I’ve been going back and forth about whether or not to write this for a long, long time – since around 2015 or so. No, really. But I finally need to get it out there for any unsuspecting future photography majors:
Photography school literally, truly, is a subjective pile of horseshit. And I know, my opinion may just be a subjective pile of equine poo, but trust me, after $60k in student loans and no degrees, I can assure you – it’s the biggest waste of time and money insofar as art school.
To be clear, I’m talking about photography as a major. As a minor or an elective to something else? Knock yourself out. But in my 2.5 years attending the Academy of Art University, I learned absolutely nothing. And I know that sounds like a stretch or a whiny cop out – it’s not.
I went to AAU in 2013 after 3.5 years of having my own photo business. I had bought books, practiced until my fingers bled and downloaded every free pdf I could find about the basics and advanced tech specs to the medium. From golden ratio to chiaroscuro, I knew all about how to, theoretically, make a photo look “good.”
I could teach my own course today, if I really wanted to (something I’ve been playing around with lately… If you have ANY interest whatsoever in learning from yours truly, drop me an email and let me know!) but according to my professors and every staff person, none of us students “got it.”
Every project turned in, every art created from a photo to a photoshopped photo was planned, practiced, well-thought out and executed but, and here’s the big ol’ but, the “world class” instructors never found ANYone’s artwork all that interesting. It was “mediocre, mildly entertaining, marginal, pleasant, well done,” but never that ZINGER you long to hear and see as an artist.
The assignments were dull, average and mediocre in nature, so I suppose that was ultimately part of the problem but there was so much, much more wrong with the overall protocol to AAU’s photography program.
We were exposed to a system of pure subjectivity where it should have been nothing but objectivity. Create the work as per the requirements and then look for the compositional flaws, or the lighting mishaps. Look for subjects that are placed in odd ways that don’t work with framing, look for dirty lenses, over or underexposed images that can’t be salvaged no matter HOW good our Adobe tools are. Look for that and a million other technicalities! Everything was “I don’t believe… I don’t think… I mean, maybe this is…”
It was, in a phrase, a grossly expensive experiment. And yes, it did cost an exorbitant amount to go there; despite seeking an associates degree with an accelerated course roster, I still had 2 years left to get my degree. After TWO AND A HALF YEARS there, I still had two years to go on an associates degree. A racket.
The admission staff weren’t the kindest either but that’s not what this blog is about. It’s about sparing yourself the heartache of untold years of student loans and the direct stress of that as a result. WASTING your life and money on something you can, truly, teach yourself for free is beyond depressing.
To start: Watch endless YouTube videos from your favorite artists. Follow all your favorites on Instagram and take the occasional $300-400 eCourse. Buy books, buy gear (after tons of research), just learn and learn and learn. Learn about the “boring” stuff, too. ISO, shutter speed, F/stops, double exposure, exposure, long exposure, etc. And then put yourself out there. Work with others, learn from others directly on the job, and I promise you, you’ll have ALL you need.
We don’t need institutions for photography anymore, I honestly believe this. The world moves far too fast these days and the medium changes even faster than that.
I’d say my only, ONLY sticky point to photography and a necessity for school is for film photography. Though you could, arguably, still learn that from working as an apprentice or reading and practicing until your fingers bleed and the chemicals are permanently imbedded into your brain. Whatever comes first.
Just, think long and hard if you’re wondering if that’s the path for you. I regret it deeply, DEEPLY. And I know plenty of the students I had attended with felt the same. More than half, actually. By the by, my GPA was a 3.8 the entire time I attended AAU. So my grades and dedication were not a problem.
I have a lot more to say but don’t want to keep on my bullhorn, so if you have any questions or would like to know more about any part of this, don’t hesitate!