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Next Stop Shanghai!

Posted by on May 23, 2011 | Student Photography

Earlier this year, we announced SVA’s month-long digital photography, study-abroad residency in Shanghai, China. We recently got an e-mail from faculty member Abby Robinson, who’s offered to write about this program and the group’s Asian adventures in the weeks to come here on our blog. Below, in Abby’s first post, she prepares for the trip and reflects back on the work of her last year’s students.

For more about Study Abroad programs and how to find them, read PDNedu’s Special Report article Going Global featured on our Web site. 

Next Stop Shanghai!

By Abby Robinson, School of Visual Arts (SVA) Shanghai Program Faculty


Photo © Abby Robinson

There are a million things to do before leaving for Shanghai to run SVA’s second summer Digital Photography Residency. Okay, not a million; I'm exaggerating. The “whew” factor is that the last minute arrangements will be a little easier since I've done this once before. Plus, I’m working again with Eleanor Oakes, SVA BFA photography department’s special programs coordinator, who’s terrific.  Even though this is the workshop’s second iteration, it’s still the only SVA program in Asia. So we’re still the new kids on SVA’s Study Abroad block—the frisky, adventurous alternative to Europe. 

We started the program because photography is increasingly global—and what better place to understand, network and participate in that than China, where there’s a jet-propelled art scene that plays an increasingly large role in the international photo world.

What makes our program different from other summer art courses in China is that it totally encourages the integration of Western and Eastern photographic practices. While our students work on their own projects, they engage pretty much daily with members of the Shanghai art community. Last summer, we met with museum and gallery directors as well as with photographers living and working in the city, who showed their work and critiqued ours. We also got out of the city, taking field trips to Hangzhou, renown for it scenery and for being the home of one of China’s premier art schools, the China Academy of Art as well as Suzhou and Zhu Jia Jiao, two ancient water villages built around Venice-like canals. 

Anticipating Things To Come

This summer, we’ll interact with some of the same people and meet some new ones. And, of course, once again we’ll eat great food. There are dumplings in Shanghai that make those from New York’s celebrated Joe Shanghai restaurant taste like chopped liver. 

We’ve made some changes for this summer’s program, however: We’re starting earlier because last year’s dates coincided with the summer monsoon. It started to rain just when the students arrived and (without exaggeration this time) stopped the day they left. Consequently, this year we’ll be less soggy though quite possibly more schvitsy because it’ll likely be hotter.  We also added another week, making the program a full month long. Reviewing our first summer, Eleanor, the students and I all agreed that three weeks wasn’t enough time to dig into a project. Besides, the students arrived jet lagged and, since most hadn’t been in Asia before, gaga. That lasted almost a week. The second week people were getting oriented and the third week they were preparing to go home and shopping (the shopping is like the food, often inexpensive and very tasty). Having an extra week will make a big difference.

Recapping Former Student Projects

Last year we had eight students, ranging in age from 20-50; five had SVA ties and, with one exception, none had been in China before. So it was both a thrill and a challenge for them to shoot and tackle a project in a foreign venue. Rachel Hines arrived thinking she’d continue an architectural series she’d done in New York. However, that required blue skies. At first, she was really frustrated by the rain, but then she found a whole new direction for her photography, which continues to excite her.  

The oldest member of the group, Wayne Salazar, who’d previously done mostly landscapes, started a project about closeted gay life. He was so enthused by his topic, he returned to Shanghai last October to photograph Gay Pride Week and exhibit project images made to date at the Yongkang Lu Art Center in Shanghai’s French Concession.  He’s back in Shanghai now and I’m having dinner with him the night I arrive.  His goal: to have enough material for a book, which he should accomplish by the end of this trip. He’s planning to submit this to publishers sometime this summer. 

Photo © Krutie Thakkar

And Krutie Thakkar a young Indian-American woman decided to deal with identity issues by putting on a sari (which she doesn’t usually wear). When she found herself besieged by people wanting to have their pictures taken with her, her ethnicity suddenly seemed clear-cut. The pictures and the video were really funny too.

This year there are seven students, ranging in age from 20-40, and only one is from SVA. In addition, another SVA student is coming along to act as our translator, 24/7. More about who they are and what we'll be doing to come soon, once the program starts on June 4.  Stay tuned….


And, for additional details about this program as well as posts from last year’s and this year’s students, check out SVA’s Shanghai Digital Photo Residency blog.