Special Report: Museum Studies

By Jill Waterman

A Clean, Well Lighted Place: SMP exhibitions coordinator Juliana Romnes believes that a museum setting allows students an enriched experience and a space for quiet contemplation, where students can explore multiple viewpoints and allow new ideas to surface. (Below) SMP gallery assistant Aubrie Rodriguez makes final adjustments to an image from the exhibition “Critical Mass.”

In the brave new world of photo education, boundaries between disciplines have disappeared and lines are blurring between past, present and future. Digital technology has made photography into a very different discipline than it was in the past, while a long and rich history of the medium hangs in the wings, not to be lost or forgotten. These issues made us curious to explore schools dedicated to photo education and connected to a media-specific museum setting. Museums play an essential role in the development and preservation of arts and culture and provide an important haven for artists, so we felt a closer look would be enlightening. Featured here, we explore three very distinctive programs associated with major photography museums, to learn about the value-added benefits these institutions offer students.

Daytona State College/University of Central Florida

Two Undergraduate Programs Sharing the Benefits of the Southeast Museum of Photography

FOCUS ON CULTURE: The SMP serves as a focal point for both the school and the wider community. “It’s a pretty dynamic situation to have the museum on campus,” says professor Steven Benson. (Above) The Florida sunset is reflected against SMP’s facade.

photo © Steven Benson

The Southeast Museum of Photography (SMP) has been an integral component of the photography program at Daytona State College (DSC) in Florida since it first opened in 1992. Three simultaneous exhibitions are curated to complement and challenge one another across SMP’s broad-based mission, which incorporates all photographic styles and themes.

“The museum and its programs, collections, exhibitions and guest speakers provide an intangible quality that personalizes each student’s understanding and relationship to the medium,” says Dan Biferie, chair of DSC’s School of Photography, which has a 50-year history in photo education. Daytona’s two-year program culminates in an associate of science degree, after which students can pursue a bachelor of science degree through the University of Central Florida (UCF), in a program that’s completely integrated and based in Daytona. Also, a brand new associates degree program in Interactive Media Production blends photography and digital arts with journalism.

In 2007, SMP moved into a new, multipurpose complex, which includes increased space for galleries, education and offices, a public access reference library and photographic resource center, a new museum bookstore, a coffee shop and a 90-seat cinema/screening room. That same year, a consortium was formed between SMP, DSC’s School of Photography and UCF’s School of Visual Art and Design to establish the Southeast Center for Photographic Studies.

Biferie notes, “Being a state college, DSC has an open-door admissions policy (and very reasonable tuition). We embrace this philosophically; the idea of giving everyone a chance appeals to us. Students, therefore, arrive with different skills, equipment and ideas.”

“There’s an amazing mix of students in the program,” Steven Benson, professor and chair of interactive media points out. “Some of them are established professionals that really just want to refresh their skill sets and learn some new things. They’ve had years of experience, and they bring that into the classroom, which really helps to makes it a rich environment. Then there are other students who have just finished the intro class, because they needed to be brought up to speed with basic information before starting the degree program.”

While DSC’s curriculum is heavily rooted in technical skills such as studio lighting and digital proficiency, these aptitudes take on practical meaning in the surrounding museum facilities and in the work of accomplished visiting artists who exhibit, lecture and teach as part of the regular museum programming.

“Students realize that they aren’t creating in a vacuum but are connected to a living tradition, and they may get the sense that they’re part of the dialog and might add to the conversation through their own hard work,” Biferie says.

As a former student, SMP exhibitions coordinator Juliana Romnes is a prime example of the direct benefits to the museum/school partnership. She started as an SMP volunteer, then became a work-study student during her studies at DSC and UCF. “Through working at the museum, I came to realize the importance of protecting and conserving photographic objects, sharing the history of photography and exploring the complicated, multifaceted roles that photography plays in society,” she says. Romnes has worked full time at SMP since 2006 while also obtaining a master’s degree in nonprofit management.

She notes that future museum programming will have even closer ties to photo education, with a portion of the gallery space dedicated to faculty-curated, rotating exhibitions from the museum’s permanent collection, tied directly to various course curriculums. “For example, exhibitions could be curated to supplement studio lighting lessons, composition basics or excerpts from a specific photographic style or historical movement,” she says.

