Photography Department Chair Mark Saxon talks about MATC’s affordable and career-oriented photography program, its highly motivated students, and its downtown Milwaukee campus.
For more information about the Milwaukee Area Technical College, and to see photos of the campus, visit the school's profile.
PhotoVideoEDU: What is distinctive about your program?
Mark Saxon: It's affordable for all students, and it’s a very career-oriented program. An industry pro recently talked to our students and was struck by how knowledgeable and practical they were in their expectations of what it is to be an professional photographer. They’re ready to enter the world of professional photography.
PhotoVideoEDU: What kinds of students does the program attract?
Mark Saxon: We have a very diverse group of people who enter the program. The average age of our students is mid to late twenties. They’re career-oriented people, so they are very directed. And they're often balancing family and school. The younger students are just getting into the groove of a two-year school, versus high school, but many of our students have already gone through the university system and have come back to learn the skills for a new career.
PhotoVideoEDU: What kind of campus does your school have, and what is student life like?
Mark Saxon: This is an urban college, and it's a commuter school. The photography department is at the downtown Milwaukee campus. On our floor, we have three separate studios and digital labs. We had a pretty significant remodeling project that came to fruition about a year and a half ago with an entire remodeled digital studio, computer lab, and finishing area.
PhotoVideoEDU: Does the program have required courses or final requirements?
Mark Saxon: It’s a 69-credit program, and everything is required. In their first semester, students take a digital Fundamental Photography class, a view camera class, and a history of photography class. There are nine credits of general education on top of that. In the second semester they take a lighting class, a composition class, and a class we call Measurement Techniques, which is about the study of the Zone System. And they take their first digital color class, where they really get into Photoshop.
During the second year, they take a three-credit digital photography class, which is much more advanced than the Fundamental Photography class. They take classes in commercial photography, portrait photography, and more advanced digital color photography, where they start working with digital video. And then our fourth semester is the most advanced semester, when they take a portfolio class and our Industrial Photography class.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do your students do internships?
Mark Saxon: Students who take our Photographic Internship class do an internship with a professional photographer. I give them a list of participants in the program, and they set up an internship interview that’s like a regular job interview. If they find someone who isn't on the list who's a pro, they can work with that person. But the person must be a full-time professional photographer.
The students have to work a minimum of 75 hours during the second semester. It exposes them to the real world of photography. Some employers pay, and some don't, but they’re all required to give an evaluation of the student. The students also must log what they did each week, and then present that to the class on a weekly basis. So everybody gets an idea of what everybody else is doing in the real world of photography. It's a really important class, and the students who take it are starting to establish their reputation.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do you hold special events for photography students?
Mark Saxon: We bring in professional photographers to talk to the students in their classes. Bill Gratton from PhotoVideoEDU [now PhotoVideoEDU] also comes in to do his presentation.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do your students get opportunities to show their work?
Mark Saxon: In the photographic portfolio class, the entire thrust of the class is to create a portfolio. Then we have a public exhibition called Portfolio Night in the spring, where the public and employers are invited. It's a pretty big deal. Some people get hired right then and there. Everybody in the portfolio class also has work on the MATC on campus website and the EDU website, and they're required to have self-promotion pieces done by the end of the semester.
PhotoVideoEDU: What areas do graduates of your program go on to work in as professionals?
Mark Saxon: Most of our people become assistants and eventually commercial photographers or portrait photographers. A certain percentage, because we're a two-year school, go on to earn a four-year degree.
We’re very closely evaluated on how many people we place in the business of photography. There is a department at the school that surveys all graduates and puts the numbers together as to whether or not they're working in the field. We have a 100% placement rate from the most recent graduating class. We typically have between 14 and 16 graduates per year, and I’d say that on average over the years, a good 80% go on to work in photography.
PhotoVideoEDU: Could you name a few distinguished graduates?
PhotoVideoEDU: Does the program have any important new developments on the horizon?
Mark Saxon: The latest thrust has been shooting and lighting for video. We're integrating that into our current classes, where we're having students do some minimal video and editing work.
We also have a gallery under construction in the building where students will be able to show their work. It will open next year and have large LCDs on the walls as well as areas for prints. It will be located right next to our student restaurant where the culinary students create gourmet meals for a low price.