Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What is an MFA?

A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is the degree everyone lacking one says you don't need.

The world of photography is a strange one. It's filled with people who have succeeded and failed in many different ways. It's filled with every possible opinion. It's filled with distrust for the opinions of others -- because obviously yours are correct, and it's likely some of theirs will be directly opposed. And therefore obstinately wrongheaded.

It's always been a field with distrust of intellectual ideas -- after all, I already know how to make a good exposure and a good picture, why would I possibly want to read some dense book referencing French philosophers? -- and a lot of self-taught successes.

Since I did go and get my M.F.A., but also teach a lot of beginning and intermediate and hobbyist and trying-to-break-into-the-profession photographers, I feel I have a foot in both camps. I realize you don't answer a question about exposure with a quote from Barthes, and that you don't evaluate a sports photo without a knowledge of the nuts-and-bolts realities of the sports page. But I also realize that among hobbyists -- and even "working pros" -- the opinions are often very strong and very uninformed: The Bechers? I could take a better picture than that, and -- heck! -- I could do it in color!

So sometimes I find myself, when I meet people in the photography world, feeling like a spy: trying to figure out what they know and don't know, and what they think they know. I find myself trying to deal with them on their own terms. I listen when they say, sometimes subtly, that you don't need much education to deal with images. Or that you only need practical education, or a good long-weekend workshop, or to work as an assistant.

And then I see what photographs they like, and what photographs they make, and what they think is most important. That's a very educational moment.

No comments: