All posts filed under “Q&A

Smith Galtney – Alumnus GS 14 – United States

Smith Galtney – Alumnus GS 14 – United States

The project you developed while at ICP was called “Being Boring.” Tell me how that came about.
I’m in my mid-40s, which is a good deal older than most of my classmates. Some of them would go off and photograph their crazy weekends, or they’d get naked in empty studios and take self-portraits of themselves all tied up. And here I was, showing pictures of my dog and my partner picking out leeks at the farmer’s market. I felt very self-conscious, like maybe my life lacked any necessary friction to create good work. But I’ve always hated the myth that you need to live in chaos in order to be worthy artist, and the idea of trying to present a content, settled life in a way that was interesting and not sentimental seemed like the right challenge.

How did text become a part of the project?
Honestly? Because my pictures weren’t very good! I’d been a working journalist for over 20 years, yet I’d only been at this photography thing for three. So my approach to making images was extremely, almost embarrassingly literal. Darin Mickey once told me, “Take a picture of your dog, without the dog in it.” And I had no idea how to do that. But, if wrote about the dog, everybody seemed really moved. It wasn’t until Martine Fougeron flat-out said, “The writing is better than the pictures,” that I decided text would be a major element of what I hung in the graduation show. Whatever it took to support the pictures, since they weren’t quite strong enough yet to stand on their own.

You framed three letters along with three pictures. Why letters?
I needed a way to acknowledge the past. My life used to be very Nan Goldin in certain ways – drugs, rehab, relapse – only I didn’t carry a camera around then. So the letters were the most obvious way of suggesting a troubled history, one that would hopefully give the photos some bite. I’m actually very proud and a little defensive of how domesticated my life is now. If you spend enough time in drug dens, doing normal things like cooking and maintaining a house feel pretty radical.

Who’s David?
David was a guy I dated in the mid-90s. I was just out of college and he was 45, and we had this ridiculously tempestuous relationship. He wanted me to settle down, but I just wanted to get wasted, and after a very on-again/-off-again few years, we finally broke up. He died from AIDS-related illness in 2002.

While at ICP, I’d pass by his old apartment anytime I walked to K&H for supplies. It was weird to realize I was his age now, and that somehow I managed to become a relatively responsible middle-aged person. So I started writing these letters to him, letting him know how I was doing and how much the world had changed for gay men.

How has marriage influenced your work?
Well, considering that my partner was the one who suggested I take up photography, I’d say entirely. Gay marriage is often portrayed in a very inspirational light – a triumph over adversity, a tale of love conquering all, etc. And it’s a subject that people take way too seriously. Yes, I was overwhelmed by the Supreme Court decision in June. I was aware of the history being made. But otherwise, in my day-to-day, everything feels so average and unremarkable. I do laundry. I bake. I look after a dog with persistent eye and skin issues. I’ve basically become my mother.

What have you been up to since graduating last year?
Shortly after moving back to Maine, where we live, I was commissioned by a foundation in Portland to do a series of portraits of all the people who make up Maine’s HIV/AIDS community. The show got lots of attention in the local press, which was really cool. Other than that, I’m constantly working on Being Boring – shooting, editing, sequencing – and I keep in regular touch with classmates and teachers. In fact, in July, I attended a photography retreat in the south of France. It was hosted by Martine Fougeron, and I’m pleased to report that not once did she say my pictures needed the help of my writing!

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Annie Frame – Alumna GS 15 – United States

Tell us a little bit about your work.
I created this zine during my last semester while still determining my final project. At the time I was beginning to draw a lot and was scanning old childhood photographs. In the end, everything compiled into this diaristic space where I could evoke the reader into my certain subconscious thoughts regarding family, art, and identity.

What would you say to people considering applying to the General Studies program?
A year goes by quite quick, the best advice I can give is to push outside of your comfort-zone and experiment. But more than anything, utilize having access to such great facilities.

What impact has the experience of going through a book making class during your year at ICP?
I feel like I have a real perspective of what it takes to get a book actually printed and distributed. Having publishers right there to answer your questions and guide you was extremely informative, if you’re serious about making a book this is the class to take.

