Piles and Skies
Pigment Prints (Stretched Paper Panels or Wallpaper), size variable, 2010-2013
© Laurent Pernot
Then uncertainty of stars
Video Installation, Silk screen, Dvd 9mn Loop 250x2,10 cm, 2007
© Danilo Murru, stills of the book 'What Remains', Champion Photobook V.1, L'Artiere, 2016
Cover of the book 'Auto Focus The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography' by Susan Bright
© Sabine Mirlesse
© Klaus Fruchtnis
Viral Images, Photographs found on the Internet and printed on wood with a laser cutting machine, 2015-2016
© Ryan Boatright
Marginal Compositions v. 1
The perforated edges of dye sublimation prints that contained failed images, Collages in vitrine enclosures, 24cm x 30cm, 2014
As education is a never-ending process, we keep on with our dialogue on photography education with professionals, experts, students and dreamers. Our aim is exploring the meanings and the possible future developments of this topic that is essential in tracing and understanding where photography is going nowadays.
For this purpose, Salvatore Vitale interviewed Klaus Fruchtnis, Chair of Photography at Paris College of Art and multifaceted artist, researcher and educator working on different areas of image-making.
Salvatore Vitale (SV) – Dear Klaus, I’m very glad you are joining our ongoing debate on photography education in order to trace a photograph of what exists now and what the possible future can be. The main word here is becoming and this is my first point: in the Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts degrees at Paris College of Art, where you chair the Photography Department, students are trained to explore digital image-making, can you tell us know what this encompasses?
Klaus Fruchtnis (KF) – In this program, students explore digital image-making through practice-based and process-oriented research. At the intersection of visual phenomena, new media, critical studies, and creative production, the program offers a unique blend of studio practice, theoretical, and art historical training.
With the MA/MFA in Photography and Image-making, I see photography as an image-making process, not only digital but also analog, in which students question the technique of making images by using mechanical, physical and technological means. Contemporary photography goes beyond the technical concerns of mastering the technique; it is about the nature, the power of the content and how it can be used, because the image is not only a tool of transmission but also an instrument of understanding.
SV – I find it very interesting to talk about image-making instead of photography because this opens the conversation to the use of different media and approaches. Is it important for a visual storyteller to use varied media in the production of his/her work nowadays?
KF – It is essential. Photography has evolved considerably since its invention, and the use of different processes and tools goes along with its evolution. The notion of storyteller itself has evolved, placing the storyteller in a position in which a variety of tools allow him/her to communicate the same message in different ways. Photography is a generous medium with resources that are not simply physical materials and processes; each process comes with beliefs, practices and conventions that affect our understanding and ways of production. Our approach to image making is founded on the development of a new medium that can change the way we use an existing media. For instance, new technologies can be used as amplifiers of locomotion and communication. And, with the invention of digital photography, the medium has become more accessible and less-technically craft-based, which demands a complete re-think of its definition and aesthetic approach.
In the past years, I’ve witnessed a resurgence of interest for alternative photo processes – more and more contemporary photographers are exploring these called old and obsolete forms (i.e. Cyanotypes, Van Dyke Brown, Daguerreotypes, Albumen and Salt Prints as well as contemporary alternatives from pinhole and toy cameras to making prints from digital negatives to experimental darkroom techniques such as developing film in coffee. There is latent interest to explore photography’s body, a movement towards the material substance and process that is away from digital disembodiment. Alternative photo processes and new technologies seem to expand the resources providing image-makers with more possibilities to choose from, more ways of creating.
SV – When approaching digital photography, we find ourselves in a context in which technology plays a central part. In modern education – in a broader sense – digital became, in some cases, part of the pedagogical process-allowing the opening of alternative forms of learning. How do you see the introduction of digital learning (i.e. e-learning platforms) in photography teaching?
KF – Digital learning plays a key element in the future of education. While digital platforms promised a panacea of cheap, fast and easy ways of learning, they are both a gift and a curse.
But, I want to believe that they offer a large spectrum of advantages; for example students can learn what they want at their own pace, they offer lower cost solutions and allow students to take classes with world-renowned experts in their field from all over the world.