Another example of the benefits to SMP’s mix of exhibition programming and education is the 2012 exhibition of Keliy Anderson-Staley’s tintype portraiture, which was supplemented with a hands-on workshop. Photo students were nominated by their instructors to assist during two days of shooting, gaining direct experience in creating contemporary wet-plate collodion tintypes. Students, faculty, staff and the general public volunteered to have their photographs taken with a setup similar to that used in the 1860s.

“They do a wonderful job of integrating the photo program with the museum schedule at Daytona State,” says Anderson-Staley. “The presence of the museum allows students to see photography as an art form, prepared for display and consumption within a broader art world, but then engagement with photographers helps them see the practical side of art making. It was great to see the whole community engaged.”

International Center of Photography, New York, New York
Photographic Museum, Collection and Multidisciplinary Education Program Under One Roof

Of the Moment: A view of ICP’s recent Triennial exhibition “A Different Kind of Order,” which includes a number of former ICP students. Block notes that the careers of many young photographers were formed at ICP before they came to the attention of ICP’s curatorial team.

© 2013 International Center of Photography, photo by Benjamin Jarosch

Founded in 1974 by Magnum photographer Cornell Capa, the International Center of Photography (ICP) is a leading museum, school and research center dedicated to the practice and understanding of photography in all its forms, located in Midtown Manhattan.

“There’s a special sense of community created by the fact that everyone at ICP approaches photography in slightly different ways,” says Marina Berio, chairperson of ICP’s general studies program. “All around them, students have not just teachers and administrators but also curators, librarians, printers and other people who’ve chosen to spend their lives dedicated to studying and promoting the photographic image. This creates a sense of continuity between the academic experience and what might come afterward.”

ICP’s wide range of educational opportunities include full-time, one-year certificate programs in either general studies (GS) or photojournalism/documentary photography (PJ), a two-year master of fi ne arts program in advanced photographic studies with Bard College, hundreds of continuing education classes, a Teen Academy for high school-aged students and other community partnerships.

“At a place like ICP, students have the opportunity not only to acquire skills through our classes, to gain awareness and intimacy with the medium, whether through history or critique, but also to experience artists using photography in all the different ways,” explains Phil Block, ICP’s director of education and deputy director for programs.

Berio notes, “Most art students see contemporary photography by walking around in Chelsea, but our students can spend a whole afternoon with one image by either a historical photographer or someone like Jeff Wall or Tina Barney.”

Berio is a strong believer in the importance of giving students access to photography in a way that’s not mediated by the commercial gallery world, and she incorporates this philosophy in her curriculum. “Every term, I send my students over to the ICP collection to write a paper about one photograph,” she explains. “It’s not a research paper but an in-depth analysis of one physical object. They’re required to write not only about the composition and meaning of the image but also about scale, tonality, the particularities of a specific process and other dimensions of photography that are only observable in an actual print. They also write about the function that the print might have served for its viewers in the past, and how they interpret it now.”

ICP’s extensive and specialized library collection is another essential aspect of educational programming. Librarian Deirdre Donohue notes, “Each full-time student is required to have a half-day library orientation and I do a more advanced weekend workshop with the certifi cate students a month later. I also co-teach a class for MFA students with ICP’s collections curator and associate curator. Increasingly, photographers need to become excellent researchers, as opposed to simply technicians,” she adds.

All ICP students can apply for work-study opportunities, and many students choose to work within the collections or exhibitions programs. “Many of our students have great skills that are very useful in this new digital world, to collections and archive management and so on,” says Block.

Examples of the interactions between ICP’s educational, curatorial and archival components are numerous: Images from the new (and growing) Vishniac archive were scanned and databased by interns and work-study students; many of the long-lost Robert Capa negatives from the Mexican Suitcase exhibition were printed for exhibition by students. Berio recalls a past Hungarian student who helped to translate Cornell and Robert Capa’s letters to their mother. “I don’t think it necessarily influenced his photography, but it was a wonderful experience for him to have as a photo student,” she says.

Donohue cites a recent example from ICP’s Triennial exhibition “A Different Kind of Order,” which included an installation by Nayland Blake, founding chairperson of the ICP/Bard MFA program: “Nayland selected both works from the museum’s permanent collection and invited submissions of ‘zines from his MFA students, so the installation is a true melding of work being made at the moment and that has been preserved and collected curatorially.”

Collections curator Edward Earle has this insight about such a dynamic learning environment, “Everyone enters ICP thinking they know what photography is, and they leave with as many fresh questions as they do answers.”