What does your work printed as a book manifest?
Things revealed and concealed. There’s symbolic gestures and clues on every page. I hope the book can be layered even if it’s also outspoken.  

Can you describe the GS student community and what makes it special?
It’s unique because everyone is from all over the world, everyone is facing similar challenges and getting to know each other’s work intimately, and because of this it naturally builds a bubble of support. It’s a great feeling to know someone is beside you feels the same, or that there’s someone there to give you constructive feedback or technical advice during and after you graduate.

What were you doing before ICP and what are you planning to do now that you have finished?
I live in New York City, so I was shooting and taking Continuing Education classes at ICP before enrolling. Since graduating, I’m focusing on editing my work from over the past two years, I just became a member at Baxter Camera Club, and I’m working on a new photographic project as well.

Lais Pontes – Alumna GS 11 – Brazil

From the series, The Girls on Instagram. ©Lais Pontes

From the series, The Girls on Instagram. ©Lais Pontes

Lais Pontes – Alumna GS 11 – Brazil

What have you been doing since graduating from ICP’s General Studies Program?
Following my graduation from the ICP in 2011, I was invited to a number of exhibitions – including Paraty em Foco, and the Filter Photo Festival in Chicago – to display and present the work (Born Nowhere) that I had started while undertaking the General Studies Program. In 2013, I enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) where I obtained an MFA in Photography last year. Currently, I live and work in London, and have had my work included in various exhibitions throughout Europe (as well as the US), such as the Noorderlicht Photofestival in The Netherlands; From Self Portrait to Staging the Self at the Brandts Museum in Denmark; and FotoFest Biennial in Houston.

What impact did the experience of going through the program have for you?
ICP has had a fundamental role in my education as an artist. It was while pursuing my studies there that I was introduced to a variety of different concepts that still inform my work today. The ability to learn from, and work closely with, a very diverse faculty with different skill sets and research interests exposed me to many ideas that shaped and influenced a critical perspective on the medium. I have also been given the freedom and support to develop my own ideas.

From the series, The girls on Instagram. ©Lais Pontes

From the series, The girls on Instagram. ©Lais Pontes

What is the relationship between your current activities/projects and your experience in the program?
My current research interest – that is, the exploration of identity construction in the age of social media – already began to develop while I was still at ICP, even though I was not aware of this at the time. It was only in the course of the MFA program that my previous interest in social media art projects grew stronger and became more focused, so that I felt the need to dig into this subject matter more deeply and explore it on multiple registers.

Since social media has become an integral part of people’s everyday lives – opening up new modes of interaction via platforms like Facebook or Instagram – it inevitably has a tremendous influence on our cultural behaviour, and it is this which I’m currently investigating in my art. In my three social media art projects – Born Nowhere, Born Now Here and The Girls on Instagram – which I started to create while still in New York, I concentrate on examining the relationship between an individual’s on- and offline existence. In the process of creation, I use my own body and life to stage experiments, and appropriate various social media platforms (FB/Instagram), through which viewers can engage and directly interact with my work.

Born Nowhere, Born Now Here and The Girls on Instagram revolve around fictional characters that originated from self-portraits and received personality traits and biographies by crowd-sourcing their identities on FB. Throughout my projects, these characters transcend their online existence either through real-life performances or through taking their photographs on journeys in the physical world, which are documented on their ‘personal’ Facebook accounts or on Instagram. As a result, my work does not only exist in the physical space of a gallery – its ever-changing nature is observable online around the clock and from anywhere in the world.

What would you say to prospective students of the program?
What I am going to say might sound like a cliché, but it is how I feel: Study as much and as hard as possible, and don’t be afraid to fail. You are there to learn, so listen carefully to the critiques and you will improve and always get better. Take your time before making up your mind.

