Things They Don't Tell You About Being a Photo Major
Four Hidden Gems About Being a SCAD Photography Major
I’ve been a photography major at SCAD for almost four years now. As a senior, I’ve experienced the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs in my major. From chemical fingerprints on final images the night before they’re due, to having my work showcased in Grand Central Station last year, there’s not much that can phase me now when it comes to photographic disasters and achievements.
When I first dabbled in photography, I got a little taste of photography’s humble beginnings through darkroom processing. I went to a high school where the arts program was well-funded and equipped with the accessible tools we needed to explore our creativity. My very first photo teacher was a short woman with a bluntly cut bob. She was sweet and caring, often taking time outside of class to help me master the darkroom. The following school year, when I was a high school senior, she quit and I was crushed. Luckily, there was another teacher who I easily connected with. During both years of photo classes, we were bound to the chambers of the darkroom. I hated the darkroom, and my feelings toward it haven’t changed much.
I’m an anxious person. While I love step-by-step processes and routines (they basically help me function, and without them, I struggle with my mental health tremendously), the darkroom ain’t it, sis. It’s freezing in there. It’s pitch-black, clearly. The air is tainted with all types of harmful chemicals that could potentially cause cancer. With a chronic skin condition, like psoriasis, there are boundaries that I have to establish with myself in order to stay healthy. One slip-up that involves me not wearing gloves while handling a print covered in fixer can cause a blistery rash that I’ll have to ignore because I’m putting my project over myself. Being a photography major is not easy, and I think there are several misconceptions about what we do and how we are.
We work just as hard as everyone else, and because we’re not sewing a garment for 16 hours doesn’t mean we can’t spend that time on editing down our photos and getting sucked into the portal of post-production.
$500 was spent on large format supplies before I even started class last year. I wish I’d kept a record of how much money was spent on portfolios, printing paper, canned air, dust cloths, and film sleeves. I’m pretty sure that I spent my entire life savings in less than a week. Plus, there’s always something that needs be replaced or a contest that has an outrageous fee that your professors make you enter for class credit. There’s really no way around it.
The photography major is probably one of the most intense majors at SCAD. Every major is cutthroat, but photography is extra grueling. From setting up studio lighting to processing film to printing, there never seems to be a moment to breathe during the semester. And when you do breathe, you just end up holding your breath during final critique as everyone either rips your hanging images on the wall to shreds or showers you with love and kindness about how much your work meant to them.
Photo majors and models are shady.
Not all. Some. But it constantly feels like I have to walk around on eggshells around other photo majors, as they brag about how many features they got in Paper Magazine or their summer internship at W. While these are fantastic opportunities, it gets to be a little redundant when you hear this twice on the same day... as the photo major is so small and you end up taking classes with the same people for years. Also, I’ve witnessed quite a few photo majors stealing other's supplies, ruining prints, or sabotaging other's projects. Being a photo major is like The Hunger Games. Over the last four years, I haven’t worked with the most compassionate models, nor have I encountered humane models. Most look down upon the photographers who don’t fit their ideal perception of what a photographer should be (an aesthetic Caucasian girl with a tiny waist and skinny jeans who's had internships under her belt since the day she walked in), creating for a tense shooting environment.
Commercial. Commercial. Commercial.
As a fine art photographer, I see my passion slowly becoming obsolete within the SCAD photo major. For me, photography is not about the money. I photograph from my heart, and commercial just doesn’t align with who I want to be. Though other photo majors and professors encourage us to seek industry professionals; look at those who “have made it” in the commercial field because they photographed celebrities. But that’s just not me.
Finally, if darkroom techniques are your jam, expect to be in the dark for quite some time at SCAD. You’ll never see the light of day, with ashy hands, reeking of Stop Bath.
Like life, there are perks and disadvantages to being a photography major at SCAD. Also like life, your major is what you make of it. However, I wouldn’t trade my major for the world. All of the tears and chemical stains are worth it if I’m creating work that speaks for those who can’t.