VCUarts photography program named Best Bachelor’s Degree

The student-focused publication named the VCUarts undergraduate photography program the Best Bachelor’s Degree in its Top 24 Photography Degrees for 2020.

The list is part of a comprehensive research guide based on an assessment of 1,604 accredited colleges and universities. The 2020 rankings are calculated through a scoring system that includes student engagement, potential return on investment, and leading third-party evaluations. Each program was evaluated for flexibility, cost, course strength, faculty and reputation. The listed photography programs were also noted for being flexible, cost-effective and respected.

The VCUarts Department of Photography + Film offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) with a concentration in either Photography or Film, as well as a Master of Fine Arts (MFA). Photography courses include both theoretical study and hands-on experience in fine art, studio and location photography. Students will gain technical and conceptual skills to begin a career as a professional artist or a commercial photographer.

VCUarts is the #1 public arts and design school in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report. Graduate programs in sculpture, graphic design, glass, painting, ceramics and printmaking are ranked among the best in the nation.

Read more about the rankings from

Local Podcast interviews Will Connally, Photo Alum

Shockoe Artspeak, a local podcast started by Ryan Lauterio and Garreth Blackwell recently released an episode featuring , Will Connally, Photo MFA Alum. The episode focuses on Connally’s ongoing series, Lake Elster. Each photograph focuses on a different Lake Elster resident, although they are physically absent from the image. The photographs feature flat painted props of Connally’s own invention that come to life in his prints shot on medium format film. Check out Will Connally’s interview here!

Image from Will Connally’s “Lake Ester” Series

The podcast is run out of Shockoe Artspace, where Connally and other artists also share studios across the street. Nick Seitz, another Photo alum, is also involved with Shockoe Artspace. He helps them by volunteering and with photo documentation for shows. Shockoe Artspeak has interviewed other local artists, including Chino Amobi and Nikki Painter, both Painting and Printmaking alums.


You never really know what opportunities your peers may get you into.

Sculpture walk featuring “Domo” by Ensamble Studio. Image courtesy of Alex Coyle.

This was true for Alex Coyle (photo, ‘17) when she found herself working with Emily Rund (film, ‘17) at Tippet Rise Art Center in Montana this past February. Emily is currently working at the center as a filmmaker and production coordinator. While there, Alex assisted with editing and filming.

Image Courtesy of Alex Coyle.

“Everyone was  like, ‘How on Earth did you end up with that connection?’ And I was like, ‘school!’ I think we had maybe one class together during college? But seeing each other around Pollak and bumping heads at art events and projects here and there kept us in touch,” says Alex Coyle.

Emily Rund shooting during a sculpture tour at Tippet Rise. Image Courtesy of Alex Coyle.

Emily Rund lives at Tippet Rise all year round where she documents performances. The center hosts exhibitions by musicians, visual artists, poets, and others in Montana’s mountainous, rural environment.

Even coming from different concentrations, the mutual experience they had of going through VCUarts made this collaboration possible. Before Alex joined her in Montana, Emily helped bring in other alums to work at the center. This past summer she reached out to her former classmates, Alec Gary and Kai Qui to help her work on some larger film productions.

Pianist Michael Brown at Tippet Rise. Image Courtesy of Emily Rund.

“I knew I could count on my classmates- I’ve seen their work, collaborated with them, and felt comfortable bringing their talents to my professional work environment,” says Emily Rund.

Alex, coming from the photography concentration, has been working within the film industry in Richmond. She credits Shannon Castleman, a professor from the department, for helping her get her first big set job on Homeland and connecting her with Gearhead Camera, a rental house in town, where she now works as a camera prep technician. From the connections she made on set, she also had the amazing opportunity to work on Wonder Woman 1984 last summer!

Image Courtesy of Alex Coyle.

Alex and Emily both agree that their time at VCUarts has been valuable for them in different ways. Their collaboration with each other as well as with former students and faculty is proof of the power of networking. “Every interaction you make can be a future connection,” says Emily Rund.

There also is an undeniable value in the appreciation of photography and filmmaking as an artistic medium when moving into more industry based jobs. “…Being able to challenge my medium and think critically about how the camera functions in the context of whatever I’m doing is something I wouldn’t have been able to do without having gone through the photo/film program,” says Alex Coyle.

Beartooth Portal by Ensamble Studio. Image Courtesy of Emily Rund.

By Zephyr Sheedy. Images courtesy of Emily Rund and Alex Coyle.


VMFA Fellowship Recipients 2019-20

“Getting an award in something that I really care about kept me smiling for the rest of the night. I’m still happy.” Stated Jaebin Cha, referring to how he felt learning that he was one of few who received a VMFA Fellowship.