From the series, The Girls on Instagram. ©Lais Pontes

From the series, The Girls on Instagram. ©Lais Pontes

Amy Xian Luo – Alumna GS 15 – China

From the series, I Shall Depart As I Arrived. ©Amy Xian Luo

From the series, I Shall Depart As I Arrived. ©Amy Xian Luo

Amy Xian Luo – Alumna GS 15 – China

Tell us a little about your work?
I have completed two main projects at ICP. One project is entitled I Shall Depart As I Arrived, which is a series of photographs depicting people’s dreams. The process involves my collaborating with my subjects in reconstructing one of their most vivid dreams. The other project, Sorry My Angels, is a video installation. It started as a documentation of a massage parlor in Flushing, Queens, where a group of illegal Chinese immigrants work daily. My project investigates the way in which these women inhabit this enclosed and shared space, which seems simultaneously public and private, mental and physical.
Although they may seem very disparate, both projects stem from my interest in exploring new ways of representing subjectivity, which was my focus of research when I was studying cinema in Paris. Influenced by many European feminist filmmakers, I am also very interested in cutting loose conventional visual frames. My passion for re-inventing visual language has also made its way into both projects.

From the series, Shall Depart As I Arrived. ©Amy Xian Luo

From the series, Shall Depart As I Arrived. ©Amy Xian Luo

What impact has the experience of going through the ICP General Studies Program had on you?
Studying at the General Studies program at ICP has had a tremendous impact on me. Before ICP, most of my previous works were straight documentaries, as I have worked as a journalist in China. I came to ICP with relatively little experience in photography and I have embraced this new visual language whole heartedly.
Thought-provoking seminars opened our eyes to various art concepts and technical classes provided necessary tools for our creation, greatly enriching our visual vocabularies. I was thrilled to find new ways to weld fictitious narratives in my work that were still very much rooted in reality. The combination of the reality and fiction has created an interesting dynamic in my work.
Among many other things, what ICP has taught me is to be reckless, it taught me that if I allow myself to break constraints and venture into the unknown, I could achieve many things I would never have dreamt possible.
What was it like working with video for your project, Sorry My Angels – Did ICP provide you all the skills to work in this medium?
Photography and cinema are two very different visual languages, but they can complement and enrich each other in various ways. The generous support from the GS faculty has helped me carve this video piece into something that shares the core qualities of both languages.
Abigail Simon, Jen Davis, Jean Marie Casbarian and Robert Blake, who are experts in both photography and video arts, have encouraged me to break loose from conventions and to think differently.
Frank Franca, who is hailed as the king of lighting, has taught me indispensable techniques and aesthetics without which the project would have fallen short of its visual impact. Per Gylfe, who is the master of fine art printing, has taught us essential ways to decode some of the greatest art works and to appropriate elements to forge our own visual style.

What would you say to people considering applying to the General Studies program?
You need to decide for yourself what you aim to achieve through this year because what awaits you is a mind-blowing and all-encompassing experience. The earlier you can tailor the program to your own need, the better you’ll become. Good Luck!

André Viking Andersen – Alumnus GS 14 – Denmark


untitled, 2013 by André Viking Andersen

André Viking Andersen – Alumnus GS 14 – Denmark

What have you been doing since graduating from the ICP General Studies in Photography program?
I moved back home to Copenhagen three months ago and have continued working on my projects, while applying for different exhibitions and magazines.


Untitled, 2014 by André Viking Andersen


Untitled, 2014 by André Viking Andersen

What impact has the experience of going through the ICP program had on you? 
A huge impact. I learned a lot technically and practically. Most importantly I came closer to finding my own visual language and became clearer in how I want to use the medium. All the great facilities and resources that ICP and New York have to offer also helped broaden my view on art in general. It’s important to know what’s out there and be aware of the different processes in order to find your own ways. Photography is a universal language yet we each interpret it differently – that’s why I believe being in a community where different nationalities and cultures are mixed together is important for any photographer.


Untitled, 2013 by André Viking Andersen

Is there anything that has surprised you subsequent to graduation?
I graduated from a similar one-year program in Copenhagen a year before going to ICP, but yet again it surprises me how much slower and harder a process it is to make work when you’re not in a school and when you need to do other things to financially support yourself. Though I believe that the slow and more thoughtful process can be very helpful and needed sometimes in order to make strong work.

Your series, Closed Eyes, seems to be a place where the human mind intercepts the natural world. Can you talk a little bit about your interest in this subject and how the project has developed since its inception?
I have a hard time being specific since it’s still ongoing, but I’m interested in how certain ideas are shared throughout different mythologies and various belief systems. Symbols and rituals have long been part of human nature as a bridge to access what our senses cannot. In the series I use both studio work and documentary fieldwork as a personal investigation of the supernatural.
We all at some point in our lives believed in things beyond our senses and some of us still do just more or less than we used to and I think that is interesting.


