Academics Photography

Master’s Program

MFA | 2-year program

Graduate students in the program develop visual and critical expertise through course work, seminars, independent studio work and critiques designed to provide a deep understanding of contemporary art practices and criticism. Working in personal studios, students have access to state-of-the-art technical facilities that allow for the exploration of film-based and digital photography, digital video and multimedia production.

MFA candidates achieve a high level of technical mastery and create a coherent body of visual work representing a sustained and sophisticated investigation of ideas. They are also expected to write and speak about their work with an advanced level of fluency and to frame their practice in historical and critical contexts.

MFA FIRST YEAR

FALL
Graduate Critique I
Graduate Seminar
Open elective
WINTERSESSION
Open elective
SPRING
Graduate Critique II
Graduate Seminar
Open electives

MFA SECOND YEAR

FALL
Grad Critique III Thesis
Graduate Seminar
Open elective
WINTERSESSION
Open elective
SPRING
Grad Critique IV Thesis
Grad Photography Thesis Writing
Grad Thesis Project

Graduate student work

Learning outcomes

Graduates are prepared to:

  • state and achieve individual goals for their work.
  • deliver technically proficient work.
  • develop a cohesive body of work.
  • speak and write about their work with a high degree of clarity.
  • contextualize their work in contemporary practice.
  • demonstrate professionalism though teaching, gallery exhibition, photography assistantship, and/or managing a studio practice.

Inspiring community

In addition to learning from fellow students in RISD's many discipline-based programs, MFA candidates in Photography work closely with faculty who are accomplished working artists, scholars and educators with a passion both for teaching and their own studio work. Collectively, they provide students with a wealth of visual, intellectual and technical expertise. In addition, nationally recognized artists, curators, critics and gallery directors regularly visit to critique student work and/or present as part of the department's T.C. Colley Lecture Series.

Learning environment

Fourteen graduate students currently share the department's state-of-the-art technical facilities with roughly 30 undergraduates but also have exclusive access to a large-format Epson printer and a studio space in the Fletcher Building, part of RISD's graduate center complex downtown. Studios provide a place to work, meet with guest artists and curators, and interact with graduate students from other disciplines. Students interested in teaching are able to do so in their second year. Opportunities to both exhibit and curate shows are offered through the Sol Koffler Graduate Student Gallery, the RISD Museum's Gelman Gallery and the department's own Red Eye Gallery.

Thesis project

In the final semester, MFA candidates focus on creating a comprehensive body of work under the guidance of a thesis committee. All Photography graduate students produce a thesis book that includes a written narrative and a body of visual work. They also participate in an annual graduate thesis exhibition of work by students graduating from RISD's advanced degree programs.

Application requirements

  1. Submit your RISD application form, and all other credentials, through the RISD Applicant Portal. The application fee is $60.

  2. Initially, you must provide unofficial transcripts of all undergraduate and/or graduate study indicating satisfactory completion, or evidence of anticipated completion, of an undergraduate degree program from an accredited college or university. You can upload your unofficial transcripts within the RISD Applicant Portal. If your academic credentials are prepared in a language other than English, they must be translated into English by an approved translator before submitting. Enrolling students will later be required to submit official transcripts.

  3. Graduate applicants to studio programs are required to submit 10–20 examples of visual work, with certain programs suggesting more specific ideas or portfolio requirements.

    Use SlideRoom to submit your graduate portfolio here.

    Specific program instructions:

    Digital + Media: Your portfolio should contain 10 samples total, which can be a combination of media (e.g., images, video, sound). You may submit up to five videos as project documentation or excerpts of time-based media. In your portfolio you are encouraged to submit at least one video that clearly demonstrates your research and/or work process. Total runtime for all videos should be no more than five minutes.

    Please do not submit multi-page PDF files. Each sample should be accompanied by text identifying the medium and year, and a four-sentence description explaining the concepts that inform your work (50 words maximum). If collaborative projects are presented, you must clearly identify your individual contribution.

