Friday, October 05, 2007

Focused Butterfly, Blurry Background

Recently I mentioned the usual MFA hating that photographers love to take part in, especially in photography forums. While this is typically at the level of "Those darn MFA kids will never match my great closeup shots of a butterfly -- now get off my lawn!", a more intriguing note just went up at The Online Photographer. Mike Johnston, who runs the popular site and uploads a lot of images and good comments in photography forums as well, noted his difficulties getting jobs teaching photography without the MFA.

Which was a great post. Unfortunately, it was followed by a lot of MFA-bashing posts. So I posted a comment, which I'll share here, for what it's worth.
Excellent post, Mike.

I'd like to address the comments here, however. They are very similar to others posted on many photography forums -- they reflect the idea that somehow the MFA degree is only a piece of paper, and that the process of getting that degree is somehow based in fake academic pursuits rather than "real" photographic pursuits.

It's just not true. A good MFA program means two or three years of really intense, valuable work. It means creating multiple exhibitions -- not just a slapdash portfolio of images -- and going through a lot of intense critique with very informed professors with decades of experience (both professional and academic). It means understanding the history of the medium, the best current and cutting-edge practices, and the work of your fellow students.

It means a really deep commitment to photography that the usual suggestion -- "go work as an assistant" -- just can't match. One can leave five years as an assistant without any gain but a lot of skill in one vary narrow part of the field, but a good MFA program can open up a photographer's full potential, if they are willing to do the work.

There are many great photographers without the MFA. But I'm puzzled why many of the commenters don't get that those same photographers could advance if they had two years to focus on their work, and a lot of people surrounding them with the goal of giving them a bit of help....

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