Still from Sasha Waters Freyer’s 16mm film “Dragons & seraphim”

The VMFA Fellowship has been supporting Virginia artists and art historians since 1940 with almost $5.5 million being awarded to recipients throughout the years. Applicants are required to anonymously submit examples of their recent work, as well as a short artist statement.

Work by Amarise Deanna Ramirez-Carreras

Of the 753 of artists who submitted, 28 were chosen to receive fellowships, and four of those people are from VCUarts Photography + Film! Those to congratulate include Patrick Harkin (MFA ’17), Amarise Carerras (BFA ’17), Jaebin Cha (photo junior), and our very own department head, Sasha Waters Freyer!

Image by Jaebin Cha

The application process is free and opens back up this fall. Congratulations to this year’s recipients!

Alumni Feature: Steven Casanova

Steven Casanova (BFA ’15)

Food Justice Educator & Documentary Photographer

Steven Casanova, BFA ’15, is the photographer for VCUarts, and an educator at ART180 and with the Richmond Food Corridor. He credits his success thus far to years of experience interning and working within the Richmond community. Being a working artist helped him network and meet people who could connect him to new opportunities, specifically to educate the public on political and social issues. 



Students at the Bundestag, Berlin Studio & City Summer Abroad course

photo by Matthew Warren, July 2019

Dear students, parents, teachers, alumni and friends VCU’s Department of Photography + Film,

I write to share our department highlights of the summer and lots of exciting news – see below “Save the Date” information for upcoming public events!


Artist and affiliated faculty Matthew Warren had another smashing success with VCUarts students in the Summer Study Abroad Program (see picture above) in Berlin   In this 4-week, 6-credit Berlin: Studio & City course, students were immersed in a diverse contemporary art community and spent their time both in the studio and outside, discovering the city’s museums, galleries and professional artist spaces.  Stay tuned for future announcements about how to apply for 2019.

After five years of research, filming and editing, as well as the support of VCUarts and my faculty colleagues, I am thrilled to announce that my feature documentary Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable will have its Virginia premiere at the VMFA on Friday, Sept. 7th at 6pm.  The theatrical release in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere will follow in mid-late September.

For current students, we are thrilled to announce that our departmental application for state-funded equipment purchases was granted this spring, enabling us to purchase $30,000 of LIGHTING UPGRADES including a huge range of daylight and bi-color LED light kits and panels.


  • AUG 31 – Photo + Film MFAPecha Kucha– open to all!  Come learn about their amazing work!  5:30-7:30, FAB Building, Sculpture Crit Room #3

  • SEPT 7thCassils, a gender non-conforming, transmasculine artist visiting from Los Angeles, will host a conversation and brown-bag luncheon open to all VCUarts in the ICA auditorium, 10:30am – 12:30pm. Students are encouraged to watch Cassils video in the ICA auditorium between 10 and 10:30am that morning.

  • OCT-NOV (exact date TBD), Artist and department Graduate Director Paul Thulin’s solo show,Pine Tree Ballads opens at Candela Gallery.

  • EARLY NOVEMBER– Photographer Andre Bradley, shortlisted for the  Paris Photo Aperture Foundation First Photo Book Award in 2016 (open lecture, details TBA)

  • LATE NOVEMBER – Photographer Jess Dugan, whose second monograph,To Survive on This Shore, was published by Kehrer Verlag in 2018 (open lecture, details TBA)

  • NOV 21 – DEC 21 Photography + Film MFA exhibition, FAB Gallery



She is busy writing and revising her feature film screenplay, but Sonali Gulati’s documentary I Am remains a darling of national PBS, airing 1,293 times on 194 channels in 41 states in the past twelve months.  Paul Thulin’s Faculty Research Grant from VCUarts allowed him some intensive time in Puerto Rico to work on a new family-based photography and multimedia project.  Paul’s show at Candela GalleryPine Tree Ballads, will be accompanied by a book of the same title with an introduction by poet (and former visitor to the department) Dora Malech.

Mark Boulos spent some time this summer attending SIGGRAPH in Vancouver, where he presented his VR work Elastic Time in the Immersive Pavillion.  SIGGRAPH is an internationally renowned conference on innovative computer graphics and interactive technologies.  Recently tenured and promoted to Associate Professor John Freyer was also busy this summer, spending nearly three weeks at the Tate Modern in London as the first Tate Exchange Associate Artist from the U.S., leading his social practice project, Fifty/Fifty: Conversations from the Other Side with VCUarts.  John is also a semi-finalist for the Creative Capital grant.  Up now through Sept 9th is the inaugural show at VCU’s Institute for Contemporary Art where you can catch Jon-Phillip Sheridan’s video installation Fixed Air which displays real-time current and accumulated levels of carbon dioxide produced by vehicles driving past the ICA.  HUGE CONGRATS to Justin James Reed, also promoted to Associate Professor with tenure this spring!