    Furniture Design: In the MFA programs, students often make their own work as a means to understand complex ideas. The idea is that critical making combined with critical thinking leads to innovative objects. This experimental approach applies to tests and models as well as to full-size objects at human scale. Material experimentation includes traditional, new and hybrid materials as appropriate to individual student interest. Choose your strongest work for your portfolio presentation—and it doesn't necessarily have to be furniture. If possible, you should aim to show finished photographed work and minimize the number of process images you include. ​

    In addition to your portfolio materials uploaded to SlideRoom, we ask you to include a self-made video (no more than 20 seconds duration) of you making something. The committee is not looking for video with professional production values, but rather is interested in seeing you making something: small, large, modest or complex, any making action can work—the choice is yours. This option shows the committee more about your interests. Please title your video.​

    Jewelry + Metalsmithing: The rigorous studio-based orientation of the graduate program leverages traditional skills and fabrication techniques to critically approach new territories and ways of making.

    In addition to your portfolio materials uploaded to SlideRoom, you are encouraged to include a self-made video no more than 20 seconds duration of you making something. We are not looking for video with professional production values; we are interested in seeing you making something – small, large, modest or complex, any making action can work, the choice is yours. This is an option you might enjoy adding to your submission for us to learn more about your interests. Please title your video.

    Landscape Architecture: All applicants to the Master's of Landscape Architecture degree programs are required to submit a portfolio and an additional video essay. Your portfolio should contain 10 individually produced and carefully chosen images of work that reflects your interests in landscape and the discipline of landscape architecture. Applicants to the MLA-1 program who have no prior design training may include photographs, sketches or written work that conveys their ability to observe, identify and explore spatial conditions within the landscape. All other applicants should include a selection of work that best represents the development of their interest in this field of study. All work should be labeled to indicate if it is academic, professional or personal. If team projects are presented, your individual contribution must be clearly identified. The portfolio should include a minimal amount of text.

    Prepare a short video of yourself telling us:

    • The most important reason you are motivated to study landscape architecture 
    • At least one goal you hope to achieve in your graduate education 
    • Why you think RISD is the best place to achieve your goals

    You are encouraged to be authentic and heartfelt in your response. This essay will function as the beginning of a conversation you will continue to have if you enter the program at RISD and it does not have to be the same information provided in your written essay. Cell phone videos are accepted as well. Maximum length: 2 minutes.

    Master of Arts in Teaching: Your portfolio should consist of 20 images exhibiting the depth and breadth of your studio experience. Ten images should represent work that reflects your investigations within a single medium; seven images should represent your confidence in handling a variety of media; and three images need to be samples of drawings.

    Master of Arts in Art + Design Education: Submit a portfolio of 20 images that most clearly represent your creative practice as an artist or designer.

  4. Graduate applicants must submit a written statement (500–750 words) outlining their interest and goals in pursuing graduate study. Several programs suggest more specific ideas or written requirements as outlined below.

    Specific program instructions:

    Digital + Media: Within the statement of purpose, the committee seeks a clear explanation of the applicant’s goals for both their time in school and afterwards, and how the MFA in Digital + Media is specifically suited to support these goals. This statement should address the following questions: What are you interested in exploring conceptually? What outcomes do you hope to get from the degree? Where do you see yourself after graduation? In addition to the statement of purpose, applicants should outline their working methodology or practice from initial research to project realization.

    Global Arts and Cultures: Applicants to the master’s program in Global Arts and Cultures must submit an academic statement of purpose of 1,000–2,000 words. The object of your statement is to introduce yourself to the Admissions Committee as a thinker, scholar and writer, and you should address in detail your intellectual interests and proposed topic(s) of graduate study. Be as specific as possible in describing your prior college-level experience in areas encompassed by Global Arts and Cultures and how this work has contributed to your professional and personal goals in pursuing a master’s degree. Your statement should also reflect your understanding of the contours and demands of graduate study in Global Arts and Cultures at RISD.

    Illustration: In 750–1500 words, please describe how you hope to engage your values as a critical thinker and maker within the context of your illustration studio practice and as a citizen of the world. Your statement should also reflect your understanding of the Illustration MFA course of study and what you hope to gain by completing the program.

    Landscape Architecture: Your essay should describe how your interest in landscape developed, how the work in your portfolio is indicative of that development and why the landscape architecture program at RISD seems well suited to your goals.

