The Royal Academy of Art in The Hague has launched a new Master’s programme: Photography & Society designed for socially-engaged photographers. The master will start next September and applications are now open (the deadline is May 1 2018). Read the Q&A with award-winning photographer Donald Weber, one of the master’s teachers, to discover more about the the two-year programme.
• Photography & Society is a brand new master focused on the use of photography as a means to take part in global debate. What is its specificity?
Our world is one of cultural and economic extremes, both real and virtual, material and symbolic, sensate and mediated. Photography & Society uses photography as an essential means to continually make sense of our presence while adjusting one’s place in relation to others. We consider the historical importance of shifts in the “meaning of function and the cultural status of photographic representation,” to quote Allan Sekula. We consider, not just as educators but as artists and photographers who participate within society, the altered role and agency of the image. In and against the grip of advanced capitalism, it is now necessary more than ever to seek contextual awareness not just in how people take images, or make photographs, but what society does with images. How do images mediate perception through technological advancement? How does this role affect or enable different modes of engagement and visuality? It is critical we begin to see beyond the techno-fetish “MacGuffin,” (See Alfred Hitchcock, a master of the MacGuffin. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary: an object, event, or character in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in motion despite usually lacking intrinsic importance) and instead seek the transformations of our viewing behaviours rather than image-making itself. Photography & Society uses photography as a means to reveal critical issues that are shaping our modern world.
• Why is it important to enable photographers and visual researchers to mediate the relationship between image and society?
We are seduced by the shape of images, and neglect the socio-political role photographs offer us as an actor in the medium itself. Otherwise, we just continue to make mannerist pictures, which is why I am somewhat disillusioned by photojournalism: it is a mannerist endeavor concerned with the form itself, a consciously theatrical event. Secondly, what we have always done terribly as photographers, is neglect to acknowledge the terribly entangled nature of photography within the nexus of climate change, terrorism, invisible market forces, late capitalism, corporate malfeasance and other formative processes affecting the production of images. These dizzying advances are intertwined with cultural and economic extremes. What we hope to accomplish with the Master is to at least start the process of understanding the relationship of photography within what Nicholas Mirzoeff calls the “Antropocene-aesthetic-capitalist complex of modern visuality.”
• How is the program structured?
A two-year program, Photography & Society is transdisciplinary by nature, structured to reflect our strength in collaboration, research, and impact. It offers studio-like environments which are also the core photographic spaces for photographic output. In the first semester of the first year, students work on two major projects for 8 weeks (one focused on ‘society’ and the other on ‘photography’) while in the second semester, students work on a project across the entire semester for 16 weeks, where a field trip abroad for 10 days also occurs. In addition, there is an ongoing series of shorter, intense bursts of workshops and seminars, both research focussed and practice based. These will be lead by invited practitioners. Lastly, we have what we call ‘roundtables,’ which are opportunities to explore technical and philosophical experiments throughout the two study years which follow up on issues raised in frequent collaborative encounters. A key element is our relationship with Leiden University, where we create links between students and faculty by embedding their academic research approach into our program. For 20% of their credits, students will participate in Leiden University courses, electives and programs specially designed for Photography & Society by Leiden faculty.
• Who are the teachers?
The core teachers are myself, Broomberg & Chanarin, Lotte Sprengers and Rob Hornstra (who are also heads of the Photography Dept.) We will be adding a few teachers to the core program in the near future. As part of the structure of the program, we will be able to invite international guests from anywhere for a lecture to a workshop over the course of a week or two, to a more developed program expanding semester-long projects. We are seeking ways to match program with faculty who have a particular point of view that reflects the students’ own research interests, which make the program nimble and able to respond to demands and trends in the photography world, but also to student needs.
• What are the job opportunities?
Our graduates’ strength will lie, on the one hand, in their capacity to understand complex social themes and determine their own position within these and, on the other hand, to bring ownership and find effective photographic forms to convey these themes to the understanding of a wider audience. We see our graduates entering multiple fields, such as autonomous art practitioners, documentarians, visual researchers, curators, and activists, all creating work that is visually exciting and intellectually compelling, ready for work in any sector where photography and society intersect. A graduate may hold a job at an organization such as Greenpeace, able to illuminate into a practical and visual form complex, critical issues relevant to society such as the political, social, and cultural implications of climate change. Through research and collaboration with specialists and experts, our graduate will provide visual knowledge to help an audience engage with issues that directly affect their lives.
• Who is the ideal candidate for the master?
Students of Photography & Society should harbour the desire to research and experiment, to question what they do and why, to be open to unexpected input and interested in innovations in their fields of interest. As researchers, they should be both independent and collaborative and set on creating impact. Furthermore, they should have a sound understanding of not only their existing professional skills, but also the qualifications and skills that they are capable of developing further. We strive for a diverse group of students with a broad range of backgrounds and experience. This supports our goal to have a wide input of points of view and insights. We expect students display ample evidence of a confidence and ability to benefit from and contribute to the learning environment at postgraduate level.
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