A balanced curriculum in photography should include notions of history, technique, aesthetics and practice; so when it comes to a practice-based medium, it is important to keep an important number of face-to-face teaching hours – students learn by doing and the school has the necessary technical material and equipment to teach them. At PCA, we are open to new ways of learning. For instance, we have guest speakers doing online lectures from Milan, New York and London, and we share events designed to engender discussion on topics related to art, design, design management and more via our Web TV platform and iTunes U channel.
As well, PCA has launched its first online course, Gaultier to Louboutin: Style & Strategy in French Fashion, starting in the coming months.
SV – You have a background in Digital Media and the nature of your research is heavily based on media experimentation. What is, in your opinion, the importance of the exploration of the image in contemporary visual storytelling?
KF – My ongoing research focuses on the image, its origin and its incidence in the current art world, through new technologies and different ways of perceiving art, as well as how they influence our daily life. The interest for new technologies and media experimentation has opened several directions in my career, and has radically changed the way I see and use photography. New technologies alter, rather than simply extend acquired resources. And that’s exactly what I’m interested in.
In today’s society addicted to technology, it is important to question and understand the ever-expanding possibilities of digital image-making devices and the power of communication through the web. I’m interested in understanding the nature of digital media and its impact on the processes of making and experiencing photography. The Internet has changed the way we consider photography, and the medium has undergone remarkable transformations at every level. Why do certain images go viral and what is the message behind it? Photographers are storytellers, and the way they narrate a story is one of the most important tools they can use to create a strong image and to convey a message.
SV – As the photography media and the context it generates are constantly evolving, changing, transforming, how can education follow this process and be up-to-date?
KF – One of the most exciting things in education is that you don’t work alone; it’s a team effort. In order to cope with fast changes and evolution, having an expert team is the greatest asset. But also, a clear vision and understanding of what you, as an institution, are trying to achieve. My vision of higher education goes beyond fostering talent in the classroom; it involves shared projects and initiatives with external partners, allowing students to experience the professional world through their own research. As for me, I believe a school to be a place of mutual exchange, a place to rethink and renegotiate, where students can find new sources for their own practice, particularly out in the field. I envision, therefore, an education that emphasizes the learning process rather than the finished work.
SV – How do you prepare your students to face the professional world outside? Is there any specific program or class devoted to this topic?
KF – Our MA/MFA programs at Paris College of Art focus on know-how (based on history and tradition), new technologies and innovation, as well as the professional aspect that includes soft skills that an international community is uniquely positioned to promote, and professional collaborations and partnerships with the industry and cultural institutions. We propose classes that focus on photography and the market in which students focus on the business and practical side of the photographic industry: in our Professional Practices Workshops students meet professionals from the Parisian art and design world who introduce them to their professional practice and engage them in practical exercises preparing them for the job market; intellectual property rights classes; as well as educational principles that give students an overview of historical and current pedagogical theory that is specific to the teaching or art and design. This particular course introduces alternative approaches to building a learning environment, a pedagogy based upon recent experiments in art education that challenge the traditional structure of a ‘school’.
SV – The number of MA degree programs in Photography offered has been growing in the recent past, and usually offer comes because of demand. How would you explain this increasing need of Master’s studies exploring photography and image-making?
KF – Graduate studies can be a great opportunity to gain advanced training, new skills and in-depth subject knowledge. We live in a fast paced world where individuals must be prepared, and young professionals are looking to learn more and more everyday. For instance, I see that photography students often apply with a strong portfolio, good technical and conceptual skills. They search in our programs missing skills or a specific expertise that they want for their future careers.
SV – I’d like to end with a simple but not so easy question: what makes your MA / MFA program unique?
KF – Without a doubt, I would say our stellar faculty, a world-renowned team of experts in their fields (photographers, artists, journalists, art historians, printmakers, publishers, writers and curators) who will enrich students through their teaching and their support outside the classroom. I strongly believe that active professionals are best suited to impart the skills and knowledge required to prepare students to enter a rapidly changing professional world.
And of course, Paris and our international community make our program unique!