Photo by Shohei Miyachi
There is no way to write this article without it reading like a blow job for the photography department at New York’s School of Visual Arts. But maybe the program deserves a little attention—because it awards more than a hundred BFAs in photography each year, some of the students are bound to be really good by sheer odds. A unique part of their curriculum is The Mentors Program, which pairs the department’s 60 top students with professionals in the photography field. If this sounds a little Darwinistic, that’s because it is. “The students are chosen at the end of their third year based on their engagement in the program and their hard work," department chair Stephen Frailey told me. “The number of students we accept fluctuates each year depending on the characteristics of the class, but all are eligible."
This year, I’m proud to be the least famous person on the list of SVA Mentors, which includes people like New York Times Magazine photo editor Kathy Ryan, photographer Mary Ellen Mark, artist Laurie Simmons, and art dealer Yossi Milo. VICE has always supported young photographers, so it makes sense that two past VICE photo editors are on the list as well: Christian Storm and Ryan McGinley.
I was interested in what mentors and students had to say about the experience of working together this year, so here is a preview of some of the work that will be on display at SVA's Chelsea gallery tonight from 6 to 8 PM, with comments from both sides. The show runs through Saturday, April 5, 2014.
Sepeed Emambakhsh & Ryan McGinley
Photo by Sepeed Emambakhsh
"Ryan is a gem. He is full of great ideas ranging from sneaking into the morgue to look at dead bodies to scoping out old landfills. He encouraged me to get my hands dirty with my work, literally." —Sepeed Emambakhsh
"Sepeed's spooky anarchic photographs document her journeys with mysterious hobo-ish men through abandoned American wastelands. The images feel like alluring crime scenes of a film-noir vagabond lifestyle." —Ryan McGinley, photographer
Janice Chung & Elisabeth Biondi
Photo by Janice Chung
"I was so nervous when I first met Elisabeth, but she was really nurturing and invested in mentoring me. She wasn't afraid to tell it like it is, and I really appreciated her keen editor's eye." —Janice Chung
"Janice was the perfect mentee. She is talented, and she has a good project, for which she has done both photographs and a video. We worked together to round off both and discussed how to best represent her work. She focused on her family, which in turn reflects on her Korean roots. I respected the fact that she worked hard and wanted to give her project her all. She is very polite and appreciative, initially quite shy, but with each visit our exchange became more open and interactive. In short, a real pleasure." —Elisabeth Biondi, curator/visuals editor
Molly Matalon & Kathy Ryan
Photo by Molly Matalon
"Working with Kathy was really great and truly an honor. We met every two weeks. In the beginning we reviewed my portfolio work of my mom and discussed how the work could thrive as editorial work. Later in our meetings we looked at other work I've been making that I was hired to shoot. I would run ideas by her as far as my instillation for the Mentor Show, and we usually agreed on things. She's really open-minded and totally one of the nicest women ever. It was intimidating going to the New York Times building every two weeks." —Molly Matalon
"Molly brings an original and lively sense of warmth and wit to the portraits of her mother. She has a willing and cooperative subject, and that results in some revealing, provocative, and heartfelt pictures. It was a pleasure to watch this series evolve over the semester." —Kathy Ryan, director of photography, New York Times Magazine
Lauren Poor & Simen Johan
Photo by Lauren Poor
"It was nice working with Simen. hH was friendly and helpful and gave me a bunch of materials that he didn't need anymore, including lots of glitter, a bunch of feathers, and what looked like a real chicken's head submerged in it all. Fun! I enjoyed seeing his workplace and having his input and advice on what I showed him." —Lauren Poor
"I enjoyed working with Lauren. She has developed a unique and interesting image-making style that has huge creative potential. I hope she sticks with it after graduation and becomes the art star I foresee in her." —Simen Johan, photographer
Michael Schmidt & Paul Moakley
Photo by Michael Schmidt
"Paul is very generous with his time. It is obvious that he loves his job as an editor, curator, and mentor. He always made himself available and had a positive attitude. I'm glad SVA provides us with this opportunity, and I could not have asked for a better mentor." —Michael Schmidt
