SCAD Photography Department Chair Rebecca Nolan talks about the school's dedicated faculty, its far-flung campuses, and how its broad portfolio-building curriculum prepares graduates for success in a wide range of photo-related fields.
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PhotoVideoEDU: What is distinctive about your program?
Rebecca Nolan: On each campus we have a diverse faculty, and we primarily hire full-time. I think that sets us apart from some other large programs, where the majority of the faculty are adjuncts. The faculty are available for the students. They're in the building, and they don't have an additional job.
Our facilities on all the campuses are fairly remarkable, and our curriculum is digital and analog, so we teach both. We start out digital now, so we have digital classrooms, and then students go into color film that's output digitally, and then they go into the traditional black-and-white darkroom.
We also have a really great advising staff. Once students pick their major, they're given both a faculty advisor to address departmental things and an academic advisor. Our Office for Career and Alumni Success also helps students get started on their resumes, do practice interviews, and look for a job.
PhotoVideoEDU: What kinds of students does the program attract?
Rebecca Nolan: We get a pretty wide array of students. They come from all over. Since we opened our Hong Kong campus, we've had a lot more Chinese students coming to Savannah.
Our students are a fairly broad range of ages, but I would say our largest group is 18 to 24. Throughout the ten years that I've been here, I've noticed that almost every year we’ve had somebody that is middle aged and starting a new career.
More and more students have quite a bit of high school experience, and we work with them in terms of where they start in the program and where they get exemptions. I meet with them individually to make those decisions. But the program is built so that somebody can come to college never having picked up a camera before, and become a photo major. It’s built to provide the students with a broad wealth of education that can apply to a wide range of careers out there in the industry. There are graduates doing everything from working as artists through high-level fashion.
PhotoVideoEDU: What are the campuses like, and what is student life like?
Rebecca Nolan: They're really incredibly different. The Savannah campus is the home campus, the first campus. Most of the campus is scattered throughout the historic downtown area of Savannah. The photo building is four stories high with a basement. There are facilities, classes, and faculty offices throughout the building.
We have an amazing bus system that goes all over campus. Savannah's really a walking city, so people are out and about all the time. Students can live in dorms if they choose to, but that's not a requirement. We also just opened our own museum on the Savannah campus, and it's pretty cutting-edge.
Our other two campuses are not like that. The Atlanta campus, which was opened about six years ago, is one building. It’s shared with the printmaking and painting departments. The Atlanta campus is definitely much more a commuter campus, although there are dorms there.
Hong Kong is our youngest campus. It's all in one building. I have an awful lot of students that go back and forth from Savannah to Hong Kong. It's an incredible opportunity for them. We have the same curriculum across all campuses, so students can go back and forth. The housing in Hong Kong is the same as if they were in Savannah living in the dorms. All they have to do is pay for themselves to get there. I work closely with both of the campuses, making sure students are getting what they need if they go to another campus.
We also have a truly off-campus program in Lacoste, France. Students go and spend one quarter there. Different majors are held on the Lacoste campus throughout the year, so photo majors go over when the photo major is offered there.
PhotoVideoEDU: Does the program have any required courses or final requirements?
Rebecca Nolan: Two history classes and three portfolio-building classes are required within the curriculum—in the students’ sophomore, junior, and senior years. All of our classes have creative components that are required, so none are strictly technical. But those portfolio-building classes allow them to focus on their interests and career goals. And that's what our electives are built towards as well. We have about 25 electives in a broad spectrum of courses that are geared towards a student's personal career interest—from documentary, fashion photography, and photojournalism to alternative processes and mixed media. Students are also required to take a large format class, which is black-and-white darkroom and digital.
Our capstone course is the senior portfolio class, and in the junior and senior years they're required to take one of two business classes offered. One is geared towards commercial avenues: fashion, advertising, studio, and still life kinds of advertising work. The other one is geared towards anything that has to do with documentary, the art world, the museum world, how to be an artist, and how to have a business as an artist.
In their final course, some people make a 15- to 20-print portfolio that they then use when applying for jobs. It has to be visually cohesive, not an array of one hit wonders. We strongly emphasize that cohesive vision, whether it's maintained via the subject or context or vision.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do your students do internships?
