Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Primer to MFA Photography at the Academy of Arts University

Breaking down the MFA Photography program at the Academy of Arts University into smaller digestible pieces, so that you know what it is mostly about. This of-course is no replacement to the abundance of information available at the university's website. It is more from the perspective of a new international grad student. Do add a pinch of salt, and know that as and when I gather more information or get into a 'aha' moment I will update the post.

First things first - Its a program that takes seven semesters to complete. Assuming you are taking 9 units in fall and spring semesters each, you are looking at three and a half years of graduate course work. You can always choose to overload yourself and try to do more in less time but I wouldn't recommended it, and depending on your skill level it could require the approval of your program director. Second - There are four major streams in photography you can choose from. Arts for commerce(commercial) photography, Fine art photography, Photojournalism/Documentary photography and Digital Tech. You can choose to mix things a bit if that what you want to do. Third - The program culminates in an independent thesis project. Three semesters into the program you are to choose the subject of your thesis work, on which you will be taking regular course work for the next four semesters. And finally - Once you graduate you will be equipped with a portfolio of work and which will prepare you for professional careers in photography in the chosen specialization (The keyword here is prepare, not guaranty :|).

Getting into AAU
People from varied backgrounds can choose to enter the program. As long as you are aware of the intense work load and are confident you can manage it, you are welcome. Its an open enrollment school, which means if you apply by submitting the complete application packet in time, then you are in. This aspect of letting anyone in into the program is something a lot of people do not like. But thats how the school operates, it takes in all that it can, and expects the student to perform at the expected level and graduate. For someone like me who wants a change in career with a reasonable level of proficiency, I couldn't have asked for a better school to get into.

Buildings and Locations
at 625 Sutter
The university is located in the heart of downtown San Francisco and is an urban campus setting. Meaning, its departments and buildings are spread apart across multiple locations. For a photography major, the main building which is used entirely by the department is on 625 Sutter. Its a four storied building which houses class rooms, studio space, faculty rooms, equipment checkout area and traditional darkrooms. The second building of importance is on 180 New Montgomery. The photo department occupies the 8th floor in the building, the other floors are occupied by some of the many other departments the school operates (try peeking into the game development labs there, awesome rigs with enough firepower to nuke all competition). Some of the faculty (digital tech and documentary) are also located here along with a digital computer and printing lab. One other building of interest is on 649 Taylor, which houses more digital and traditional print labs and classroom space, which I see is most often used by undergrads.

Photography equipment
A lot of equipment is available for the students to checkout. If you are a cannon fan boy, then you are in for a treat; all of their 35mm digial and film cameras and lens are from cannon. Apart for this you have available to you medium and large format cameras, studio lighting and darkroom hardware and chemicals. You can check out equipment on a short term basis for which you do not have to pay, but you need to have insurance to cover damages. Getting insurance is facilitated by the university of course, but at an extra cost.

Tuition and Living Expenses
Current (Fall 2012) grad tuition per semester(@ 9 units/sem) would come up to about $7600. If you include additional fee, books and art supplies you need to add another $500 to $800 to the hole in the pocket you have already burnt. Living expenses is pretty much up to you. Living in on-campus dorms though convenient could end up being really expensive. Living off-campus with roommates is what most people choose. Living in downtown would be expensive, on the minimum you can expect about a $1000/mo to go out your pocket. If you live further away, like somewhere in the bay area from where you can travel using the BART, then it would be much lighter on your pocket and you will also have a lot more space to yourself.

Here is a sample break down of the course done in your seven semesters at the university. 

First Year - 18.0 Units
First Semester 9.0 Units
PH_603:  MS: The Language of Photography [Major Required Course]
PH_612:  MS: The Nature of Photography [Major Required Course]
GLA_625: History of Photography [GLA* Elective: GLA Elective Category]
*GLA - Graduate Liberal Art
Second Semester 9.0 Units
PH_616:  MS: The Photographer & Photoshop [Major Required Course]
PH_613:  MS: Color and Light [Major Required Course]
PH_601:  MS: Photography-Concept [Major Required Course]
(Everyone taking up the program goes through the same set of courses for the first two semesters. After which each one starts taking up courses based on what they prefer to specialize in)

Second Year - 18.0 Units
Third Semester 9.0 Units
PH_***:  [Studio By Advisement]
PH_680:  MS: Thesis Project Seminar [Major Required Course]
GLA_***: [GLA Elective: Art Historical Awareness & Aesthetic Sensitivity category ]
(Roughly by the end of the third semester is when you have to decide on the subject of your thesis work)
Fourth Semester 9.0 Units
PH_***:  [Studio By Advisement]
PH_***:  [Studio By Advisement]
GLA_***: [GLA Elective: Cross Cultural Understanding category]

Third Year - 18.0 Units
Fifth Semester 9.0 Units
***_***: [Elective By Advisement]
PH_800: MS: Directed Study
PH_800: MS: Directed Study
Sixth Semester 9.0 Units
***_***: [Elective By Advisement]
PH_800: MS: Directed Study
PH_800: MS: Directed Study

Fourth Year - 9.0 Units
Seventh Semester 9.0 Units
PH_800: MS: Directed Study
PH_800: MS: Directed Study
GLA_626: Business Practices & Principles for Photographers [GLA Elective: Professional Practices category]

If you choose to specialize in 'Art for commerce' (or commercial photography as most would refer to it), your studio courses could be chosen from something like
PH 605: Photo Illustration
PH 608: Lighting
PH 611: Architecture as Landscape
PH 633: Fashion and People
PH 642: Location Lighting

The directed study courses is time spent towards your thesis work under an advisor. Checkout the AAU catalog for detailed info on course work here (starting pg 249).  Its a large pdf file (16.7 MB), so make sure you have enough bandwidth.

1 comment:

  1. Hey thanks for taking timeout man to blog about this...appreciate it...its quite helpful...Cheers