KUDOS to our incredible students and alumni as well!

2018 MFA Johannes Barfield was awarded the prestigious Toby Devan Lewis Fellowship Award for his MFA Thesis exhibition, My Eyes Due See, and 2018 MFA Stephanie DeMer recently accepted a position as a Faculty Associate in Photography at Arizona State University. 2019 MFA candidate Peter Cochrane was included in the Open Juried Exhibition at the Vermont Center for Photography.  BFA 2018 Riley Goodman had a solo show at the Museum of Howard County History in Ellicott City, MD.

Heather West (BFA 2014) has been working as an Art Department Production Assistant for TV and Movies, most recently on “Rectify” Season 4 (AMC), “Logan Lucky” by Steven Soderbergh, “Pitch Perfect 3” (Universal), and “Black Panther” (Marvel). Mark Strandquist (BFA 2013), creative director of ART 180’s Youth Self Advocacy Through Art program, and lead coordinator on “My Reality,” an immersive installation about the Juvenile Justice system created with support from Scenic, a virtual reality content studio based in New York City; Richmond’s ART 180, and RISE for Youth.  Last but definitely not least, John Calderon (BFA 2004) has been nominated for an Emmy Award in Outstanding Production Design for his work as an Art Director on the Netflix show, Bill Nye Saves the World!  Go John!!

Students & alumni please send me your news, always.



Installation view, work by David Riley, Photo + Film MFA candidacy show

CONGRATULATIONS to our incredibly hard-working and talented SENIORS who crossed the stage today! You did it, you earned it, you are all AMAZING.


To all our students, parents, teachers, alumni and friends VCUarts Dept of Photography + Film,

I write to share highlights of the Spring 2018 semester and to announce our student awards!




We had an exciting roster of Visiting Artists this spring: Paul Sepuya, photographer and portrait artist, featured in the 2018 “New Photography” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art; filmmaker Roger Beebe with a wild, multi-projector screening/performance at the Anderson Gallery; book artist, photographer and writer NicholasMuellner, who received a super prestigious 2018 Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, and radical, multidisciplinary artist, Tameka Norris.  In conjunction with the James River Film Festival, we also sponsored a visit from screenwriter, director and indie film darling Kelly Reichardt.  Local visitors who came in to share their time and expertise in the classroom include photographer Andrew Fedynak of Zatara Books; Photo + Film alum Abbey Reddington of the Martin Agency; copyright lawyer Kirk Schroder, and Detroit-based book artist in town for a residency at Quirk Gallery, Emmy Bright. For the third year in a row, we were thrilled to have Margot Norton, Associate Curator at the New Museum in New York, return to work with our MFA students.


The Dept of Photography + Film was well-represented once again in the Anderson Juried Show, featuring work by seven students.  Congrats to Emma Gould for receiving the Award of Distinction in Photography, awarded by Alex Klein of the ICA Philadelphia.


MAJOR AWARDS LAST NIGHT at the TWO BFA senior Thesis shows exhibition:


Outstanding Senior in Photography: Jessica Taylor

Outstanding Senior in Film: Jack Hippchen

Outstanding Junior in Photography: Eren Agim

Outstanding Junior in Film: Sydney Cordoba

Outstanding Sophomore in Photography: Becca Renton

Outstanding Sophomore in Film: Damian Massie

These awards are based on faculty nominations for outstanding leadership, academic and creative excellence, integrity, and involvement in the department.  Other Awards include:

Special Jury Prize, Film Senior Show, Vic Kee

Best in Show, Film Senior Show, Kevin Wright, Jr.

Honorable Mention, Photography Senior Show, Allie Madsen

Special Jury Prize, Photography Senior Show, Riley Goodman

Best in Show, Photography Senior Show, Sun Park

Every year also at the Senior Photography Show, our friends at Capital One, Art Program Project Manager Francis Thompson and Art Administrator Anne Fletcher, award exhibitions to outstanding seniors.  This year the honors went to Christina MacauleyElizabeth Humphries and Pearl Steinel.

The VCUarts Dean’s Scholarship in Photography + Film for the 2018-19 academic year was awarded to Brenna Davis.




