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Mastering Photography: Your Guide to a Creative Career

Ever dreamt of capturing the world with a lens or few? Madiha Aijaz did. BrainGain Magazine finds out more about her and her training
BY Skendha Singh |   21-07-2016

Photography is an active interest for most of us. Whether it’s selfies or Snapchat, we’re avid practitioners of this creative art. But, there are people for whom it is a calling. Like Pakistan-based, Parsons-educated photographer Madiha Aijaz.

Madiha did a BA in photography from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi, Pakistan. She then got a Fulbright Scholarship towards an MFA in Photography from the Parsons School of Design in New York City. How did her parents feel about her leaving home to study a field like photography? “They were quite happy not to be paying for graduate school,” she says.

Today, Madiha works at her alma mater in Karachi. How does her day job sync with her creative pursuits? “I work as a Senior Lecturer. Teaching keeps me on my toes and I try and keep myself with the times, since both the technology and history parts of it are changing pretty fast. It helps feed into my photographic practice. At the same time, it is equally hard to keep working on your own projects with a full-time teaching job.”

As a full-time photographer, one can explore various creative aspects of the image – commercial, fashion, documentary and fine art. Photographs have the power to change not only how we view the world but also ourselves. Madiha talks about how her education at Parsons nurtured her creative faculties. She says, “They really helped me look at the theoretical aspects of photography such as its place in the world surrounded by images. Also, how do we read photographs in the context of this proliferation of digital images. She says the program at Parsons was an MFA in Photography and Related Media so I was also exposed to film and writing which really help broaden my understanding about lens based media.”

Formal training as a photographer usually begins at university level. Madiha says applying for a photo course has its own challenges. “[A]rt isn't taught during school as a formal subject, let alone photography. So schooling has little or nothing to do with grad school choices.” So the portfolios submitted for admission to photography courses must be built on a student’s own initiative. And it is this combination of self-motivation and enthusiasm for learning which spells success in creative fields.

As for opportunities, students in New York are spoilt for choice. Not only does the city boast of several world famous museums and galleries, but is also home to the International Center of Photography - a leading institution dedicated to visual culture. ICP offers several short term workshops and programmes, and also an MFA in collaboration with Bard College. Students also have a chance to intern with leading media channels, photographers and brands.

The School of Art, Media and Technology at Parsons offers a BFA and an MFA in Photography. The masters programme is for 26 months. In the first eight weeks, students attend classes and meet visiting artists, curators and critics. The following semesters focus on independent study under faculty supervision. The credit requirements are flexible and can be fulfilled either on campus or online. Intensive feedback is an important element of the course, along with exposure to conferences such as the ‘The Photographic Universe’. Students benefit from interdisciplinary learnings since the school also offers majors in Communication, Design, Fine Arts and Illustration.

Across the pond, the Norwich University of the Arts offers both a BA and an MA in photography. A unique feature of the bachelors degree is the marketing package that is created for students at the end of the third year. This includes a portfolio, professional website, a press release and an artist statement, among other elements. The MA focuses on developing an individual voice along with informed critical perspectives, since the university is also linked with the Association of Photographers. 

Also located in London is a campus of the Speos Photographic Institute. The school also has a campus in Paris. It is certified by the French government and regularly features among the top five places to study photography. Speos offers one-year and two-year courses, as well as summer workshops.

Ready to apply? Madiha's advice to prospective students is to diversify your portfolio. This means not only practising different styles of photography and becoming “good technicians. . . but [also] good readers and writers.” On the question of whether becoming a photographer implies financial struggle, Madiha says, “This concept of a struggling artist has to go. There are plenty of grants and funding opportunities available [as long as one is willing] to work hard at them.”

Any other creative fields you would like us to write about? Let us know in the comments below!
 

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