I remember sifting through college brochures when I was 16 and coming to a crossroads: following my impulses—going to art school in New York City—or heeding my mother’s wishes and going to a school with a nice campus, maybe in Rhode Island or something. Somehow, she conceded and I ended up in New York City in the fall of the following year, studying photography and trying to embrace simply spending time and making connections in this venerable “Mecca” of photography. Four years later, I was spit out into the real New York City, without the cradle of school to fall back on, but had learned numerous lessons and lived through numerous positive and negative experiences that continue to shape my relationship with photography and New York City.
The most obvious pros regarding studying photography in New York City concern access: when studying here, you have the ability to visit the Museum of Modern Art at the drop of a hat. You can go to the Metropolitan Museum just to see the new contemporary art exhibition and not feel bad about skipping the rest of the museum. The New Museum, the International Center of Photography, the Guggenheim, the Whitney—these are all now resources for you to use, rather than checkboxes on your itinerary of things to cover on vacation. Even more than museums, you also have access to the hundreds of art galleries about the city, where you are afforded even closer access to the artworks, along with the ability to keep tabs on the changing art scene from month to month.
Beyond cultural institutions and art galleries, New York is also the hotbed of the professional photography scene, where many photographers either work or reside. If you study in New York City, this means you will more than likely have working photographers lecture during class, or you will visit studios to gain insight on how the commercial, advertising, and editorial segments of the photographic world function in practical terms. This is not hypothetical instruction, and being on set for a photo shoot really goes a long way—especially when you can see the finished photographs in a major national publication the following month. Along the same lines, with the abundance of working photographers in the city, you also have the ability to find internships or assistantships easily with photographers for whom you are genuinely interested in working. Being a student in the city gives you entrée to contacting photographers and asking if they need help around the studio, or asking a gallery if you can help out on weekends (unpaid, of course). I often felt this real-world type of learning proved more useful than my time spent in the classroom, but it was the balance between the two that made it a uniquely well-rounded education.
Speaking of classrooms (or more often than not, studios), another perk to studying in in New York is the access to and abundance of equipment you are able to use at school. Equipment manufacturers take note that photography students will eventually be photography customers, and strive to make an impression on them with their products early on. This means that while working on your final projects, you often will have the ability to work with the latest camera and lighting gear, as well as have access to computer labs fitted with full versions of Adobe Creative Cloud, Wacom tablets galore, and NEC monitors that are kept color-calibrated for efficient printing. It’s important to make use of all of the equipment you can while studying, because it’s there for you to learn with, and also because you will discover what gear you really like to use and should save up for after graduation.
Also in regard to equipment and studying in New York, you will, of course, now have the B&H SuperStore as your local photo store, which is perfect for its wide selection of materials, as well as being a great place for a drive-by to pick up some last-minute film or paper the weekend before your critique.
The cons (and some more pros)
Without trying to make New York City sound like the best place in the world to study photography, you should be cognizant of a number of drawbacks to studying and, possibly, eventually living here and working in the world of photography. To begin, New York City is an expensive place to live, and requires consistent motivation to find work in the photographic arena. Coupled with the expense, and the fact that New York is the hub of the photography world in the USA, competition is stiff. Whereas, in smaller towns you may be unique as the local photographer, in New York you are one of a multitude. On the plus side of these unfortunate truths, they can be spun into being motivators—competition can push you to improve your skills and can force you into networking more to build working relationships, or findg that internship you’ve been wanting.
Aside from the competitive atmosphere in New York, some of the other difficulties lie in the practicality of living here—it is difficult to own a car, and this city can be a challenging place to shoot for those looking to work outside the genres of street, studio, and architectural photography. If you’re the type of photographer drawn to landscapes or any environmental type of work that falls outside of the urban scope, be prepared to possibly change the method in which you work. Trains can help shed the city backdrop for a weekend, and spring and summer breaks can be used for intensive shooting sessions, but you will have to adapt to exiting the city to produce new images. On the other hand, this can be another positive consequence that forces you into being more resourceful with your time and more selective about what you photograph. With less time on hand, you will learn how to make the best of it.
Studying photography in New York City is different, and certainly not for everyone. While you have all of the access to the commercial, editorial, and art worlds of the industry at your fingertips, you are also potentially sacrificing the years you have to build up your skills and home in on your creative path. Try not to be blinded too much by the big lights of the city, and make sure to take the time to really get to know photography before diving into the professional marketplace. It’s a definite boon that it’s there—right there—but it can also obscure the path you need to follow to building a strong and individual skill set required to compete in the professional world when your schooling is finished.
Hi there, i'am a Brasilian,I would love to know in case of foreign students, you have accommodation for us?Another very important thing, you enable the papers to remove student visa, like F1 or work visa and i wonder to know if we could work in our free time, freelance etc ... if we could participate in exhibitions or take pictures for magazines, models agencies or advertising agencies? in this case we gonna need a work visa, Please will you tell me how long is your Photography class? I thank you for your attention and I will be looking forward to the answers.Best regard Mr.Carlos GamaJunior.
This is coming form a 53 year old truck driver, father and parent of a 19 year old videographer, living in upstate NY the last 25 years but originally a Brooklynite.
Other than the high cost of everything (except $1 pizza) there is NO other city in the world I would want to study or experience anything, other than New York city! (NYC)
If you are not from here remember NYC is NOT just expensive Manhattan!
It is comprised of 5 boroughs. Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan,Staten Island and Queens. Staten Island is my least favorite because I think it has the least culture and its a location difficult to access other than the (free and constantly running every half hour) Staten Island Ferry. As much as I love and enjoy riding the ferry it is not something I would want to ride to and from work unless my home/apartment was SOOOOO wonderful and affordable that it was worth it. The ferry is fantastic on sunny days. I have no idea what it is like during bad weather. I'm not talking just bad rain or storms. I'm talking heavy stormy snow and freezing temperatures. I doubt the harbor ever really freezes that bad but worth looking into if the ferry ever has a reason to stop running and then you are stuck either in SI or in Manhattan.
If you are going to live and study in NYC think ROOMMATES. Or if possible RELATIVES. Think tiny studio apartments or basements. Forget cars you won't need it and wont be able to afford to park it anywhere.Think walking, skates,biking, mass transit and taking pictures along the way to and from everywhere.
Every step you take is another great shot waiting to be taken. Also there are so many events pre planned and spontaneous that you never know when you will be taking that next great shot.
NYC has everything in the world as far as environment. People ,places, animals, things, indoor , outdoor, views, and whatever. It is competitive and passionate. Like the song says , if you can make it here you can make it anywhere.
I recommend it as a parent. Don't be afraid, Be respectful,aware and careful.
Good luck. I hope my writing helps you consider NYC as a place to be.