Tuzun, Photographer / Designer Nile Tuzun
Photographer / Designer
San Francisco , United States ( SFO )
Dan Anderson, Freelance Photographer Dan Anderson
Freelance Photographer
Mobile, Ala. , United States
[undisclosed location].
Adam Dean, Freelance Photographer Adam Dean
Freelance Photographer
(Panos Pictures)
Beijing , China
Andrew Stanbridge, Photographer Andrew Stanbridge
Addis Ababa , Ethiopia
Michael Kleinfeld, Multimedia Journalist Michael Kleinfeld
Multimedia Journalist
Athens , United States
Wayne E. Yang, Writer/Photographer Wayne E. Yang
Kaoshiung , Taiwan
Nicola J Cutts, Photography/Digital Nicola J Cutts
Sheffield , United Kingdom ( LBA )


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