Pop-up classes connect students with industry

Students, faculty and guest speakers during a recent photography pop-up class, held on Zoom.

In an example of the many ways RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences connects students with industry, this year it offered several pop-up classes led by accomplished creative professionals.

The one-credit, weekend courses sharpened skills in various areas, ranging in subject matter from collaboration to “fake news” and beyond.

The year’s final guest-led workshop was delivered through an alternative mode due to the coronavirus pandemic. Renowned celebrity photographer Kwaku Alston ’94 (Photographic Illustration) was scheduled to return to campus for a lecture and pop-up class March 20-21 until the events were canceled. Instead, Alston presented his workshop, with guests of his own, online to students on March 28. 

The course featured discussion on portfolio development, creative marketing, pitch decks, life on photoshoot sets, post production and more. Several guest speakers added to the conversation throughout the day: Experience Life magazine creative director Lydia Anderson, Hollywood Reporter photo and video director Jennifer Laski, producer Kathy Nenneker and portrait photographer Sara Swaty Roger ’11 (Professional Photographic Illustration). 

The day culminated in a critique of an assignment given by Alston that was produced and concepted by students. 

“It was eye-opening and I felt very motivated afterward,” said Jasmine Lin ’21, Visual Media option (Photographic and Imaging Arts BFA).

Alston’s portfolio includes portraits of Oscar and Grammy winners, Barack and Michelle Obama, LeBron James and Nelson Mendela for publications such as Essence, The New York Times and Time. He has also photographed the promotional material for popular films like “Black Panther” and the live-action adaptation of “The Lion King.” 

“Not only did I find it engaging, it was nice that this platform allowed Kwaku to seamlessly bring in some guest speakers,” said James Gerrish ’20, Advertising Photography option (Photographic and Imaging Arts BFA). “I especially liked this because it reinforced the importance of teamwork, communication, trust and relationships within the industry I plan to enter. 

“There were plenty of great takeaways from the workshop. The most notable was the importance of person-to-person interaction and references, capitalizing the hype around a successful project and using it to create more success.”

A photo of a computer screen with a student project on it.
Advertising Photography student Allie Hansen's photo from Kwaku Alston's "Corona Impressions" assignment.

RIT Photojournalism faculty developed other weekend credit-bearing workshops this year that provided students the opportunity to work with industry professionals. 

The experiences were led by folklorist Hannah Davis, two-time Emmy-winning video editor and producer Eric Maierson and picture editor Karen Cetinkaya. 

Davis’ fieldwork-based course focused on student engagement with people in the greater Rochester area.

Students learned about diverse communities and ethnographic practices and pursuits, helping to inform best practices in participant observation, in-person interviewing techniques and other forms of documentation. Students executed a project that facilitated direct contact with and documentation of a Rochester neighborhood as a way to better understand those who reside in the region. 

Davis is a visiting lecturer in RIT’s School of Individualized Study and former upstate regional representative for the New York Folklore Society. 

Maierson’s class, “Fight the Fear,” revolved around creativity and collaboration. Students developed tactics on how to advance their own creativity, ingenuity and vision, sustain productive work habits and continue to evolve as problem solvers in any creative field. 

Cetinkaya, a former photo editor at The New York Times, led a course designed to teach students how to navigate the current media landscape where manipulated images and video are everywhere. The group held discussions on being good digital citizens and fostering dialogue with those holding opposing points of view. 

Eric Maierson leads a workshop for a group of photojournalism students
Eric Maierson during his workshop at RIT in November. By Josh Meltzer.

Another pop-up class offered through the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences was a full documentation of the 2020 Special Olympics New York Winter Games. 

Under the guidance of faculty and alumni, more than 80 students from various photography disciplines — as well as the Journalism and Museum Studies programs — filled a website with athletes’ stories and moments from the event.

It was the third consecutive year RIT partnered with Special Olympics New York to cover the event. The project has allowed students to hone their skills in a real-world, collaborative environment. 

Catherine Rafferty '20, Photojournalism option (Photographic and Imaging Arts BFA) participated in three of the pop-ups (Alston's, Maierson's and the Special Olympics project).

"I think meeting industry professionals through the pop-up classes was invaluable because we had a chance to get to know each other face to face, speak candidly about the challenges of working in creative fields and get their honest advice," Rafferty said. "I hope the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences continues to offer similar opportunities in the future."

Students photograph athletes participating in the Special Olympics Winter Games.
Students capture a portrait of athletes during the Special Olympics New York Winter Games. By Ben Braun.

The pandemic also postponed a one-credit pop-up course scheduled for April 3-5. Assistant professor of photojournalism Josh Meltzer said the “Telling the Story of Addiction and Recovery” workshop is planned to now take place in the fall. 

Led by the husband-wife team of photojournalist Graham MacIndoe and journalist Susan Stellin, the class examines how to better present balanced stories of addiction and recovery. Meltzer said students will collaborate with local medical professionals and community leaders working in harm reduction for the workshop, hosted through RIT’s Center for Engaged Storycraft.

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