Photographic Imaging Department Chair Dr. Linda Wood talks about how the photo industry informs the program's commercially oriented curriculum, the school's diverse student body, and the benefits of being a photography student in Atlanta.
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PhotoVideoEDU: What is distinctive about your program?
Linda Wood: We’re a commercial photography program, so we have an applied arts program, as opposed to a fine arts program. That’s not to say that our students don't have fine art courses. They do take art foundation courses. But our program is extremely technical. Students know all the technical aspects of photography backwards and forwards and in their sleep, so when they're shooting, the technical side of things is second nature to them. That’s drilled into them very early on, to form a good foundation. In their very first quarter, their first course is on digital asset management, so they learn how to do file management properly to start with. As they go through the program, the conceptual aspect of photography comes in, but they’re able to handle the technical aspects without even thinking about them.
We have an advisory committee of industry professionals who advise us on our curriculum and our equipment, to make sure that we keep up with trends in the industry, and make sure that we're on track preparing our students for a career in photography. We get a lot of industry input into our curriculum, and it keeps our students current. That also differentiates us from a fine arts school. Our faculty actually all have MFAs in photography, but they also have industry experience. A majority of them are still working in the field as commercial photographers.
Students are also expected to learn how to handle the business aspects of being a photographer. They have to secure their own models, for instance, and get model releases. When they shoot architecture, they have to go get releases from the buildings; they can't just go and shoot them. Our program is generally geared toward advertising photography, and we also have some students who specialize in photojournalism.
Our students have won many photography awards, including: Graphis New Talent (many consecutive years, including 2012), Graphis 100 Best in Photography (2011 and 2012), Applied Arts (2008-2011), ADDY Awards (including local, regional, and national awards in 2012), PDN Emerging Photographer's Spring Semester 2012 Photo Feed, and National Geographic Global Contest (2009).
PhotoVideoEDU: What kinds of students does the program attract?
Linda Wood: We have students of all ages, not just students right out of high school. Their average age is probably between early and mid 20s. We have a lot of nontraditional students, students who are already working in the field, and students who have degrees in other fields but have always wanted to be a photographer. It’s a good mix. Our students are very passionate about what they're doing. They pretty much live and breathe photography. They're very driven, and I think that's the key to success.
PhotoVideoEDU: What kind of campus does your school have, and what is student life like?
Linda Wood: We're one school but we have two campuses, the Dunwoody campus and the Decatur campus. We have photography courses and facilities in both locations, and the same faculty teach at both locations. The photography students tend to be a community within the college itself because they’re very helpful with each other and have so many classes together.
We have a very active photo club that’s run by the students but has faculty advisors. There's a lot of photography in Atlanta, a lot of exhibits, so the club is involved in events and activities. We also encourage photography students to join professional organizations such as APA and NAPP.
PhotoVideoEDU: Does the program have required courses or final requirements?
Linda Wood: We’re a SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) accredited school, and we have requirements for students to take general education courses as well as their major courses. Our students have to have a 2.0 GPA to graduate, and many have a much higher GPA than that.
They also have to create a portfolio before they can graduate. The associate’s degree requires a general portfolio, and the bachelor’s requires a portfolio in the student’s area of specialization (as well as a general portfolio). The specialization would be something like photojournalism, product, architecture, medical, location, people, digital illustration—students can decide what they want to specialize in.
For the bachelor’s degree, students have to have at least one printed portfolio, to show that they can do their own print work. They have the option of presenting additional portfolios on a tablet, such as an iPad. Students also have to have a website when they graduate.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do your students do internships?
Linda Wood: Yes. They receive class credit for internships, and it's required in the bachelor’s program for students to do an internship that’s at least a quarter long. We have a lot of students who work while they're in school, and many of them find work in some type of photography studio. Normally, they're assisting photographers.
We encourage students to find their own internships, because finding work is part of what they're going to have to do when they get out of school, but faculty have to approve them. We also have an ongoing relationship with some studios and businesses where students can apply for internships.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do you hold special events for photography students?
Linda Wood: We participate every year in Atlanta Celebrates Photography, which is a citywide event. We also have a gallery show every year at which we feature commercial photographers and photographers who have a commercial bent. They come in and give a lecture and visit with the students. Often, they'll do two separate lectures—one with the photography students and one with the whole community. We have a big lecture space and a gallery where we can hold these events.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do your students get opportunities to show their work?
Linda Wood: We have students graduating every quarter, so we have a portfolio show every quarter.
PhotoVideoEDU: What areas do graduates of your program go on to work in as professionals?
Linda Wood: The majority of them assist other photographers to begin with. Eventually, a lot of them end up having their own photo business, their own studio. We have a group of graduates who are working in New York, and we have some in Chicago.
PhotoVideoEDU: Could you name a few distinguished graduates?