At the very beginning of this project. My primary goal was to curate knowledge, experiences and photographic expertise. Why? So there would be a common place on the Internet where Latino photographers could learn, differently.

And when I interview photographers like Wendel White. I know that I made the right decision. And it fuels me to continuously improve Latinos Behind The Lens. As a platform for un viaje photográfico.

The Interview

What impresses me most about you are your numerous academic accomplishments. I don’t mean to embarrass you but I need to do this:

  • BFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York
  • MFA in photography from the University of Texas at Austin
  • Taught photography at the School of Visual Arts, NY
  • Taught photography at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, NY
  • And served on the Kodak Educational Advisory Council

When you teach. When you speak to your students. Do you impress upon them the importance of education? And to give back, selflessly, to the community?

wendel whiteWW: I encourage many students to pursue and complete their education. However, I try to match the form of educational advancement with the individual. I have encountered students during my years of teaching for whom the normal structures of our academic system do not seem to be a good match. There is no doubt that the current system fails to connect with some students. I hope that I can guide students toward a process of self improvement and advancement that usually includes the traditional model but does not exclude other forms of learning.

Participating and engaging with community based projects is an essential aspect of my practice and therefore a core concept as I mentor students. Involvement with community projects has a selfish (in the positive sense of the word) as well as selfless quality. As artists, community work broadens the awareness of the value of art outside the art world, in the best examples it improves the quality of life in our communities, and we gain knowledge and skill from every new project.

I am seriously considering pursuing my Masters in Fine Art (MFA) in photography.

And I had a conversation about this with Don Gregorio Antón, Professor of Art at Humboldt State University. And he is encouraging me to pursue the MFA. But Don makes it very clear that, while, the MFA is a very tough curriculum. It can be incredibly rewarding.

In your opinion, is the MFA something that a photographer should pursue?

WW: There are reasons to answer this question by simply saying, yes.

Wendel WhiteHowever, as I mentioned above my approach to this sort of question is usually in the context of knowing the individual and their current goals. Statistically we are facing an inflation of academic credentials (in 2011 the US Census Bureau reports that for the first time in U.S. history more than 30 percent of the population has an undergraduate education) and therefore a masters degree can be considered as a practical matter of increased income and decreased unemployment.

As an artist however, there are more implications in the pursuit of an MFA. For many years one of the primary economic reasons for artists to seek an MFA was as a pathway to teaching at the college level. Of course this was once true of many terminal degrees. Today it is important to have a much broader vision of what the MFA experience may mean for a visual artist. In addition to opportunity to engage in creative work on a high level, the MFA allows many artists to connect with peers and to be challenged to produce original work.

The MFA thesis project should be the starting point for a lifelong artistic practice (regardless of employment) and the basis for a broad range of employment possibilities in the creative industry (academic, not for profit, or commercial). Finally, I have to admit, two of my former students who are quite successful as artists, neither have graduate degrees, one was never interested and the other was rejected twice by the only MFA she wanted to attend.

It’s very clear that you are driven to give back to the community. But what has been the most important project that you have worked on? Something that has helped advance the photography community?

WW: The most direct answer to this question would be the eight years I served on the board of directors for the Society for Photographic Education, three years as board chair. However, there are many ways that I consider activities as contributions to the field through more indirect channels. Even in my role for the past twelve years as a board member for the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, the photographic image, visual culture and art are discussed and supported as regular concerns within the humanities.

Can you tell me what inspired “7 Steps to Freedom?”

WW: “7 Steps to Freedom” was an NEA funded grant on which I was the commissioned artist. This is a good example of a notion I mentioned earlier, every opportunity to work on a project is a chance to build knowledge. I had nearly completed the photography for this project when I realized that I was dissatisfied with certain formal qualities in the photographs. I started again from the beginning, reached a more satisfying outcome, and learned quite a bit about what I was looking for.

As creatives we all prone to it — creative dehydration. Some of us are more prone to it than others. But it’s an unavoidable hazard. How do you work through your creative dehydration?

WW: Mostly through a willingness to make (and discard) bad pictures. Mistakes (I know cliche) are costly and rewarding. I try not to be too hard on myself when I do dumb things, instead, I want to know why.

Call To Action

wendel white

I am still debating if I should pursue my MFA. But that is the incorrect question. White also explains that — it’s about you and what your goals are. And if school, especially, an MFA is the best use of your time. But more importantly is that you continue to grow as a photographer.

Regardless of your educational background.