"Schmidt's work observing his estranged father is an exploration of the gap in a father-son relationship, which he approached with no expectations and depicted with detached curiosity. The work is at times awkward, funny, and deeply emotional." —Paul Moakley, deputy photo editor, TIME
Tim Schutsky & Richard Renaldi
Photo by Tim Schutsky
"My community of photographers at SVA has been so important to my work. Having Richard as my mentor was a gift—we connected immediately. Even though he was busy, he was there for me when I needed to make decisions. I feel great about how things turned out." —Tim Schutsky
"I have been a mentor with the School of Visual Arts for a number of years now, and without a doubt I would say that Tim has been my most conscientious mentee. He was very receptive to suggestions regarding his work. I enjoy the direction in which Tim's work is going, and I think his photographs in the exhibit are going to look amazing." —Richard Renaldi, photographer
Mateusz Silwa & Christian Storm
Photo by Mateusz Silwa
"Working with Christian was rather insightful. He understood the point I was trying to make with my work and steered me away from doing some of the things that he had felt were a gimmick or cop-out, especially with the type of work I do. I feel that his words and guidance solidified what I was trying to accomplish with my latest project as well as what is in the show, so I'm really grateful for working with him." —Mateusz Silwa
"Mat's work documents and examines the vernacular detritus of city living, looking for threads of color, shape, and gesture that suggest a hazy narrative for the viewer. Mat's a kind of photographer's photographer; he thinks visually and sees photographs everywhere, creating really clever, striking images from things you wouldn't guess. He is smart as hell and working with him was great, partly because we think about photography very similarly, which is always fun." —Christian Storm, photo editor
Laura Lachman & Mary Ellen Mark
Photo by Laura Lachman
"I asked to be paired with Mary Ellen because we share a common ideology of using the camera as a tool to show compassion and empathy towards the 'other' in society. Before meeting with Mary Ellen, I was very scared since I had so much respect for her and her legacy, but when I got to her studio and met her for the first time she was incredibly approachable and friendly. —Laura Lachman
"It was a pleasure to meet Laura Lachman and to work with her as a mentor. She is a very sensitive young artist with an earnest drive and passion to create powerful and moving images." —Mary Ellen Mark, photographer
Rachel Wark & Janet Borden
Photo by Rachel Wark
"Janet Borden was a total pleasure and a riot to work with. It was truly a privilege to have access to one of the quickest wits in the contemporary photo sphere. Janet helped me utilize and complement the unique characteristics of my work." —Rachel Wark
"Rachel Wark rocks! I like the way she thinks about the work and how people can view it.
Someone should buy her piece." —Janet Borden, president, Janet Borden, Inc.
Richard Wagner & Vince Aletti
Photo by Richard Wagner
"I've been so happy to be paired with Vince because he knows so much about what I'm interested in— physique magazines as well as the artists I draw inspiration from. Being a young artist in a meeting with the likes of Vince Aletti is intimidating, but he offers encouragement while still letting me know if something isn't quite working." —Richard Wagner
"From our first Mentors meeting, it was clear that Richard Wagner knew what he was up to. His work is hardly traditional photography. He reproduces appropriated images from vintage gay porn in a repeated, overlapping pattern on flexible sheets of rubber that hang on the wall like heavy curtains. The results, channeling Warhol and Polke, are confident and cheeky." —Vince Aletti, photography critic, The New Yorker
Shohei Miyachi & Matthew Leifheit
Photo by Shohei Miyachi
Let me end by endorsing my own student’s work, without reservation. I am so glad to have been paired with Shohei Miyachi, a 24-year-old photographer from Shizuoka, Japan. He is one of the most deliberate artists I have ever met, but his work reveals a daring undercurrent. In his series Devotion, he photographs himself with an older gay man he met on the street one day, though he is not gay himself. They are both nude in the photographs, and the relationship visibly rises from struggle to fantasy, then deteriorates to the point of detachment. It’s a provocative exchange: Shohei is allowed to make photographs of this man, and the man is allowed to adore Shohei.
The Mentors Show opening reception is from 6 to 8 PM tonight. The work will remain on view through Saturday, April 5, 2014.
SVA Chelsea Gallery
601 West 26th Street