Debating an MFA? The Lowdown on Art School Risks and Returns
by Coco Fusco
For aspiring artists, December is the cruelest month, when thoughts of pursuing an MFA must turn to action or be cast to the winds. It’s grad school application time — and what a time it is to undertake such a commitment! Never has higher education been more of a discursive battlefield. Politicians, parents, pundits, and provosts argue daily in the press over what it’s worth. Given the skyrocketing cost of tuition, mounting student debt, high interest rates on loans, and a tough job market, you’d be crazy not to measure your education’s value against the risk involved in paying for it, especially if you are considering a master’s degree in art or design. According to an article published earlier this year in the Wall Street Journal, students at art-focused schools rack up the highest debt, and the odds of their striking it rich right after graduation are not in their favor. That may not stop you from applying, but if you are going to invest large sums, you’d better look closely at what you will be getting into.
Read the rest of Coco’s article HERE
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War photography is easy. A colleague once called it ‘sports photography.’ You’re shooting sports as it happens in front of you and you’re just there to take the picture. If you have the bravery, or some might call it foolhardiness, to do it, then it’s easy…
Artist Reception is on September 27th.
Proceeds are being donated to St Kizito Orphanage in DR Congo.
However painful it may be for us delicate souls, and however intractable the Congo’s ills may appear, and however drained of compassion we may feel in the face of Darfur and other hells, we must never turn away our gaze. Indeed, we have a moral duty to look, which is what these images are telling us. To observe pain only through the prisms of the boardroom and the computer screen is to sever the vital artery between compassion and action.
The continuing human tragedy of Congo is not a statistic. It is a continuing human tragedy. It is fourteen hundred and fifty tragedies every day. It is countless more than that if you include the orphaned, the bereaved, the widowed, and all the ripples of truncated lives that spread from a single death. It is you and me and our children and our parents, if we had had the bad luck to be born into the world this work portrays.
But Congo has one secret that is hard to pass on if you haven’t learned it at first hand. Look carefully and you will find it in these images: a gaiety of spirit and a love of life that, even in the worst of times, leave the pampered Westerner moved and humbled beyond words.
Marcus Bleasdale is one of the world’s leading documentary photographers. He increasingly uses his work to influence decision makers and policy makers around the world.
His work on human rights and conflict have been shown at the U.S. Senate, The United Nations and the Houses of Parliament in the UK. Bleasdale’s work also appears in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Sunday Times Magazine, The Telegraph Magazine, Stern, Le Monde, TIME Magazine, Newsweek and National Geographic.
Andres Gonzalez was on a seemingly ideal photo trajectory. He was selected for the PDN 30 class of 2006 and was a 2007-2008 Fulbright Fellow. His clients included Newsweek, Monocle and Time. But not everything was sunny and f16…
This series started soon after I left the photo agency I was with about a year and a half ago. They had submitted a series I made in Ukraine to an Italian magazine, and when I translated the text I found that they had rewritten some of my statement to give it a newsy slant. That really made me angry and soon after that I decided to leave the agency. It pretty much amounted to wanting more control over my work and how it was presented. That was the catalyst that pushed me to start putting this project together. The idea of storytelling has always been problematic for me, especially after moving abroad. For a long time I forced myself to tell other people’s stories because thats what journalists are supposed to do. Now I really just want to learn to see through my own eyes, to find my center and find a balance between being intentional and being open to the world. Looking for pictures has always been a form of meditation and I want my work to reflect that. Maybe that’s a bit soft, or perhaps even self-indulgent but thats really what I’m looking for. I love how quiet the world gets when you engage in deep observation. There is a loneliness there and I’m intrigued by that kind of beauty. I guess I want to believe there is room for everything.
The passenger steps out onto the overcast deck and remembers a line. Soft was the sun. The wind to his back, he is facing the stern and an endless trail of thoughts drifting away from him towards the horizon. He wants no words, only to enjoy the delicate anticipation of a moment waiting to reveal itself. What are the limits of language? This is the mind, felt, not spoken. He makes a photograph of a seagull, and does not resist the emotion that brings.
There is a town passing by on the starboard side of the ship, the mind-boggling, awe-inspiring, crazy-making, world of people. He is happy for the distance, but knows that the idea of separation is an illusion. Everything exists according to the laws of nature. There is a core, it seems. The sea turns grey for a moment, the lights from the town slowly dimming, overtaken by fog. He makes another photograph of the fading light, the soft presence of time. The ship begins to slow, ahead a port, another journey.
By Yoshi Kametani
Born in New York in 1980, Yoshi Kametani went to Edinburgh to visit a girl he met while traveling in Asia. He applied to and was accepted at a Scottish university. Over the following four years, Yoshi photographed and filmed in one of the most deprived council housing communities in the UK where Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh spent his formative years.
Unlike many photos depicting “socially alienated groups of people,” Yoshi’s work is in no way condescending – his subjects were clearly also his friends and welcoming of his presence. Yoshi was kind enough to share his book dummy, a clip from his film and some insightful words.
Plastic Spoon has evolved from 4 years of interacting and building relationships with the residents of Muirhouse, one of the most deprived council schemes in the UK. The scheme, which is located on the outskirts of a city that – conversely – has the most millionaires per capita in the country, is known for its high unemployment rates and issues with drugs and violence.
This project intertwines through an array of individuals, landscapes, objects, and domestic settings that communicate the feeling of isolation, alienation, and the eccentricity that is specific to Muirhouse. This landscape provided me with a boundary where I could freely explore my curiosity. Spending a substantial amount of time with my subjects has inevitably affected the photographs, which have placed the representation of my relationship with the subjects at the focus of the composition.
The influence for Plastic Spoon came from a novel I read before moving from New York City to Edinburgh, Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. I was fascinated by the stories in the book, which made me want to see the type of environment that had cultivated these tales in Welshe’s imagination. I found out that Welsh was raised in Muirhouse and some of the stories were set in this scheme.
The title Plastic Spoon has multiple layers of meaning. The name came about one night when I was eating dinner with one of my friends from Muirhouse. I was watching my friend’s son eating his fried rice across from me. He was eating with a plastic spoon. I noticed that the majority of the time I ate with my friends from Muirhouse, we would be eating take out that came with plastic cutlery. Another layer that the plastic spoon signifies is the heroin culture. The most commonly used cutlery to prepare heroin is a spoon. And lastly to me the plastic spoon represents the working class. The way I see it, is that the plastic spoon is the opposite of the silver spoon, which represents the upper class. There is a saying “you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth” which means, you are born into a rich family.
Even though my intention and what I’m trying to communicate is not directly political, it would be silly of me to say that the work is not political. I believe that politics and photography go hand in hand and it’s very difficult to separate the two when you work with reality as your subject matter. In the project the images dealt with a few aspects of society that surrounded my subjects such as crime, drug abuse, poverty, class, discrimination, masculinity and education. Working in an environment immersed in these issues it is near impossible to avoid them, thus making the work political.
The obvious and most apparent characteristic of the subject matter in “Plastic Spoon” is not original in any way. The documentation of the working class, the poor, the socially alienated groups of people follows in the tradition of photographers such as Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine and the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers.
Although the project may initially look like a social documentary, the point of the project is not only the social situation of the people in the photographs. The conceptual approach and intention for ”Plastic Spoon” harnesses the ideology found in the work of Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander who used a subjective approach that was based on personal experience. The “Plastic Spoon” project is as much about my relationship to the selected group of people who reside in Muirhouse as it is about their individual lives. I was not capable of being a passive observer. I spent a lot of time down in Muirhoue, which inevitably cultivated friendships between the subjects and myself.
I will give you a few examples of the strengths and the weaknesses of both mediums to explain the decision to incorporate both the film documentary and the book in the “Plastic Spoon” project.
