Bachelor’s Program

In the Photography BFA program you explore and examine the social, cultural and historical contexts in which you work, in order to better understand the discipline and medium. Through close observation and guided discussions, you learn to read images and develop the visual literacy you need to articulate ideas and make meaningful work.


Following the first-year program in Experimental and Foundation Studies, in your sophomore year you begin the Photography BFA program by exploring analog and digital processes and techniques via various camera formats, traditional darkroom print production and digital workflows. Through close examination of photographs, you engage in deep critical thinking to develop a visual literacy informed by the history of photography, as well as seminars focused on the impact of photography in visualizing difference in class, race, gender and identity.

During junior year you expand on this knowledge, focusing on experimentation within the photographic medium and others, as well as materials, subjects and approaches to making. At this time you begin to produce self-directed projects, areas of inquiry, methods of research and articulation of conceptual and abstract ideas through group critiques, writing assignments and public presentations. 

Your senior year is focused on developing work that will map a trajectory for an artistic practice that sustains itself beyond the bounds of the BFA and into a professional practice. The capstone degree project is a written thesis composed of critical reflection, influence and a definition of the scope and evolution of your own work, complemented by self-designed solo and two-person exhibitions in the Red Eye Gallery, the department’s dedicated exhibition space.

View the curriculum

Learning outcomes

The program enables students to engage with, interpret and represent the world in meaningful ways. Graduates are prepared to:

  • develop personally driven work that demonstrates complexity and individuality.
  • approach their practice as an evolving, exploration of forms, ideas, issues, and materials that are the culmination of work ethic, reflection and research.
  • shape the context and dialogue around their work through oral presentations and writing.
  • show proficiency in advanced analog and digital techniques and how those techniques relate to the construction of meaning.
  • demonstrate understanding and sensitivity of the power relationships of representation and photography.
  • present ability to critically reflect on one's own work and others from open, challenging and collective viewpoints.

Inspiring community

Around 30 undergraduates work in close proximity with roughly 15 graduate students (though they have dedicated studios in a separate building). Between crits, informal discussions and rotating exhibitions at the department's Red Eye Gallery, conversations with your peers about your ideas and work are central to the department’s culture.

A range of photographers with diverse approaches and styles come to campus each semester through the long-running T.C. Colley Lecture Series, while Professional Practice electives put you in contact with photographers working for commercial studios and photo agencies.

Learning environment

The Photography department is housed in the Design Center, which is home to the Red Eye Gallery, a dedicated exhibition space for use by Photography students. In addition, the department also has its own equipment checkout in the Design Center, the student-staffed Photo Cage. It features a wide range of high-end digital and analog cameras all for use by Photography majors, providing students with a broad range of technical exploration.

Students, faculty and staff work together to foster an environment of community, collaboration, openness and inclusivity both in and outside the classroom. We solicit student feedback, input and opinions on visiting artists, critics and department hires, and welcome alumni involvement.

Degree project

Senior students develop self-directed work that in their final semester becomes the degree project, culminating in a written thesis, a solo or two-person exhibition in our Red Eye Gallery and a portfolio for RISD’s archives.

The written thesis process requires critical reflection, research, and a map of how the concepts and subjects in current work will evolve going forward. Through the degree project, we encourage students to develop modes of inquiry that will clarify paths forward after graduation, as well as to develop professional practices that will support them in advancing their work within the context of sustainable practice beyond the confines of the institution.