Untitled, 2013 by André Viking Andersen

What would you say to people who are thinking about applying to the program?  
The decision is really up to the individual to make. If you decide on applying, my advice is that you should be willing to work hard, take full advantage of all the facilities and keep experimenting. Sometimes when I was struggling, it helped me to remember that I was in a school – in the process of learning. I personally learned a lot from speaking about my own and other people’s work. Discussions and critiques can be really inspiring.
As long as you take your work seriously, I wouldn’t be afraid to do what feels right either–if you feel like painting, then paint.

Leah Shirley – ICP Staff

For this edition of Staff Q&A, we interviewed Leah Shirley. Although Leah is moving on from her position as the International Student Advisor soon, she has contributed immensely to the Education Office as well as the GS program. Leah, like many of the staff members, is a working artist. After ICP, she will be focusing on her own art projects, and she hopes to remain engaged in the ICP community.

Leah Shirley – ICP Staff


Tjet, 2012. ©Leah Shirley

Tell us a little bit about your work.
They are made in the color darkroom exclusively. I started it when I was in undergrad for my thesis at Columbia College in Chicago, where I got a BFA in photography. Columbia has a very vigorous program, very technical in that they really stress students going through all the basics and almost emphasizing technique over content, but not all the time. So I had spent multiple years in this program, working with the camera. Because it’s very technical, it could be very assignment-based, and I got to a point where I was pretty frustrated with the act of taking pictures with a camera. I wanted to do something really immediate, not in the sense of that it would be easy or fast, but in the sense of I would be as close to the work as possible—I didn’t want to go through the mechanism.
Luckily Columbia has—as ICP does, a color darkroom, so I went in there which is a place I kind of mythologized myself—it’s a very special place. I wasn’t using negatives, so I only brought the paper, and I was only accompanied by the items in my bag. I decided to strip it down to the basics, so I would start to manipulate the filters, to mix in the color and I started doing very basic photograms. I just wanted lines, so I would get binders and books or paper, dodging tools…whatever, so they started very formal. The older ones have sharper lines, just a formal study of relationships.
As the work progressed and as I got more comfortable in the darkroom, I removed the contact, so I wasn’t laying anything directly onto the paper. The images started to be less like photograms and became something else. I was a lot more interested in the dynamism that could be created between light being expelled from the source and hitting/transferring on to the paper. As the light is exposing the paper, I would interfere with it using my hands or with other objects, to create a really soft shape or line on the paper. Then I moved back and started not exposing the entire paper, working with the negative white space. So this work has always been an investigation in our experience with color in a 2D way.
I’m really fascinated by the ways in which you can push the boundaries of what is a photograph. Because a lot of times, people look at my work, and don’t even know what to make of it, they don’t think it is photography. I tell them: “yeah, it can be a lot of different things, but at the same time, it is, at its core, photography. It is a recording of light.” The series we are talking about is called Lux, the color work that I’ve been doing in the darkroom. I take a lot of inspiration from geological texts, the work is really rooted in the elements. They are being made from light, so I started doing a whole lot of research on geology and heat. It’s about evolution, really.


Chicago 2/4.1, 2011. ©Leah Shirley

You are also taking photographs of the cologram prints in nature?
That work was done in Los Angeles. In terms of ways to show the work and installation shots, I’ve never thought okay you put it in a frame, put it on a wall, it’s done and it’ll just make sense. That way of presenting photographs is fine of course, but I wanted to find a way to approach the installation where the pieces are activated by how they are being represented. So by physically putting them in nature, surrounded by rocks, dirt, the earth, I felt like that was a way to have them introduce themselves.


Olympia, 3/24.1, 2011. ©Leah Shirley

What does your work manifest?
It’s a question I’m still trying to answer personally. I don’t really know, but I can tell you what draws me to make the work. I find a basic attraction to the form elements of line, shape, color, how they all relate to each other and how they can evoke meanings or emotions. It’s a very basic investigation but it’s also something that everybody can relate to. Because we all have experiences, we are all informed by those relationships, we all have our own association to colors, we all have our own association to certain shapes. I think it’s something that’s very relatable. Then again, why do I do it? Every time I go back to the darkroom, I leave with more questions. That’s what keeps me doing it. Not because I feel like I’m solving problems. Every time I go back in there, there are new challenges and new revelations. That’s what keeps me fascinated.


