Academic Director David Katz and Vice President of Business Operations Alison Geehan talks about NESOP's intensive two-year program, its rigorous portfolio reviews, and the advantages of the school's urban location in Boston.
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PhotoVideoEDU: What is distinctive about your program?
Alison Geehan: I think the first things that stand out about the program are its structure and outcome. Our Professional Photography Program spans two academic years and is 100% focused on photography, so it is a very intensive, comprehensive, and well-balanced education in the medium. Year 1 is a foundation year: All students take the same courses, so they get a solid education in the technical, business, and artistic aspects of photography. Year 2 allows students to select major and minor concentrations. Students get in-depth knowledge and skills in the areas of the industry in which they are interested and want to specialize. Fine art students get the technical training needed to realize their creative visions. Commercial students get the artistic training and creative problem-solving skills needed to develop unique, identifiable styles and build progressive portfolios. In all concentrations, creativity is paramount; it is what sets one photographer apart from the others. Graduates leave with two cohesive portfolios (rather than one), which is distinctive.
I’d also have to mention our faculty. They are all working, professional photographers, bringing current industry practices and real-world knowledge to their students. These are respected, successful, published, award-winning, internationally exhibited experts in their field who just also happen to be some of the most dedicated educators I have ever known. Each member of our faculty is sincerely invested in the success of our students.
David Katz: There are so many other things that I believe to also be distinctive about our program:
- Its focus on business, and the marketability of our graduates
- Our Boston location, and all the resources it offers
- The many institutional memberships and industry relationships NESOP has in and around Boston that directly benefit our students
- Our successful alumni network and the individualized support and proactive approach our Career & Alumni Services department takes in helping students find work and identify opportunities in the field
- And there’s the intangible: The true spirit and community of NESOP that is specific to this school—it is something that has to be experienced personally. It is why we have so many loyal staff members and why our busy graduates still make time to keep in touch and give back to the school.
PhotoVideoEDU: What kinds of students does the program attract?
Alison Geehan: NESOP’s student body is incredibly diverse. The average age of students in the Professional Photography Program is approximately 25, and the population is split almost evenly between males and females. Around 15% are international students, and approximately 25% of our incoming students are over 30 years old. Students from over 50 countries have studied here. It’s interesting to look out at each new class during orientation: Some are coming here right out of high school with little to no experience. Others already have their undergraduate or graduate degrees—often in fine art-related programs—and are here to become more technically skilled and build a professional portfolio. Some are career changers. They are all so different, each bringing something unique to the table; yet, they are all here to pursue the same passion and build a career out of it. All different types of individuals thrive in this program.
PhotoVideoEDU: What kind of campus does your school have, and what is student life like?
Alison Geehan: NESOP is in Boston, Massachusetts. Classes and activity rotate between the two buildings in Kenmore Square that make up our campus. The buildings are not quite a minute’s walk apart.
Student life? We half-humorously tell our incoming students to say goodbye to their families and friends for their two academic years in the program, as it is such a demanding curriculum and schedule. Each of the two years in the program is divided into three 10-week terms, with students completing 300 clock hours in each term for a total of 900 hours per year and 1,800 hours over the program. That typically averages out to 30 hours per week of work put in at the school. That doesn’t include the many hours students will put into their assignments and portfolios outside of NESOP. It is rigorous—that is why our graduates are prepared for the challenges of the industry.
When students do get time to enjoy themselves, being in Boston gives them a lot of options. NESOP is a part of the larger local photographic community, and students can take advantage of that. Students have access to world-class museums and galleries, limitless educational opportunities, a thriving arts and music scene, plenty of outdoor sporting and recreational activities, and of course, Fenway Park. Boston is a great, manageable city. It has plenty of public transportation and it is easily walkable.
PhotoVideoEDU: Does the program have required courses or final requirements?
Alison Geehan: Yes. The entire first year of the program is composed of required courses. Year 1 is a foundation year, when students learn primarily technical material: gaining command over their cameras, lighting, and imaging software so they can masterfully and efficiently capture and process images. There’s also a History of Photography course requirement, a Photographic Art and Design requirement, a film component, and required business courses in the first year. By the end of Year 1, students are extremely well prepared to compose, capture, and output images.
In the second year, each student selects a major and minor from ten different concentrations offered. The requirements in Year 2 are based on those individual selections. Year 2 ends in individual student portfolio reviews where students must present and defend their major and minor portfolios to the second-year faculty. In addition, each student presents a résumé, a website, business cards, marketing materials, and a business plan. All images and materials are subject to in-depth questioning and critique. For the student to graduate, the portfolio must be accepted by a two-thirds vote of the faculty present at the review, and a student’s prior success in the program does not guarantee success at review. We believe this is a critical and highly beneficial element of our program.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do your students do internships?