What video supplies us with is information, which shows things happening in real time. We hear sound and see movement experienced in time. Video technology allows you to speed up, slow down and play in reveres your footage. It can even freeze the footage to mimic some of the characteristics of a photograph. As a tool for collecting visual and audio information, the video camera is a far more advanced and efficient tool than a photographic camera.
I believe that one of the main strengths in photography lays in the silence and stillness of the photograph. The stillness of a photograph automatically gives the image a surreal quality. You can study and scrutinize that split second for as long or as short as you would like. This time gives you a space to think about the subject in the photograph. With film (in the traditional way of watching a film) you are at the mercy of the time line. You are given information rapidly one after the other, which leads you to analyze in hindsight the film you are watching.
Another difference that could be seen as a strength is in the process of making the photograph. The experience of making photographs, being the subject of photographs and viewing photographs differs completely from the experience working with video. Depending on which medium you decide to use will determine the relationship and the type of information that would be exchanged between you and the subject. For instance generally when I am collecting information with video I am talking to the subject through the camera, which could make the situations feels more awkward and tense. But when I am photographing I can create more of a comfortable environment in which a natural interaction can take place.
There are obvious similarities in both medium such as lighting, composition, and so on. But I look at the differences in order to utilize the strengths of each medium and try to compensate for each medium’s weakness. The reason for using both mediums is so that the viewers will get a better understanding of the project when they experience the book and the video opposed to just one or the other.
The approach to my work at the moment is based around the techniques and theories implemented by visual anthropologists. The information I gather comes in the form of video, audio recordings, photographs, writings and artifacts. I believe that the more types of visual information I have to learn form and organize the better I will be able to communicate my experience.
What should we be looking at? The extraordinary number of photographs taken on September 11 made it the most photographed event in history and may have signaled the birth of citizen journalism. However in our impulse to record, we have not formulated new strategies to gain a better understanding of today’s pressing issues of a globalized world.
As traditional print journalism was threatened, and the number of images published online has exploded into the billions (sixty billion on Facebook alone), we have been left with few common sources of news and analysis. There is no longer a “front page” to act as a societal filter through which, we can learn about important events and trends. Even the role that the physical café once played in our communities—the place we went to discuss and digest what’s going on around us — has become fragmented across a myriad of virtual spaces.
Where should we turn for our information? How can we function as a society with so few common reference points? How can we intelligently sort through all the images and information available to us? In terms of photography and visual information, what should we be looking at?
Ten years post-9/11, at a time when we are more overloaded with information than ever but cannot access it in a coherent manner, Aperture will create a visual café for collective social engagement with the question: What Matter’s Now? and turn it into an evolving exhibition space. During a two-week period Aperture will turn itself “inside out,” letting participants engage in the editorial process of weighing questions, ideas, and images, and proposing conceptual and curatorial solutions. Both invited guests and gallery visitors will be asked to participate. The exhibition What Matters Now? Proposals for a New Front Page will combine the crowd sourcing of images and ideas with the curatorial engagement of six experienced individuals, each hosting a table and a conversation within the space, where on corresponding walls each group will present its proposals for the contents of a ‘New Front Page’. Hosts include a variety of visual image specialists: Wafaa Bilal, Melissa Harris, Stephen Mayes, Joel Meyerowitz, Fred Ritchin (who conceptualized this project) andDeborah Willis.
As the exhibition opens, each of the hosts will have a designated space, but the walls will be empty. Progressively throughout the first two weeks of the “exhibition,” the walls will be filled in whatever manner each table decides. As the exhibition emerges, its contents will be posted online, daily, via a dedicated blog, as well as via Facebook and Twitter, at aperture.org/whatmattersnow and#whatmattersnow; allowing remote participants to respond and to create a seventh wall dedicated to ideas from the public. This website will go live prior to the opening of the exhibition.