Chicago, 2/4.3, 2011. ©Leah Shirley

This might be the wrong term or an irrelevant question, but do you see what you do as a dying art?
No, I think that’s a relevant question, a lot of people have asked me that. The manner in which I’m working, all arrows point to it not being around forever. Digital is here to stay, I’m sure. I’m just making the work. There’s not a thought at all in my mind about how I have to do this now because I might not be able to in the future. This is what my body and mind and everything is telling me I have to do now and this is the way to do it. I’m going to get as basic as I can with the paper, the chemicals and the light and I’m gonna go to the color darkroom. All digital prints are trying to be an analog print at the end of the day, or surpass it if they can—it’s a reference point. I couldn’t make the work digitally, it would be totally different work.


Chicago 4/18.2, 2011/2012. ©Leah Shirley

Do you feel working at a place like ICP helps you in your own practice?
For sure. I haven’t even been here that long, but just the mere fact of being around people who are making photographic work. It’s not the fact that people are making photography, it’s that this is an institution that was founded around supporting one expressing themselves, and so that is a really conducive element to absorb personally. The fact that a lot of the staff here make their own work is really exciting and fascinating and it’s really special to be a part of that. One of the greatest luxuries of being a student is that you have a built-in community and you have resources at your disposal. So when you’re not a student anymore, one of the hardest struggles is to maintain a sense of community.
Working at an institution that builds that in is completely amazing. And of course, having access to the color darkroom is also huge. New York is lucky, there’s a color darkroom here at ICP and there are two or three other places. It’s sad, either you find color darkrooms at universities or schools (because they can afford it) or in cities like New York or Los Angeles where there’s a high enough demand. Anywhere else, pretty much in the middle of the country, there’s nothing.

Siobhan Landry – ICP Staff

New to the Q&A series this year is the addition of staff members, many of whom GS students interact with on a regular basis. First up we have Siobhan Landry, who is the Education Assistant and TA Liaison as well as a working video artist.… Read More

Francesco Palombi – Alumnus GS 12 – Italy


Francesco Palombi – Alumnus GS 12 – Italy

What have you been doing since graduating from the General Studies Program?
I have been trying to get some exhibitions, show the work while keep making it. Making work after school is much harder and slower, it deserves dedication and self-discipline. I have also been a teaching assistant at ICP and working part-time for a B&W darkroom master printer. I was one of the 2013 darkroom residents at the Camera Club of New York, and that kept me busy and gave me a great opportunity to have a solo show, that is opening this week, the 7th of November.

What impact has the experience of going through the ICP program had on you?
It was intense. I was lucky to get into the program because I didn’t know that much about photography, I was really young and my background was barely anything. So I learned a lot, it really opened my mind not just about photography but about art in general. I believe that year at ICP really sped up the process of finding my personal voice.

Is there anything that has surprised you subsequent to graduation?
I experienced how you really need time to digest all the information you have been acknowledging in a short period of time. I really realized how much I’d learned and achieved only the year after school.

What would you say to people contemplating applying to the program?  
If you are willing and able to spend a year completely dedicated to photography I would say go for it. Remember that you get from the program what you put in. Dedication is the key. And you’ll get to know amazing people from all over the world, with different backgrounds and age, becoming part of a great community that hopefully will remain.

In your Mente Originaria / Original Mind, there’s a repetition of a physical theme, and in particular a facial theme. Does it represent your interest in identities? Can you talk a little bit about that?
More than a facial theme, I would say a “head theme”. I’m interested in the head because it is where the mind takes place. The mind is definitely the most interesting and crucial part of the human. At the end, everything comes and goes back to the mind and there’s not much left. Speaking about identity, I have a few photographs that deal with that issue. The first one that comes to my mind is the self portrait face covered with clay. I made that photograph in a period of my life when I realized that the everyday mask I used to wear was kind of falling apart, leading me to show the real myself more clearly. But I don’t think that getting rid of your mask is really possible. We are always wearing masks and unless you totally eliminate your ego, like for an example a zen monk would do, you don’t have that much choice. Anyway, I would say my interest in the head is mainly driven by my attraction for the mind in a more general way.