Alison Geehan: Internships are not a required part of our curriculum; however, students do have access to them through the Career & Alumni Services (CAS) department. We actually have quite a few successful graduates contacting NESOP with internship and assisting opportunities for our students because they know the quality of the program, and so they are confident they’ll get someone who is prepared for a serious internship and can function professionally on a shoot.
CAS also offers our students and graduates individualized assistance in obtaining experience and work in the areas of the industry in which they are most interested in building their careers. Many of our students have taken advantage of the assisting work and internships put out by CAS, and those positions have often led to other work and other clients. Very often, internships are paid. In other cases, unpaid internships turn into paying positions after graduation.
CAS is very proactive in seeking out opportunities for our students and graduates. When “internships” come in as leads to CAS, our CAS coordinator is great about vetting them out and only defining an internship as something that will truly benefit the student, in terms of being hands-on, résumé-worthy experience, an educational opportunity, and often something that offers a monetary benefit.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do you hold special events for photography students?
Alison Geehan: We offer a number of special events for the students. CrossCurrents is actually a required part of the second-year curriculum, but is a seminar series that we open up to the public as well. These seminars cover topics that are not broad enough to fill a course, but that are valuable to emerging, and even already-professional, photographers. Subject-specific experts deliver the material, and many enjoy presenting so much, they have returned several times over the years: Mary Virginia Swanson, Stephen Wilkes, Vincent Laforet, Peter Caruso, Esq. and other members of Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts as well as alumni panels have spoken to many groups of NESOP students.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do your students get opportunities to show their work?
We’re just instituting a classic film series this year, where we show influential and informative films from which our students can draw inspiration for their own image-making.
Industry Networking (I.N.) Day is another event we offer to graduating students. We bring in industry professionals, external to the NESOP community, and they provide individual portfolio reviews and feedback to our graduates. It’s a chance for our new graduates to hear from experts who are not their faculty—people who have not been looking at their work for 30 or 60 weeks—and get feedback on where it might be most marketable, and what its strengths and weaknesses. As a result of their meetings at I.N. Day, many students have made great contacts, sold work, and obtained jobs.
During the year, we offer “Insider Training” workshops sponsored by our Career & Alumni Services department. They're one-hour lunch-break or after-class sessions designed to cover quick topics of interest to first- and second-year students entering the field.
Of course, our Garner Center for Photographic Exhibitions opens each new show with a reception—all members of the NESOP community are invited to attend. We also sponsor artist lectures in the Garner Center.
Alison Geehan: Yes. We have dedicated spaces within our facility to showcase student work, alumni work, and work from outside exhibiting artists. For our students, we have a “first year” exhibition hallway, which exhibits new first-year student work each term, and a “second year” exhibition hallway, which exhibits new second-year student work each term. We have two stairwell “galleries” that showcase alumni work; those shows change out every six weeks or so. We have our Garner Center for Photographic Exhibitions, which is dedicated to exhibiting the work of artists outside of NESOP. We typically have about five shows per season in that space. We close each season with the NESOP Graduate Exhibition. In addition, students in our fine art classes are required to submit their work to calls for entry, and have been exhibiting regularly as groups in local galleries. While shows are often arranged by their instructors, many students coordinate their own group shows or have their work exhibited individually while still in school.
PhotoVideoEDU: What areas do graduates of your program go on to work in as professionals?
David Katz: Our graduates are seeing success in all areas of the industry. While some obtain staff positions (i.e., magazine or newspaper photo editor, staff photographer, etc.), most work freelance or end up owning their own studios or businesses. From the more commercial-oriented graduates to the art-minded graduates, they are getting work and building lifelong careers in the field. Portrait and wedding photographers, advertising or editorial shooters—they are thriving in the commercial industry. Many graduates go on to be working, published visual journalists and documentarians. Others are establishing themselves as fine art photographers, exhibiting and selling their images in galleries and museums, and to private collectors. Other graduates have chosen to pursue support positions within the photographic industry, such as digital technicians, lab technicians, and digital retouchers.
PhotoVideoEDU: Could you name a few distinguished graduates?
Jeremy and Claire Weiss
Tara Morris and Ben Wight
Michael Dos Santos
PhotoVideoEDU: Does the program have any important new developments on the horizon?
David Katz: As multimedia and video have continued to evolve the photographic industry, NESOP has found a variety of ways to integrate these media into the Professional Program. Beginning this academic year, all second-year students are required to take the Creating Digital Presentations course, which had been an elective. It gives them experience combining video, still images, and sound through the use of Final Cut Pro X, the industry standard software for video editing. Additionally, many of our second-year program concentrations—including Visual Journalism, Documentary, Portraiture and Weddings, and more—have found ways to integrate video into the curriculums, giving our students new ways to present their imagery and reach new audiences.