BFA | 4-year program

Photography majors are taught to explore and examine the social, cultural and historical contexts in which they are making new work as a means of underscoring the cultural continuum of the medium. Through close observation and guided discussions, students learn to "read" images in order to develop the visual literacy needed to articulate ideas and make meaningful work.

Learning outcomes

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

Inspiring community

Just over 30 undergraduates work in close proximity with roughly 15 graduate students, who share certain darkrooms and workspaces but have dedicated studios in a separate building. Between crits, informal discussions and rotating exhibitions at the department's Red Eye Gallery, students find abundant opportunities to share ideas and talk with each other about their work. A wide range of photographers with totally different approaches and styles come to campus each semester through the popular T.C. Colley Lecture Series, whileProfessional Practice electives offer exposure to photographers working for commercial studios and photo agencies.

Learning environment

While many of the technical and conceptual skills taught at RISD are applicable to fields such as advertising, fashion and editorial photography, professors emphasize a fine arts approach in order to educate students for a rich, lifelong engagement with the medium. In addition, Photography majors benefit from a popular internship program that provides contacts with potential employers and grants elective credits for on-the-job experience.

Curriculum

In the first year of the program, students explore the history of photography – from its 19th-century beginning through contemporary manifestations – and learn the fundamentals, focusing on film-based media, camera formats, darkroom techniques, exposure and development controls, lighting basics, image and film scanning, and more. Juniors move on to more advanced techniques in digital printing, lighting, web projects, video and other production methods, while pursuing self-directed projects and strengthening the ability to articulate ideas verbally. In addition to completing a final Degree Project, seniors exhibit in on-campus galleries and hone professional practices and portfolio presentation skills.

Foundation-year

Fall
Drawing I
Design I
Spatial Dynamics I
First-year Literature Seminar
Theory & History of Art & Design I
Wintersession
Non-major studio elective
Spring
Drawing II
Design II
Spatial Dynamics II
Topics in History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences
Theory & History of Art & Design II

Sophomore

Fall
Sophomore Studio
Histories of Photography I
Digital Foundation
Liberal Arts elective
Non-major studio elective
Wintersession
Non-major studio elective
Spring
Sophomore Studio
Histories of Photography II
Seminar: the Genius of Photography
Photography elective
Liberal Arts elective

Junior

Fall
Digital Photography
Junior Studio
Photography electives
Liberal Arts elective
Wintersession
Non-major studio elective
Spring
Junior Studio
Time-Based Photography
Photography elective
Liberal Arts electives

Senior

Fall
Senior Studio
Photography electives
Liberal Arts elective
Wintersession
Non-major studio elective
Spring
Degree Project
Photography elective

Degree project

Seniors create a definitive body of work and write a final thesis that addresses the aesthetic, theoretical and technical aspects of the work.

Application requirements

  1. Common Application

    You’ll begin and manage your RISD application process by completing the Common Application. There is a non-refundable application fee of $60 to use this service; eligible students may apply for a fee waiver.

  2. Academic transcripts

    Applicants must provide official transcripts of all secondary academic work through the most recent grading period. Your counselor may submit your transcript through the Common Application, Parchment, email or mail. If your academic credentials are not written in English, they must be translated into English by an approved translator prior to submission.

  3. Tests

    SAT or ACT

    All applicants are required to submit the results of the SAT or the ACT (American College Testing program). RISD will superscore your results. Subject tests are not required.

    RISD’s institution code number for the SAT is 3726; for ACT the code number is 003812.

    English language proficiency tests

    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, a 6.5 on IELTS or a 63 on Duolingo.

    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.

  4. Portfolio

    You will upload your portfolio in SlideRoom through the Common Application.

    Your portfolio should present 12–20 examples of your most recent work that showcases your thinking and making. The work should reflect a full range of your ideas, interests, experiences and abilities in the arts. This can include work in any medium, in finished or sketch form, and can be the result of an assigned project or a self-directed exploration.

    We recommend that you include some developmental research and/or preparatory work for one of your submissions. It is helpful to show your process of thinking and investigation so we can see how you develop your ideas. A sketchbook or journal page may be an appropriate way to share your process. Consider also including the finished piece and preparatory work(s) in a single image. There is an area in SlideRoom where you can include brief text descriptions for your submissions.

    We strongly discourage the submission of works in PDF format that include multiple pages, especially when there are numerous elements on a single page. These are difficult for reviewers to view and assess and are likely to exceed the allowed limit of 20 work examples.

  5. The Assignment

    Choose one of the following three prompt options and create two responses using any medium (no restrictions).

    • error
    • verify
    • forge

    Each of these prompts has more than one meaning or usage. You might want to begin by referring to dictionary sources to expand your initial reaction and inform your direction. We consider this assignment to be as much about process as presentation. We encourage you to consider your submissions as exercises in experimental thinking and risk-taking more than final presentations or examples of technical proficiency. No mode of expression is valued more than another, so feel free to explore the full range of possibilities.

    Upload your responses in the specific section of SlideRoom dedicated to these works. Do not include them in the Portfolio area of SlideRoom.

    If the file size of either response exceeds 10MB, embed a link to direct us to another viewing platform such as a personal website, YouTube, Vimeo, etc.

    Along with these works, reflect on the two responses you are sharing and provide a brief, written response to this question: What are the other directions or ideas you would explore as a next step?

  6. Writing sample

    Submit one example of your writing, up to 650 words. Remember, this is the limit, not a goal. Use the full limit if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so.

    You will find the writing prompts in the Personal Essay section of the Common Application.

    While we encourage you to adhere to the rules of good writing, we look for applicants who are not afraid to take risks in their expression. Please don't hesitate to use a writing style or method that may be outside the mainstream as you express a distinctive personal position in the samples you submit.

  7. Letter(s) of recommendation

    Although not required, these letters can be very helpful to your application. One letter is suggested, although as many as three may be submitted. 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 as a student.

    Please use the Common Application to invite your recommendation writers to submit letters through that service. Letters may also be sent directly to our mailing address (see below) or emailed to admissions@risd.edu.

Departments

Apparel Design Architecture Ceramics Digital + Media Experimental and Foundation Studies Film / Animation / Video Furniture Design Glass Graduate Studies Graphic Design History, Philosophy + the Social Sciences Illustration Industrial Design Interior Architecture Jewelry + Metalsmithing Landscape Architecture Literary Arts + Studies Painting Photography Printmaking Sculpture Teaching + Learning in Art + Design Textiles Theory + History of Art + Design