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MFA Photography & Integrated Media and NicaPhoto

Alicia Turbitt and Cotton Miller '13 found themselves handing out cameras to children in the small barrio of Sonrisa de Dios, Nicaragua.

children standing in circle holding sheet with their handprints on it


Current MFA Photography candidate Alicia Turbitt and MFA Photography alumnus Cotton Miller ’13 became involved with NicaPhoto through the MFA Photography program director, Christopher James. James is a mutual friend of Ronnie Ellen Maher, the director and founder of NicaPhoto. The mission of NicaPhoto is to empower disadvantaged children and their families living in the poorest barrios of Nicaragua. By allowing these children to reach their full potential, NicaPhoto strives to break the cycle of extreme poverty by working with members of this community. 

Ronnie reached out to Christopher for recommendations of MFA students, or artists in general, that might be interested in teaching for NicaPhoto. After back and forth emails with Ronnie, a face-to-face over coffee, and a sudden (but lovely) drop in airfare, both Cotton and Alicia decided to head to Nagarote, Nicaragua. With no clear plan, they moved forward with making this experience a reality, allowing the details and logistics to unfold in due time.

Photography Workshops in the Barrio

A typical day in Nagarote consisted of morning and afternoon sessions with two different age groups. In the morning we met with the younger group of 10 to 13 year-olds, the afternoon session with the older 14 to 17 year-olds. Each session began with a critique, looking at images the students captured the previous day, discussing what worked, and what didn't. Critique was followed by a short presentation of (loose) artistic guidelines they would incorporate that day. Next, they would assign a photo project, or a few key things to look for while shooting on location. The week of workshops was presented to the community at local parks – which proved to be popular with many in the barrio.

The MFA in Photography & Integrated Media program at the College of Art and Design definitively prepared me to think on my feet, and to expect the unexpected.
Cotton Miller ’13, MFA in Photography

Expecting the Unexpected

Both Cotton and Alicia had no idea of what to expect. They knew nothing about the students they would be working with, nor did they know how the program operated. Needless to say, each day included quite a bit of improvisation. The MFA Photography & Integrated Media program at the College of Art and Design “definitively prepared me to think on my feet, and to expect the unexpected,” acknowledges Cotton. Specifically, Critical Theory–a course from the MFA program–and lateral thinking allowed him to push past the easy answer to difficult problems.

“It was an incredibly rewarding journey to see children with no formal education in Photography, pick up a camera, and make spectacular photographs in a short time. Teaching for NicaPhoto has allowed me to look at education from a multilingual perspective. The challenge of teaching to students who only speak Spanish, and my Spanish is rusty at best, was a very rewarding experience,” recalls Cotton.

“Ronnie, the entire staff, and friends of NicaPhoto were incredibly open, and welcoming. They are all multi-talented and absolutely dedicated to these kids - it’s awe-inspiring. Everyone in Nagarote were accommodating, and loving; they made us feel right at home. Alicia and I now have a second family in Nagarote, and hope to return in the near future.”

Cotton would like to extend a special thanks to Ronnie, Walter, Karen, Christian, Wendy, Ada Francys, Karen, Massiel, Gilary, Ada, and all of NicaPhoto staff, and of course, the children for such an amazing experience. Cotton Miller is currently an Adjunct Faculty member at Mount Ida College in Newton, MA; teaching Photography, Computer Imaging Techniques, and Vector Graphics. 

To learn more about NicaPhoto and how you can get involved, visit

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