OF THE MOMENT: A view of ICP’s recent Triennial exhibition “A Different Kind of Order,” which includes a number of former ICP students. Block notes that the careers of many young photographers were formed at ICP before they came to the attention of ICP’s curatorial team.

© 2013 International Center of Photography, photo by Benjamin Jarosch

George Eastman House/Ryerson University
Leading Institutions in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management

Preserving the Past: PPCM masters students spend their second year working in the field. “That’s the best way for them to learn, dealing with professionals on a day-to-day basis,” says Burley. (Above) Vintage prints line the wall of a GEH classroom while a student views archival materials over a light box.

photo courtesy of George Eastman House

As the world’s oldest photography museum and one of the oldest film archives, the George Eastman House (GEH) International Museum of Photography and Film “has a very rich and long history of training professionals in the field,” says Robert Burley, associate professor and former program director at Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts in Toronto.

GEH has been an essential resource for Ryerson students since the two institutions began working together in 1999. The second year of Ryerson’s master’s degree program in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management (PPCM) is spent in the field, and many master’s candidates choose to complete their studies at Eastman House.

Ryerson’s PPCM students spend their first year in Toronto, in classes that range from the examination of historical processes and research methods to learning about photographic collections and museum studies to chemistry classes, among many other options. After eight courses the first year and a summer internship at a collecting institution, students complete a second year of coursework and practicums in a real-world situation—either at Toronto-based
museums or GEH.

“We like to think of Eastman House as a teaching museum,” says Jessica Johnston, GEH assistant curator (and a Ryerson PPCM graduate). “Students are embedded within the museum and get exposed to all facets of our operations, especially in the department of photographs. We generally work with between six and 16 students, so it’s a very manageable group,” she adds. All coursework is done at the museum, with students attending classes two to three times a week, as well as participating in institutional service opportunities (ISO).

The ISOs are one of the things that make this program special,” Johnston explains. Coworkers in all areas of the museum are asked to submit details about projects needing completion that might be of interest to students. After compiling project descriptions in a binder for the students to choose from, they interview for preferred positions with the appropriate contact. “ISOs are beneficial on many levels,” she adds. “They give students experience in working where their interests lie, they fill in blanks we can’t always provide in courses and they allow students to practice interviewing in a museum setting.”

In addition to the partnership with Ryerson, in 2012, GEH initiated an eight-month certificate program in collections management, modeled after an existing program at GEH’s Selznick School of Film and Media Preservation. “We felt there are probably archivists, librarians or curators with advanced degrees who are missing in-depth education about how to care for and manage photographic collections,” says Johnston. “The idea is that all these photo collections are going to increase in value, both academically and to society, and the desire to take care of them is going to become more pronounced.”

The increasing importance of collections (and digital asset) management and related transformations in the medium of photography have also been central to Ryerson’s PPCM master’s program. Burley notes that while Ryerson’s School of Image Arts has been in existence for more than 50 years, the PPCM program has been around only since 2004.

“We noticed that each year our undergraduate students in the photography studies program knew a little less about how physical, photo chemical images were created and a little more about the digital world,” he explains. “We could see a new demand for graduates to take care of physical photographic collections, and at the same time, there was a whole new world opening up with digital collections. Digital technologies were not only starting to change the way photographs were being made, used and distributed, but they were really changing the nature of museums, how museums relate to their audiences and how they operate as educational institutions.

Although the PPCM program has a short track record, it is extremely successful. “Our students have found employment in a number of different kinds of jobs in museums, archives, libraries, private collections, education departments, working for private preservation/ appraisal companies and working in the digital area,” says Burley. I think we have about an 85 percent employment rate in the field.” He quotes former GEH program manager for PPCM and current curator-at-large Dr. Alison Nordström as saying, “‘Our students come out of the program with a CV that looks like they’ve been working in the field for two years’—and that’s useful,” he adds.



PDN August 2016: The Fine-Art Photography Issue



Tout VTS



Contact PDN | About Photo District News | Camera Reviews and Gear Guide | Photography Blog | Photo News | Photo Magazine- Print Subscription |
Photography RSS Resources | Free Photography Newsletter | Photo Magazine Advertising | Photographer Features & Resources | Stock Photographs
© 2016 Emerald Expositions, LLC. All rights reserved. Read our TERMS OF USE and PRIVACY POLICY