On Tuesday, four photography department heads from the nation’s leading art schools debated the state of academic photography programs through a Museum of Modern Art Forum on Contemporary Photography.
Roughly 20 students gathered at the School of Art’s Green Hall to watch the livestream of the forum, which attracted an audience of artists, teachers and students from universities across the country. Gregory Crewdson, the School of Art’s director of graduate studies in photography, joined Ashley Hunt of California Institute of the Arts, Stephen Shore of Bard and James Welling of UCLA to compare their respective programs. Topics ranged from understanding the purpose of a photography degree to balancing teaching and working as an artist.
Crewdson described the School of Art’s photography program as “small, intense and rigorous.” The two-year professional photography program, which accepts only nine students each year, is known for its challenging environment, featuring weekly critiques of student work by a panel of artists, curators and critics.
“It’s very dramatic at times and very rigorous, but I think it’s a great way of applying pressure to the students’ pictures,” Crewdson said. “It’s also important to have a collusion of viewpoints so there’s not just one monastic view of looking at pictures.”
The forum went on to discuss the value of a photography degree, the rising cost of an arts education and the academic side of photography education. Crewdson said he hopes students break out of a strictly academic approach in their work, and that he encourages them to connect their work to culture at large.
Crewdson addressed audience questions about art school “branding” — when a school emphasizes a particular aesthetic — by explaining that he encourages a diversity of approaches and viewpoints, not one style based on his personal artistic work.
After an audience member questioned the absence of women or minorities on the panel, the group discussion turned to gender and race disparity in high-level art school administration. Another audience member pointed out a trend in photography education toward predominantly male faculty members and female students. After the event, five students expressed frustration while discussing their own experiences with gender disparity in academia.
But Meghan Uno ’13, an undergraduate photography major, said she was surprised by the cynicism that came out at the forum.
“I was expecting them to discuss different methods of teaching, but I was surprised people would think to criticize what was being presented,” Uno said. “I do feel like there is a lot of emphasis on feminine photographers and have had a lot of female photography teachers [at Yale].”
The School of Art employs 26 photography faculty members.