Francesco’s Mente Originaria / Original Mind opens this Thursday, Nov 7 at the Camera Club of New York.

Adhat Campos – Alumnus GS 12 – Mexico

Adhat Campos – Alumnus GS 12 – Mexico

Adhat Campos

What have you been doing since graduating from the General Studies Program?
Besides being a teaching assistant, I immediately started working on photo gigs from Craigslist and the ICP alumni opportunities list to survive. I also met a couple of music photographers at ICP who introduced me to the music scene. I started assisting them at concerts and photo shoots. I also looked for a portrait studio because I was curious about how that business works, and because my final project at ICP was portraiture. So I started assisting at Seliger Studios, and that helped me understand how light can really work to your benefit: it’s your prime material, and its look and style reinforces your conceptual statement. I just started feeling really curious about light, how it works (monetarily, conceptually, psychologically, physically), and how it affects other art disciplines.

Before coming to ICP, I had been working as a still photographer in cinema, and now I’m looking to go back to films and re-establishing connections in the cinematographic world.

What impact has the experience of going through the ICP program had on you?
Besides leaving my house and my anxiety behind? I think these are the first two years of my life when I really just focused on me. It allowed me to see photography with a psychological perspective, and that´s what is most interesting to me about this discipline. The fact that you can show your traumas and desires in two-dimensional form gives you a clue to knowing yourself (and the other lunatics in the room). I got inspired by some of the people that I got to know through ICP: their work and their way of thinking was almost the same as their way of living. It showed me the possibility of the change that can happen when you get out of your family pollution (even if you have the best family ever).

Is there anything that has surprised you subsequent to graduation?
Your life can change with just one email: a few sentences and a little spread of emotions, decently edited in a PDF. Now I understand too what it means when artists try to protect their art photography from assignments. I can see the importance of the blueprint of a conceptual project and how it can have a real impact on a human mind. I couldn´t see it before because I didn´t have an art background and it took me a while to understand this new way of thinking.

What would you say to people contemplating applying to the program?
Everything that you believe about photography, everything that you think that you want it to be, will be slaughtered, and you will have to build it again (like in a good revolution). I remember one day, Darin Mickey said in the color darkroom, “we are very lucky, guys, we are very lucky to be here on a Monday at 10 in the morning, and we are just talking about photography. Not everyone can do that.” The fact that you can show your work every day, and see and hear different opinions about other projects, makes you think twice about what are you doing. It helps give you be more deliberate in establishing a connection, feeling and trying to figure out the best way to tell that special story that you are living.

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Athena Torri – Alumna GS10 – Italy, USA

Athena Torri – Alumna GS 10 – Italy, USA

What have you been doing since graduating from the General Studies Program?
Since my year with the General Studies Program was my Junior year of undergrad at Ringling College of Art and Design, I am currently completing my Senior year, working on my Thesis which is a continuation of the work I began at ICP. I have also been employed through a design firm, photographing for a magazine called Perspectives.

What impact has the experience of going through the ICP program had on you?
The most significant impact came from the people. I left New York City with a huge support group. Not only from the students I shared my year with but also from alumni, faculty and the constant flow of photographers that use the ICP facilities. It was remarkable to be surrounded by people that have a similar passion. It’s a very competitive and fast environment. I think this changed my life significantly and it certainly changed the way I view photography.

Is there anything that has surprised you subsequent to graduation?
Yes. Going in I never thought I would have learned and grown as much as I did in a year. I actually didn’t even realize how much everything changed until it was over. During the year things go really fast and a lot of information is thrown at you. Finally, after a few months of being away it hits you. It is a great feeling.

What would you say to people contemplating applying to the program?
It is a great opportunity for anyone who is serious about photography or art. It is a challenge that will shape you as a photographer and help you expand. I think everyone I shared my year with entered as one person and left as another. It was remarkable to see everyone grow and change into their new identities as photographers.

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