A Snapshot of Webster University Geneva’s Photography Programme
Since the beginning of the 20th century, Switzerland has played a prominent role in the conservation of the history of photography. With the Musée Suisse de l’Appareil Photographique in Vevey open to the public since 1971 and the Musée d’Elysée in Lausanne open since 1985, these Swiss establishments work hard to preserve historic artefacts in photographic history and to blend history with contemporary work. With Switzerland acting as an ally in photographic conservation, it only makes sense that there be an opportunity for young photographers to learn more about the 200 year-old medium.
Offered since the beginning of summer 2013, the Photography Programme at Webster University Geneva is newly minted and growing. Webster University Geneva is a continually developing extension of its mother campus in St. Louis, having launched with less than 30 students in its first year to include over 600 students enrolled today. Under the umbrella of the Media Communications Department at Webster Geneva, Photography Programme Coordinator Francesco Arese Visconti assures that “courses have been organised to work with the Media Communications programme so that photo students can work in tandem with media students and establish partnerships.” The photography programme, currently with 15 students enrolled, offers a BA or minor in Photography and certificates in Photojournalism or Studio Photography. Coursework is based largely on building a portfolio as students work with both traditional and digital means of production. With a dark room for classic printing methods and a media lab equipped with large iMacs and editing software, Arese Visconti has students experience both old and new methods.
“It’s important for students to first understand the foundations of photography before moving to creative work. It teaches you to be patient, to understand what quality means; quality needs time,” says Arese Visconti.
Working closely with students to improve their work, Arese Visconti also makes sure they are involved in field experience. Up until 2013, Webster offered a 3-day humanitarian trip to Bosnia where photojournalism students could experience the post-conflict effects in Srebrenica. Photography students also have the option to take part in a yearly trip to Tuscany for class credit. The class, usually consisting of no more than eight students with Arese Visconti as the main instructor and supervisor, lasts two weeks in Tuscany and is open to students on the Webster Geneva campus as well as students in St. Louis. In this setting, students experience intensive training in digital and traditional photography; one with modern, electronic cameras and the other using vintage equipment with film that requires development in a dark room.
Throughout the course, Arese Visconti obliges his students to use large format 8×10 cameras in which negatives are almost the size of an A4 sheet. This requires being covered in a dark shroud whilst using the device to view the image in the camera. Ansel Adams and Edward Weston – who mastered the use of the camera for landscape composition in the 20th century – each became famous in the United States for their work, which involved a painstakingly slow process of preparation and development. The use of these techniques from the 1900’s, Arese Visconti explains, is a rare opportunity in times of modern digitalization for students to experience the medium.
Insisting that the time in Italy is an experience like no other, Arese Visconti says that the comprehensive trip is one thing that sets Webster apart from other universities: “At Webster we are very keen on multidisciplinary work because life is so multidisciplinary. I want students to be exposed to arts and food and landscapes and a different culture in general.”
Opportunities to work in the field are also possible for Webster Geneva students. Since late 2012, Arese Visconti has been working on a project involving the largest concentration of Chinese immigrants in Europe, entitled ‘Hidden Identity: Italian/Chinese Community in Prato.’ The project focuses on Prato’s changing landscape as it adapts to the large influx of Chinese immigrants and the resulting transformation of its society. To help with his project, Arese Visconti chose three students in the Photography and Media Communications programme to travel with him to Prato, Italy, and document the behind-thescenes of the project, interview subjects, and assist shoots.
In order to prepare for professional field experience as photographers, students cover almost all of Webster Geneva’s events. The annual Media Trends Conference at Webster Geneva has Webster’s photography students produce work for the event. Covering issues affecting all forms of media, the Media Trends conference has brought in numerous accomplished photographers to teach workshops during the two-day event, most notably Eric Bouvet, a French photojournalist whose work earned him five World Press Photo awards.
While students in the department have portfolios and a greater understanding of photography as their main goals through the three-to-four years at university, Arese Visconti insists that while the technical aspects of photography can be easily learned, passion to learn is the only true requirement to participate.
“Photography is a visual art and it must not be considered as a separate discipline from any other form. We breathe art everyday; it permeates your skin as you grow up and forms your mind. It’s not just shooting photographs, its taking photographs. You have to take your time with it.”
Article by Joy Corthesy