Computers, printers, phones and iPads will be used by hosts and audience members for the duration of the exhibition. Materials may be printed, projected, hung and even destroyed as the exhibition progresses. Hosts might decide that what we should all be looking at is a particular Renaissance painting, or the work of particular photojournalists, or a thousand mini print-outs of images sourced online—or nothing at all. Contributions will be solicited from people around the world who are not able to visit in person. By sending files to dedicated email addresses set up for each table, as well as a general account, remote participants will be able to add their suggestions of imagery, multimedia projects and websites as part of the exhibition in-process.
Printed work in this exhibition will be made onsite, made possible by the generous support of Canon, using Canon image PROGRAF iPF6350 large format printers.
Exhibition in progress:
September 7–September 17, 2011
Monday-Saturday, 10:00 am-6:00 pm
Saturday, September 17, 4:00–7:00 pm
Exhibition on view:
September 17-September 24
Monday, September 12, 6:00 pm – Melissa Harris and Deborah Willis
Tuesday, September 13, 6:00 pm – Wafaa Bilal and Fred Ritchin
Wednesday, September 14, 6:00 pm– Stephen Mayes and Joel Meyerowitz
Aperture Gallery Hours: Monday–Saturday, 10:00 am–6:00 pm
Aperture Gallery Address: 547 West 27th Street, 4th floor, New York, N.Y. 10001;
(212) 505-5555, www.aperture.org
Wafaa Bilal is an Iraqi-born artist and an Assistant Arts Professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He specializes in online performative and interactive works. His current project, the 3rdi, features a camera surgically implanted on the back of his head transmitting images to the web.
Melissa Harris is the Editor-in-Chief of Aperture magazine and also editor/curator of select special projects for the Aperture Foundation. She is also a Contributing Editor to Interview Magazine, and occasionally guest-curates, and writes for numerous arts publications.
Stephen Mayes has worked with photography, art and journalism for 25 years. He is currently Managing Director of VII Photo, representing some of the world’s leading photojournalists, and continues to maintain his assignment as co-Secretary to the World Press Photo competition. Stephen regularly writes and broadcasts on the ethics and realities of photographic practice.
Joel Meyerowitz is an award-winning photographer whose work has appeared in over 350 international exhibitions. He is a two-time Guggenheim fellow, a recipient of both NEA and NEH awards, as well as a recipient of the Deutscher Fotobuchpreis. He has published over fifteen books, including Cape Light (1978), Legacy: The Preservation of Wilderness in New York City Parks (Aperture, October 2009) and Aftermath: The World Trade Center Archive (2006). He lives in New York and is represented by Edwynn Houk Gallery.
Creator of What Matters Now? Fred Ritchin is the author of After Photography (W. W. Norton, 2009) and In Our Own Image: The Coming Revolution in Photography (Aperture 1990/2010). He is professor of Photography & Imaging at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, as well as director of PixelPress, creating web sites, books and exhibitions investigating new documentary and promoting human rights. For the New York Times Ritchin created a multimedia version of the daily newspaper in 1994-95, and was nominated by them for the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service in 1997 for “Bosnia: Uncertain Paths to Peace,” by Gilles Peress. He has curated numerous shows and writes the blog afterphotography.org.
Deborah Willis is a photographer, writer and curator. Willis is the Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and has an affiliated appointment as a University Professor with the College of Arts and Sciences in Africana Studies. She has been named 2005 Guggenheim Fellow and Fletcher Fellow, 2000 MacArthur Fellow, and is the recipient of the 1996 Anonymous Was A Woman Foundation Award; the 2010 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Biography/Autobiography.
Rawiya is a photography collective founded by five female photographers from across the Middle East.
Rawiya presents an insider’s view of a region in flux balancing its contradictions while reflecting on social and political issues and stereotypes.
As a collective, Rawiya’s photographers respect the human dignity of the stories they tell, pooling resources and vision to produce in-depth photo-essays and long-term projects.
Rawiya, meaning “she who tells a story”, brings together the experiences and photographic styles of Tamara Abdul Hadi, Laura Boushnak, Tanya Habjouwa, Dalia Khamissy and Newsha Tavakolian.
Or click on a photo below to see that photographer’s website: