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Why Get an MFA in Photography?

Graduates of our Photography and Integrated Media program share what they found valuable about earning an MFA.

5 Benefits of Getting an MFA

People pursue their MFA for a variety of reasons. Some want to immerse themselves in their craft, knowing that being in an MFA program will push them to create. Others want to develop a solid collection of work for their portfolio, made even better with access to the best equipment that many universities have to offer.

Some graduates of our Photography & Integrated Media MFA program share their reasons for getting an advanced degree, and what they found valuable about the process. An MFA in Photography provided a way for them to come into their own as artists, explore how they create, and develop their ideas in a close-knit community that challenged and supported them. If you’re ready for a meaningful experience and up for the hard work, here are five reasons to pursue your MFA.

1. Exploring Your Artistic Process

Like many MFA students, Traci Marie Lee '16 started her fine arts education as an undergrad. A study abroad trip to Ireland in her junior year propelled her to seek an MFA after graduation. She realized she had so much more to explore and learn about herself as an artist. “I had so many philosophical and intellectual ideas that I was hungry to pursue within my art process, and going through an MFA program seemed like the best, most intensive and purposeful way to do that,” she says.

The MFA program provided Traci Marie what she needed—a competitive atmosphere and an intensive working environment. “It was the kind of specific pressure I needed to flesh out some of my ideas and wants as an artist, and really go after them with abandon,” she says.

MFA photography alumna Traci Marie Lee's "Guess you know me" from Landmarks
From the series Landmarks by Traci Marie Lee ‘16. “I'm really proud of my MFA thesis. It was work completely outside my comfort zone, and it only felt like the beginning of what I would come to pursue and define in my artistic career.”

Traci Marie is now the owner and head photographer for Thread Photography where she specializes in fine arts weddings, an approach that combines documentary-style photography with a fine arts background.

She also exhibits her work in the U.S. and abroad. Some of her more recent showings include the 2017 Exhibition of Alternative Photography, a curated group exhibition at The Far Eastern Art Museum in Khabarovsk, Russia, and Witching Hour: Imagery from Darkness, a juried group exhibition at PhotoSynthesis in Connecticut.

"What I enjoyed the most about my MFA program was my peers. Without the support and criticism from everyone else, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the journey. The connections I made will continue to enrich my career, as well as my peers. It’s one of the reasons I’d tell someone to pursue an MFA."
Zach Hoffman ’14, MFA in Photography & Integrated Media

2. Expanding Your Professional Network

From renowned visiting artists and faculty to peers who can push you to higher levels, you never know who you will meet during your MFA program.

“Getting an MFA opened up opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” says Crystal Foss '16. Pursuing an MFA led Crystal to an international curating experience, and later, to a position teaching photography at Olympic College in Washington.

Crystal was one of four students chosen for an internship with visiting artist and scholar Alison Nordström, the former Senior Curator of Photographs and Director of Exhibitions at George Eastman Museum, the world's oldest museum dedicated to photography. Crystal worked on research and presentation projects for artists who’d be considered for Fotofestiwal, an international festival of photography in Lodz, Poland.

The internship grew into a second appointment where Crystal assisted Alison in exhibition design remotely from Cambridge, culminating in her spending a month in Poland for installation and opening receptions. One of the main exhibitions she worked on for the festival, Displaced, focused on the influx of Syrian refugees to Europe.

"My favorite part of the MFA program was its difficulty and intensity," Crystal says. "Along with the number of networking opportunities that came with the visiting faculty, I developed strong connections with many of my mentors. Combined with the regular faculty keeping you on your toes in favor of hard work over everything else, I had a truly life changing experience."

Magnetism by MFA in Photography aluma Crystal Foss
From the series Magnetism (2016) by Crystal Foss. "The Magnetism Series is an autobiographical exploration of how I fit into the world, with my physical size as the largest inhibitor to a secure sense of belonging and barrier to emotional intimacy; this digital triptych shows the degrees at which I alter myself to literally and metaphorically fit in perceived ideals. All in hopes of receiving affection often symbolized with objects. (ie. flowers, jewelry, etc.)."

3. Growing Your Creative Practice

An MFA program can give you the freedom to explore, break the rules, and discover your own path as an artist. At least that was EV Krebs’ '15 experience. 

EV had wanted to become a photographer since she was 13 years old, and so she structured her undergraduate education around that goal. She earned her BFA in 2012 and knew that continuing her education was the natural next step.

“Pursuing an MFA in photography pushed me out of my comfort zone, allowing for growth in my creative and personal practice. The concepts I learned during my time in the program continue to influence me today,” she says. “It’s unlike anything you’ll ever experience. Your life becomes your art.”

EV says that getting an MFA not only helped her as an artist but also helped pave a career path via connections she made in the program. She now works as an imaging technician at Harvard University libraries where she assists in producing digital images of materials to be included in Harvard’s digital archive.

photography mfa alumna EV Krebs's "Untitled Journal Entry: Just Girly Things"
untitled journal entry // just girly things by EV Krebs ‘15
"The faculty and the visiting artists were amazing. Everyone on the Lesley team is truly invested in each student's journey. I felt very cared for and it was the first time I had such a large group of advocates for my work."
Danielle Ezzo ’15, MFA in Photography & Integrated Media

4. Sharing Your Passion for Photography

Zach Hoffman's artistic education began in college where he earned his BA in photography and film. "I had taken photographs and used film before, but with point-and-shoot cameras and with no connection to the magic of watching an image appear from a blank, white page," he says. "Like a painter has a paintbrush, chemistry and light are the photographer's tools. I chose to attain my MFA in photography to teach and encourage others to experience the magic and wonder like I did."

Since graduating with his MFA in 2014, Zach has successfully combined his love for photography with teaching through Image Lab Photography—a creative workspace and community rental darkroom he owns and manages in Bozeman, Montana. At Image Lab, people can work with both traditional and modern photographic equipment, blending old and new processes, as they learn not only how to take pictures, but how to make pictures.

MFA photograhy alum Zach Hoffman's "Cave"
From the installation CAVE (2017) by the NeuroCave Collaborative, Photographer Zach Hoffman '14. "The journey of an MFA was something nobody could have prepared me for. The challenges and successes gave me a confidence in my work and in myself that I would never have achieved on my own. It was a time that will forever shape my decisions as an artist."

5. Developing an Edge and Confidence

Danielle Ezzo '15 had spent 8 years working professionally as an artist and photographer in New York City before deciding she wanted to take her practice to the next level. Seeking the critical conversation, critique, and community that grad school provides, she made the big decision to put her blossoming career on hold to enroll in an MFA program. “In a lot of ways, it was a huge sacrifice,” Danielle says. “I’m really glad I did it though. My degree has given me an edge and a level of confidence in my practice. The program catalyzed my work and creative evolution.”

Floating Not Falling by MFA in Photography alumna Danielle Ezzo
Floating, Not Falling (2017) by Danielle Ezzo

Danielle is back in New York working as freelance photo retoucher with expertise in fashion, beauty, advertising, and fine art markets. As a self-employed artist, she has exhibited her work across the country and internationally, from the IRL Gallery in Ohio to the A.C. Institute in New York and The Far Eastern Museum of Art in Russia. Her work has also been written about in the Boston GlobeTate, and Lenscratch.

Learn More

Our two-year, on-campus MFA in Photography & Integrated Media program begins each Fall in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a few miles outside of Boston.

Our students have access to black and white darkrooms, 15 individual color darkrooms, an alternative process darkroom, and studios for setting up photoshoots. We have camera, video, and studio equipment, including a wide range of professional lenses, strobe and tungsten lighting, and all chemistry required for darkroom and alternative process work. Learn more about our facilities.

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