    Master of Arts in Teaching: 

    Submit a statement (500–700 words) describing why you desire to become a K-12 art educator and to enter the TLAD MAT program specifically. Please be sure to address the following questions within your statement:

    • Why do you want to become an art educator and enter the TLAD MAT program specifically?
    • How do you feel your academic, studio, and work experiences have prepared you for RISD’s graduate program in art teacher education? 
    • How will your own identity as an artist/designer contribute to your practice as an art educator in the classroom?
    • What, in your opinion, is the purpose of art education in K-12 schools?
    • What do you believe high-quality K-12 art education looks like?

    Master of Arts in Art + Design Education: 

    Submit a written statement (500-750 words) describing your interest in art and design education and your desire to enter the TLAD MA program specifically. Please be sure to address the following questions within your statement:

    • Why do you want to become an art educator and enter the TLAD MA program specifically (especially as opposed to a MFA program)?
    • What are your specific interests related to art and design education?
    • How might these specific interests contribute to the thesis research you would engage in within this program? 
    • Our MA program is unique in that students customize a program of study. How you would customize your MA program to maximize the resources of RISD, Brown and Providence, and that would support your potential research interests at the same time?
    • How do you imagine the MA will support your future goals and interests after graduation (i.e., where do you see yourself in the future and how will the MA help)?

    Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies: Applicants to the master’s in Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies must submit an academic statement of purpose of 1,000–2,000 words. The object of your statement is to introduce yourself to the Admissions Committee as a thinker, scholar and writer, and you should address in detail your intellectual interests and proposed topic(s) of graduate study. You should be as specific as possible in describing your prior college-level experience in the areas of Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies and how this work has contributed to your professional and personal goals in pursuing a master’s degree. Your statement should also reflect your understanding of the contours and demands of graduate study in Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies at RISD.

    Photography: Please submit each of the following: a clearly written statement of purpose (max. 750 words) that explains why you need to attend graduate school now, why you want to attend RISD, and what you believe that you and your practice needs that RISD and its community can offer; and an accessible artist’s statement (max. 750 words) that elucidates the work you’ve included in your submitted portfolio, its aims, forms, development, trajectory, possibilities, meanings and relevance as you construe these things.

  5. Applicants to the MA programs in Global Arts and Cultures and Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies are required to submit an example of critical and/or analytical writing. See below for all program-specific instructions.

    Global Arts and Cultures: Applicants are required to submit a writing sample that represents your strongest critical and/or analytical writing on a topic clearly related to Global Arts and Cultures. Please indicated if your writing sample is excerpted from a longer work. If it is, please make sure it forms a coherent argument and is framed such that the Admissions Committee understands its function as part of a longer work.

    Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies: Applicants are required to submit a writing sample that represents your strongest critical and/or analytical writing on a topic clearly related to Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies. Please indicated if your writing sample is excerpted from a longer work. If it is, please make sure it forms a coherent argument and is framed such that the Admissions Committee understands its function as part of a longer work.

  6. Applicants are required to submit three letters of recommendation. Recommendation letters should be written by teachers or other professionals who have firsthand knowledge of your art or academic achievements and can comment on your potential for graduate study. You may invite your recommenders to upload their letters through your Applicant Portal. If your recommenders are unable to submit using this method, their letters may be emailed to admissions@risd.edu or mailed to the Graduate Admissions Office.

  7. English language proficiency test

    All applicants who speak English as a second language, including US citizens, must submit results from any one of these three options: TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or Duolingo (an online English test). Since proficiency in English is a prerequisite for acceptance, applicants must attain an acceptable score on their chosen test; RISD requires a minimum result of 93 on the TOEFL or a 6.5 on the IELTS.

    Duolingo is changing its scoring system beginning with tests completed on July 15, 2019 and beyond. If you took this test prior to the change, we require a minimum result of 63. Applicants who completed the Duolingo test on or after July 15, 2019 must achieve a minimum score of 115, which is the equivalent of 63 in their prior scoring system.

    Plan to take the TOEFL or IELTS well in advance of the application deadline since it may take three weeks for your scores to be sent to RISD by the test agency. Duolingo test results may take up to four days to be received by RISD.

    The language test requirement may be waived for applicants who have studied in an institution where English is the language of instruction. You must contact the Admissions Office to explain your school history and determine if you are eligible.

    Graduate Record Exam (GRE)

    Results from the Graduate Record Examination are not required as part of the application process.