• Jamie Hankin

Famous photographers school

Back in 1948, in the glow of post-war optimism and consumerist expansion, advertising exploded. There were lots of veterans looking for jobs, women had started to be accepted in the workforce, due to their wartime contributions and the economy and businesses were looking for the next big thing.

Training was the next big thing. Academia was slow to respond and even slower to deliver. So, the correspondence course was invented. Learn by mail, we'll send you instruction and manuals, you send us your assignments and your money. The Famous Artists School advertised in magazines and on matchbook covers, draw this animal and you too could be a famous artist.

It was only a matter of time before someone figured that if it worked for illustrators, it would work for photographers as well. Founded in 1961, you could learn to be a professional photographer from the comfort of your own home, in your spare time. The life was made to seem glamorous, fast cars and exotic locations, instruction by all those famous names one saw in the magazine credits.


Faculty of the Famous Photographers School, 1964. Photo by Irving Penn

That's Penn in the center with the shutter release, Avedon immediately to his right.


Talent was not a requirement, only ambition and tuition. Conventional colleges, universities and art schools scoffed, but over time, academia saw the dollar signs on the wall and soon, "real" art schools with "real" diplomas and "accreditation" were sprouting up like weeds.


Fast forward to today. Art schools are in trouble because the cost of post secondary education has ballooned out of sight and schools are not adequately preparing students for the reality of the 21st century economy they'll face when they leave school. In hope of attracting more students to the academic model, distance learning programs utilizing the internet and modern technology again offer the convenience of learning asynchronously and virtually present in the classroom. There are still entrance requirements and reputations to be upheld, but the hunger to feed the institutional beast often overwhelms such restrictions.


And so, here we are again. Famous and not so famous photographers hawking their experiences as commodities to a throng of "wanabees" by subscription on the internet. Slickly produced videos and household names by the likes of National Geographic and Masterclass promising that you too can produce award winning and commercially viable imagery by following a simple (fill in the blank) step program.


There are lots of tools in any craftsperson's tool kit. Surely there is something to be learned by everyone from everyone, even the most unlikely of sources. Our minds should always be open. I'm certain that no success is as easy as these advertising pitches make it seem. I know there's no substitute for hard work and dedication. I believe we learn our entire lives, that when we stop learning is when we die. I want everyone to know that it can be fast cars and pretty boys and girls, for awhile, but it's never easy and often full of disappointment and depression, a Sisyphean task that is never completed.


I know they tried to tell me when I was young, but as with all youth, I knew better. Now it's my turn to tell the unglamorous truth. Work is work. It's hard. There are no short cuts. Get busy, you'll be at it for a long time. If you are really lucky, you may enjoy some spectacular days. I have.

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© 2017 Jamie Hankin.