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Low-Residency MFA Programs in Photography

Artists who wish to continue their work while earning their degree may pursue a low-residency MFA in Photography and only be required to meet in person a couple times a year. Explore the formatting of these programs as well as common course and admission requirements.

How to Earn a Low-Residency MFA in Photography

While there are general low-residency Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs that allow students to explore various areas of art, there are at least a couple of low-residency MFA programs specifically in photography that can be completed in about 2 full years (including summers). The residency requirements vary by program but may include 10-day residencies twice a year or 2-week intensive summer residencies and a 1-week, off-campus residency at various locations throughout the US or abroad. Students in these programs are typically required to complete a final thesis project and may take a variety of core seminar and studio courses that develop students' skills in the field and discuss a variety of photography-related topics, including some of the common course topics discussed below.

Photography in the Early 1900s

Students usually take multiple seminar or lecture-based courses that examine photography through various time periods, including one that includes the early 1900s. These courses may provide students with an overview of the technology in the field at the time and then allow students to examine pieces in books to analyze the photographic content and quality. Some of these courses examine photography in the broader perspective of art and explore why it matters, how it has changed, and how culture affects it over time. Students may also learn about artists during the time period.

Photography Post-World War II

Students may continue their studies with a course that examines photography in the post-World War II era and how photography started becoming more accepted as a fine art. These courses typically discuss the emerging technologies of the time, including editing techniques, Polaroid instant processing, color imaging, and digital advances. Students may also explore major figures in photography and learn how to identify photographic themes and design issues. Other topics for these courses may include the digital revolution, commodity culture, photo sequencing, and production quality.

Photography I

Students also take a series of advanced photography courses that include studio or lab time and are designed to further develop students' technical skills in the field. The first course in these series may have students working with peers and/or their advisors to set goals, apply learned photography skills, and critique pieces of their work. These courses also usually include some reading and writing assignments that require students to analyze other artists' work.

Photography II

The second course in photography that includes studio or lab time is usually set up quite similarly to the first course in terms of format and learning outcomes but tries to get students to practice even more advanced skills in the field. This course may include mentored work outside of the class. Students work to challenge the boundaries of their field and may experiment with various methodologies, materials, and conceptual ideas. Readings and written assignments may still be required for these courses.

Photography III

An advanced photography III course also includes lab or studio time. These courses may find students working more independently as they produce an individual body of work and meet set work goals. Some of these goals may include the number of pieces produced, the utilization of various techniques, and/or the research and application of particular concepts.

Admittance Requirements for Low-Residency MFA Programs in Photography

Some low-residency MFA programs have students follow a more traditional admissions process and fill out an online application, while other low-residency MFA programs specifically in photography may have students begin the admissions process with an initial interview with the program's director. Either process requires students to submit an extensive portfolio of work that may need to include 20 to 25 pieces and represent a student's best work over the last few years. Some programs may require that half of the portfolio be pieces from the last two years, and typically students should use pieces in the portfolio to demonstrate their personal abilities, interests, and artistic direction. At this point, some students may also need to include a letter of intent and then wait for a recommendation of acceptance from the program director before submitting transcripts, letters of recommendation, and application fees.

There are a couple of low-residency MFA programs specifically in photography that allow students to complete studio time during short-term, on- or off-campus residencies a couple times a year. These programs can usually be completed in about two years and require a thesis.