Rebecca Nolan: I'd say at least 75% of our students do internships. We don't require it because that would require that they do it for credit. Sometimes students do it for credit, and sometimes they don't, depending on where the internship is and what its requirements are. For instance, there's an internship at the Savannah Morning News. They're required to do it for credit, because they have to have official documentation as to why a person who's not employed is on their property. And the same with the Savannah Magazine. But I have lots of students who go to New York City and intern with individual photographers. I've had quite a few students intern with galleries and places like that that don't require it to be for credit.
We host an internship panel each fall just to inform younger students of the opportunities that are out there. The panel consists of four or five students who have already completed internships, and they discuss their experience, how they found the internship, whether it was a good experience, and what was beneficial about it.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do you hold special events for photography students?
Rebecca Nolan: Yes, throughout the year. We bring in an array of professionals for lectures and panel discussions about industry. About 50% of the professionals are our own alumni that are out there in the field working in different areas.
Every April, we have an event called “Silver and Ink,” which includes several days of lectures, portfolio reviews, and panel discussions. The 12 to 14 professionals who give our students one-on-one portfolio reviews offer them professional-level feedback and potential networking connections.
The School of Fine Arts, which the photography program is part of, also hosts an annual event called "deFine Art." It's held at the SCAD Museum of Art and brings a wide range of distinguished international artists to campus for several days of lectures, panel discussions, and studio visits. Some of the visiting artists in the past years have been Mahamed Bououlssa, Nick Cave, Marina Abramovic, and Marilyn Minter.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do your students get opportunities to show their work?
Rebecca Nolan: Yes, we have a lot of galleries here in town. The climax of the Silver and Ink event is an exhibition that opens on the last night and includes about 130 photographs from students. From the exhibition, a catalog is made with about 45 images curated by the faculty.
Our exhibitions department also asks me frequently to recommend current students or recent alumni to exhibit at the airport here in town. All of our graduate students are required to have their own thesis exhibition in town. The undergraduate students are not required to do that, but they often find someplace to have a show. We have a couple of nonprofit galleries that the students will oftentimes get involved with as volunteers. So they get involved with exhibiting on that level as well.
In Atlanta, all of the walls that aren’t in classrooms are exhibition space, and they have galleries as well. They have art up all the time.
PhotoVideoEDU: What areas do graduates of your program go on to work in as professionals?
Rebecca Nolan: They really are working in a broad range of areas related to photography. If they aren't actual shooters, they’re working as editors, art directors, art buyers, or filmmakers. Some go on to graduate school and become educators. We also have plenty of students go on and open their own studios.
PhotoVideoEDU: Could you name a few distinguished graduates?
He graduated in spring 2012, and that summer won Vogue’s New Exposure award.
She's done incredibly well as an artist. She was an MFA student, and she's represented by Klompching Gallery in New York. She published the book Snowbound several years ago. Now she's moved on to a new body of work called "Oceana," and she's exhibited all over the world.
He has been a viral sensation. He was working in a studio in Idaho, and he quit his job and travelled throughout the United States for a year, making a portrait each day with an audio interview. He won a National Geographic Traveler of the Year award last year.
He teaches, owns a business as a digital consultant, gives workshops, and is an architectural photographer.
She did a really amazing book called City of Lost Children. She graduated in the late 90s and is very successful as an artist.
She walked out the door and into an art buying job at one of the ad agencies, and has worked at at least three agencies. Now she's an art director.
PhotoVideoEDU: Does the program have any important new developments on the horizon?
She graduated about two years ago and is a director and producer.
Rebecca Nolan: We have a new initiative to start a mentoring program next fall. We are bringing in professionals twice a year to work directly with our students to develop a mentoring relationship. The mentors will come to campus in the fall quarter and again in the spring quarter. They'll spend a week on campus working directly with several classes.
On the graduate level, we just added an online MFA program. So far in our department, we've had some pretty successful students online. We’ve had an MA and a BA in visual communication with an emphasis in photography.