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BYU’s photography program’s focus is a split one; it equally emphasizes commercial and fine art techniques.
“Our goal as a program is to produce artists that can make a living rather than ‘starving artists,'” said Paul Adams, a professor of photography at BYU.
When Katie Gerhardt started her first year in the photography program at BYU, it was not what she expected. She had a passion for taking series shots and found that she was drawn to fine art. All of her classes seemed to stress the importance of color and lighting in portraits, and she began to feel that she was being pushed into a world of commercialization and advertising. Photoshop, Photoshop and more Photoshop, technique and precision, detail and correct composition all demanded her attention.
Most university photography programs focus on artistic photo-taking, but BYU takes a unique approach in part because of the different ways its students want to utilize photography.
Some students use photography as a creative outlet, while others want to shoot weddings or do portraiture on the side after they become parents. Other students plan for graduate school and acquire further degrees, and still others seek to work in a major, professional market.
Trisha Zemp, a senior in the photography program, sees the fact that BYU incorporates both fine arts and commercial concepts in its approach as beneficial. Her work is more commercial, with a focus on still-life and Pinterest-worthy images.
Zemp said she appreciates both the technical knowledge BYU has taught her and the business knowledge she has learned as well.
“They give us assignments that aren’t in (our) areas but that help (us) grow,” Zemp said. “Their goal is to make us well-rounded photographers.”
Gerhardt appreciated this aspect of the photography program as well. She has decided to continue in the program and has found a balance between what she is learning and what she does with what she learns.
“The program taught me the technical skills to take precise and accurate representations of the world I am photographing. I was then able to take those skills and more appropriately convey my ideas,” Gerhardt said.
She also realized that she did not have to become a professional family portrait photographer or fashion photographer. The skills she was learning could be used for art she had personal interest in creating.
Now a junior at BYU, Gerhardt has plenty of time to improve her skills as she progresses through the photography program, which takes about four years (or eight semesters) to complete.
Students interested in applying for the photography program must first take core classes in visual arts, such as 2D design and the freshman seminar class. They can submit portfolios of their work once they have finished those courses.
Adams mentioned there are two deadlines for applications — one in November and another in December — and explained that there is a limited amount of space in the program.
“Out of the 50 to 100 applicants that apply, we can only take on 25 a year,” Adams said.
Once in the program, students start out in the Bachelor’s of Visual Arts program. They can choose to apply to the Bachelor of Fine Arts program after completing the 200-level courses. The BFA program is more specialized, while the BA program provides students with a general knowledge.
Gerhardt has time to figure out the logistics. She is content for now to take photos and learn as she progresses through the program.
She is currently preparing for a show with several other students, and Adams is mentoring. The display, titled “Pilgrimage,” will be exhibited in the HFAC this fall.
“Although the first year was a lot of tough work and full of rough critiques, it was necessary to learn,” Gerhardt said.