CDIA Professional Photography Certificate Program Director Randall Armor talks about the school's intensive curriculum, its focus on commercial and editorial work, and its emphasis on preparing emerging photographers for a rapidly evolving, highly collaborative market.
For more information about CDIA, and to see photos of the campus, visit the school's profile.
PhotoVideoEDU: What is distinctive about your program?
Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts is a technology career school offering full- and part-time certification programs in Professional Photography, Graphic and Web Design, Web Development, Digital Filmmaking, Audio Recording and 3D Animation. Established about a decade ago in association with BU’s College of Communications, CDIA provides the type of advanced professional training not offered in traditional undergraduate programs and was built from the ground up to provide relevant career skills for the digital age. Our faculty are working practitioners, not academics, and as subject area experts they bring professional credibility and context into their classrooms.
We have a 32-week program, and our full-time students are here four days a week, eight hours a day for almost nine months. Our evening students follow the same curriculum with the same faculty, but the program is scaled differently for them. We have a lot of career-changers who come into the program, so they still work during the day. They come in two nights a week, and their program lasts 18 months.
PhotoVideoEDU: What kinds of students does the program attract?
Randall Armor: Our students come from all walks of life and from all over the world, from fresh out of high school through freshly retired, GED to Ph.D. and everything in between. The one thing they share in common is a passion for photography and the willingness to commit to rigorous instruction.
PhotoVideoEDU: What kind of campus does your school have, and what is student life like?
Randall Armor: We’re conveniently located only a few miles west of Boston in Waltham, MA, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and a thriving mecca for artists, photographers, designers, and filmmakers. We’re a commuter school, but we have a person who helps people coming in from other parts of the country with housing.
Our Washington D.C. campus is located in the heart of Georgetown on the C&O Canal, just steps away from world-class shopping, restaurants, and nightlife.
Photo students at both campuses study and collaborate with their peers in other programs, and this total immersion in digital media results in well-informed and well-rounded young professionals.
PhotoVideoEDU: Does the program have required courses or final requirements?
Randall Armor: We teach a fixed curriculum to all students, focusing on foundation-level skills first, and then how to apply those skills to commercial, retail, and editorial markets. Our goal is to create a well-trained generalist who, upon graduation, can compete for almost any type of assignment.
Students do a final portfolio, and very early in the program we get them started with a liveBooks website. Toward the end of the program, we help them refine their websites. We also have them produce a print portfolio for face-to-face meetings. We're integrating iPad portfolios into the program too. And students prepare prints for a final gallery show, as well as working on the production of the show itself.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do your students do internships?
Randall Armor: Internships are not formally offered in our program. However, all students are encouraged to participate in our three-week Practicum, which allows them to work closely with non-profit organizations to create “media that matters.” Typical Practicum projects team photography students with Web designers and developers, filmmakers, and 3D animators to provide elegant and robust online content for our non-profit partners.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do you hold special events for photography students?
Randall Armor: Yes, all the time. We have a rotating lecture series called “Working Sessions” that allows our students to meet and learn from established and emerging photographers. Some of our most popular and inspiring speakers are successful graduates of our program who return after a few years to talk about their experience in the commercial world.
We also host events for ASMP, CIPNE, WPPI, and other industry organizations, along with a growing workshop program and professional development seminars in business, marketing, and legal issues for photographers. We also host large portfolio events throughout the year, allowing potential employers to review our students’ work.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do your students get opportunities to show their work?
Randall Armor: Yes. Both campuses have several large gallery areas around the school, and we stage a huge graduation exhibit three times a year. We also have smaller spaces dedicated to bi-monthly exhibits for individual artists and thematic shows.
In Waltham, I’m currently working with a small group of students to mount a fundraising exhibit to benefit victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. We also have a close partnership with BU’s Photographic Resource Center, and our students’ work is included in their prestigious Student Exhibition each year.
PhotoVideoEDU: What areas do graduates of your program go on to work in as professionals?
Randall Armor: We encourage and prepare our students to begin their careers as general freelance commercial photographers, which we believe provides the best chance to build a sustainable business. Some of them go on to specialize, and build strong practices in the retail and corporate markets.
While there are fewer and fewer full-time employment opportunities for photographers, those that exist in Boston (mostly catalog and retail studios) are chock full of CDIA graduates.
PhotoVideoEDU: Could you name a few distinguished graduates?
Randall Armor: This is a hard one to answer, because our pragmatic approach to teaching is designed to prepare students for success over the long haul in a rapidly evolving and oversaturated profession. I like to tell them that “good is hard; great comes later,” and we do our best to help them to at least become really good. I consider a distinguished graduate one who has used their education to build a small business that fulfills their personal, professional, and artistic goals, and we have loads of them. Should any of them go from that to become the next “big shot” or Internet guru, that’s more a result of their own efforts, professional connections, and luck, not so much from their education.
But, if you twist my arm . . .
PhotoVideoEDU: Does the program have any important new developments on the horizon?
Randall Armor: Right now, our emphasis is on continuing to refine the comprehensive multimedia component of our still photography program. Like it or not, convergence has happened and a 21st-century photographer is expected to run what looks more like a small production house than a traditional photography studio. Video, audio, editing, and even basic Web and graphic design skills are all parts of the puzzle, and we are constantly looking for new opportunities to cross-train our Photo students with peers and faculty from other programs.