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September 2 2014

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SVA Launches A Master’s Program In Fashion Photography

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School’s in—with Nick Knight, Ryan McGinley, Tim Walker, and Fabien Baron, no less. Beginning in the fall of 2011, the School of Visual Arts in New York is launching a new graduate program in fashion photography, the first of its kind on the scale being proposed. SVA’s Stephen Frailey and Art + Commerce founder Jimmy Moffat (pictured, left to right) will co-chair the program, which will draw its faculty and guest lecturers directly from fashion’s most marquee mastheads. (In addition to those mentioned above, Cathy Horyn, Pascal Dangin, Emma Reeves, and Glenn O’Brien will take part.) On the eve of the program’s announcement, Style.com checked in with Frailey to discuss what’s new, what’s next, and who he’s looking for.


Let’s talk back story. Why this program, why now?
It really seems like it’s a good time for it. As an academic, as someone who is in the classroom at an undergraduate level, I think often fashion photography has been marginalized by the students. Despite the fact that it takes an enormous amount of work and is collaborative, I really feel like it’s been on the sidelines of the photographic education, especially at an advanced level. I come from the art world, and I came to fashion photography fairly late. About ten years ago, I started noticing the amazing work that was in W. I began to realize that art photography had borrowed so much from fashion without necessarily acknowledging it—an interest in narrative, in the staged and fabricated image. At any rate, I felt like it was time for fashion to be considered among the more elevated photographic pursuits in higher education at the graduate level.

What will the curriculum be?
It’s a one-year program; the classes will occur in the evening and on Saturday. There will be two classes that will last the full year, 30 weeks. One will be a critique class, [whichS will have a rotating faculty; it’ll be collaboratively team-taught by Jimmy Moffat, Dennis Freedman [formerly of W], and Andrew Richardson. Then we’ll have a class called the Symposium class, taught by Emma Reeves [of V]. It’ll be an opportunity for everyone to gather together and to go to whatever is happening in New York at the time, whether it will be a guest lecture by Karl Lagerfeld or an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum or at galleries. Carol Squiers, who is a curator at the ICP, will be teaching a class on the history of fashion. I’ve been asked to have that class, by the way, streamed onto the SHOWstudio Web site. There’ll be a digital photography class for fashion photographers, which will be taught by Pascal Dangin [of Box Studios, and one of the most influential retouchers in fashion]. Not only will it be about technique, but also about some of the ethical issues of retouching, and the way that it creates a kind of utopian figure. And video, which is a very important part of the future of fashion photography.

Who should apply to this program—what’s your target demographic?
We want people who have all the technical skills—this is really a program that’s about ideas; it’s a program about photography as a cultural matrix. We want people who are making work of the highest caliber and have all the technical skills, and are ready for the challenge—ready to be part of a team that, at best, is going to figure out what the future of the genre is.

You’d mentioned that classes will be on evenings and weekends. I assume this is to cater to those already working full-time in the field?
There are quite a few people who have been working as assistants for several years. They’re very good at it and they’ve been very influenced by those they’ve been working for, but perhaps it’s time for them to—as we say in Texas—take the bull by the horns, and concentrate on their own work in addition to having worked for someone. These are the people who are connected in the industry and highly accomplished in terms of technique, but it might be time for them to focus on their own ambitions. Historically, if someone graduates with a BFA in Photography, they would generally spend a couple of years in the so-called real world and develop a body of work and navigate through the art world. Quite possibly, they would then go into an MFA program as a way to enhance that body of work and evolve themselves in a critical community. But that opportunity has been exempt from fashion photographers, so I’d like to make that viable to them. [But] there are also people who do not have a BFA in photography, but who have been working as assistants or in some capacity in the fashion business, and are interested in developing a body of work.

And what about those who come in without the benefit of a few years in the trenches with Meisel et al.?
[That’s] one of the advantages of being in New York. Historically, SVA is very aggressive in terms of forming a community of professionals who will engage the students. The advisers who I’ve been able to convince to be involved in this—it’s people like Cathy Horyn, who writes for The New York Times, or Vince Aletti from The New Yorker, or Eva Respini from the Museum of Modern Art—all these people are very well placed. That is an integral part of what we’re doing: Forming a creative community at the very top rank with the highest level of ambition. I think naturally those who are in the professional community will want to be involved.

Photo: Martin Adolfsson

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