Hats off to Photo + Film Assistant Professor Jon-Phillip Sheridan (whose Green Walls project was cited by VCU President Rao as one of the Ten Great Things about VCU) for his work Fixed Air, now on view at Declaration, the inaugural show at the new Institute for Contemporary Art. Assistant Professor and Virtual Reality mastermind Mark Boulos continues the success of his project, Elastic Time, a mixed reality interactive documentary about space-time, currently in the Swiss digital showcase at Cannes Film Festival.  Shane Rocheleau’s beautiful first book of photographs, YOU ARE MASTERS OF THE FISH AND BIRDS AND ALL THE ANIMALS aka (YAMOTFABAATA) was recently released by Gnomic Books; Shannon Castleman has work in Disappearing Legacies: The World as Forest, a travelling exhibition now on view in Berlin.Studio and Location lighting instructor extraordinaire John Henley has a show at 1708 Satellite Gallery at Linden Row Inn that includes portraits of current and former VCU faculty. Alyssa Salomon, as Blue Skies Workroom, was an exhibitor at CURRENT book fair, debuting a new project of hand bound books titled Relative Medium. I would also like to share that my documentary feature, Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable, won a Special Jury Prize at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival and will be released theatrically in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Italy this fall.

Three cheers for our incredible students and alumni!  2018 MFA Johannes Barfield will spend part of his summer in a residency at MASS MoCA using digital media to explore how race and identity interact with the local environment. Johannes was also honored this past spring at the VCU “Black History in the Making” ceremony. 2018 MFA Stephanie DeMer‘s thesis work, Enact in Disappearance, was featured in MuseA journal issue Six; she will also have a two-person exhibition, In the Summer-land, opening at Grizzly Grizzly in Philadelphia on June 1st.  Joseph Minek, MFA 2013, has had photographic works included in three group exhibitions this year, in Seattle, Cleveland, and the Mehr Galerie Kornfeld in Berlin.  BFA David Hall was awarded a 2017-18 Dean’s International Travel Grant, while BFA Becca Renton received an Internship Support Grant, also from the VCUarts Dean’s Office.  One year out from earning her BFA in 2017, Emily Rund is currently the assistant editor/production coordinator for Tippet Rise Arts Center, where she works in film, creative media and graphic design.




If you are considering a gift to VCU’s Capital Campaign, every dollar counts! Please direct any gifts, no matter how modest, to the Department of Photography + Film where you know we will put it to great use helping to fund AWARDS! Visiting Artists! Student Travel! PIZZA for Open Nite!


AND HEY, it’s tax deductible:


Visit and tab down to Photo & Film if you wish to make a gift.  The students, faculty and everyone in Photography + Film love you all.  Have a terrific summer!


<3 <3 <3


Alumni Feature: Emily Rund

Emily Rund, BFA ’17, is currently the assistant editor/production coordinator for Tippet Rise Arts Center, where she primarily does film work, as well as some graphic design and creative media work. At Tippet Rise, there is the summer concert season and the “off season.”  Currently it is the off season, which means that Rund will be editing the footage from the previous season while preparing for the coming season. Recently she was given the opportunity to put her second major, kinetic imaging, to work – and has been animating the title sequence for one of the center’s films. During the summer Rund helps out anywhere and everywhere, picking up a camera when needed, giving tours of the center’s 10,000 acre sculpture park to special guests, or working directly with the musicians to help set the stage in the layout they prefer.  (more…)

MFA Alumni Feature: Naoko Wowsugi

Naoko Wowsugi shot by Chris Suspect.

Naoko Wowsugi, MFA ’11, is an artist of Korean-Japanese descent, who moved to the United States in 2001, leading her to explore conditions of identity and belonging in her work. Through a multidisciplinary practice including visual art, sound, local lore, horticulture, and community participation, she celebrates human connections by toying with interpersonal and sociopolitical norms. She currently lives and works in Washington, DC where she is an Professorial Lecturer at American University.

Notable recent exhibitions include “Ae Kai: A Culture Lab on Convergence,” presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center in Honolulu, HI (2017) and “The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today,” which is traveling from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City,  the Ackland Museum of Art, Chapel Hill, and many others.


Alumni Feature: Allison Bills

Allison Bills with NASA crew members. Photograph by NASA/Bill Stafford.

Allison Bills, BFA ’16, is currently working as a Digital Imaging Specialist/Photographer at NASA-Johnson Space Center. She began her career as a photographer before she came to VCU, shooting commission work.  While at VCU she was able to enrich her technical skills. Allison says the concept of “just keep shooting” brought her some of her best photographs and artistic growth.

In 2015 Bills landed an internship with NASA that she found out about through the department. This internship later led to her being hired to work for them full time. Her day to day on the job at NASA ranges from being out shooting to working in the photo lab. In the lab they are working towards digitizing all of the film shot for NASA before digital took over. It’s an estimated 30-year project to bring them up to speed on archiving the film digitally. Upon leaving school Bills had a strong portfolio, demonstrating all types of photography, which she says was a big part of what her supervisor at NASA liked about her work. Bills hard work allowed her to graduate with a job offer from NASA. The weekend following graduation she packed up her RVA home and moved to Texas to start her career and hasn’t looked back!