Next week, our MFA students will return to Rockport for the second of two annual retreats. It's always thrilling for us to see how their projects evolve after months of synthesizing feedback from mentors, instructors, and peers. Equally exciting is the addition of this term's guest faculty members, fine art photographer Connie Imboden and documentary cinematographer Bestor Cram. Both bring rich and divergent skill sets to share with this cohort of artists, who represent a similarly diverse range of talents and interests. Bringing these photographers, filmmakers, and multimedia artists together for a week of intense learning is a catalyst for fresh creative insight, and it's something our students often credit for pushing their work to the next level.
Led by our core MFA faculty members who work with candidates throughout the year, our retreats always feature a new pair of guest faculty members to provide fresh professional perspective on both photography and filmmaking. These interdisciplinary conversations are often some of the most powerful elements of the retreat. Connie, for example, explained how much she appreciates a filmmaker's perspective of photography. "I love hearing from a filmmaker's point of view about composition in a still image because they think about it differently than still photographers," Connie explained. "Their concerns with time, movement, and what happens next are reflected in their attention to composition."
Bestor added that when it comes to filmmaking, bringing in different perspectives is also just a sign of the
times, since technology has opened filmmaking to a wide variety of new participants. "Filmmakers today are musicians, rock climbers, graphic artists, skate boarders, painters, linguists, photographers, soldiers, writers, divers, cooks, teachers - the list is endless," he said. "What has happened is a uniting of many interests into the common goal of visual storytelling."
Connie and Bestor are representative of the caliber of talent that lead our MFA retreats, a key component to this three-year, low-residency program. Like them, our core faculty members and mentors
are accomplished professionals and internationally recognized luminaries active in their artistic practices. With students working independently and guided from afar for much of the year, face time with these master artists takes on a heightened significance and results in creatively powerful days for the students.
MFA candidate Anna LaBenz is a photographer who had specialized in self-portraits and landscapes before seeking out our program. Since then, she has branched out to sound scape, prints-on-fabric installations, and unconventional book forms. "For years I fought my instinctual impulses because they did not fit with the work I saw beingmade by my peers," Anna said. "After starting the program my mentor advised me to go out and respond to the world around me, to let my camera show the way. My work has evolved from prints on a wall to beautiful installations that feel like compartments of memory." Anna said working with high-caliber artists from different disciplines has not only pushed her to try new things, but has also given her work more spark and breadth. "Having artists from different genres working together creates an inspirational, exciting, and creative environment," Anna said. "It breaks down the barriers that different genres can put up around themselves, allowing for greater exploration."
Connie also noted that just as photographers can benefit from a filmmaker's critique, the reverse is also true. "For me, the challenge of critiquing a film can be exciting in seeing how my own visual sensitivities translate to a different medium, and how we each have the opportunity to transcend the limitations of our different disciplines to broaden our outlooks," she explained.
That is the spirit behind the retreat, Bestor says, to broaden horizons and push artists into new frontiers that are now more open for exploration than ever before. "Our world is no longer linear but involves often interactive non-linear storytelling, bringing our audience into our storytelling space to participate, not just consume," he said. "We never stop cooking with new recipes. We are hungry for more than food. And we are starved for new ways to prepare it."
All images © Mark Edward Dawson