Last week’s Interdisciplinary Retreat with the MFA program at the Maine Media Workshops & College was so intense, so completely chock full of enlightening discourse and insightful discussions, that my brain hurts from thinking so hard. I’m not sure I’ve been able to actually think ever since… I fear I may have sprained my brain.
It was, in short, a fantastic time.
For three and a half days, experts from a variety of fields gathered to critique the work of MMW+C students, offering feedback from a diverse range of disciplines including photography, filmmaking, writing, and painting. Each student received a nearly hour long crit, with incredibly engaging and profound conversations arising from the many different points of view on hand. Beginning at 8:30 or 9am, every day was so full that our lunch and dinner hours grew progressively shorter and shorter, although the food was- as always- utterly fabulous.
The students work this year was particularly compelling, and they all received critiques with openness and eagerness. Having worked with many of the students in the past, I loved reconnecting with everyone and was impressed by how much their work had improved. Carol Eisenberg, who I’ve been mentoring for some time, exhibited tremendous evolution in her images. Since we primarily meet over Facetime/Skype/etc, it was wonderful to see her images printed and hung on the wall.
Another student, Joe Mullan, had been a student of mine through the mentorship program offered by the MMW+C, and is graduating with his MFA degree this fall. During his thesis defense, I made a comment which inspired him to stand up for himself and question me in return. When I responded by saying that in all the time we’ve worked together he’d never spoken to me that way, the whole place erupted in laughter, and we all agreed that it was a sure sign that he is ready to graduate.
Anna LaBenz, a student whose work I critiqued two years prior, presented work that had considerably improved. My goal in offering feedback is to look at the images and express what is and isn’t working, and how I “read” the photograph from an objective standpoint, never to intentionally offend or hurt anyone. Anna found the critique I gave her years ago to be somewhat severe, however, and it motivated her to progress. This year, she stated that she was “really glad Connie is here, because two years ago she gave me a harsh critique, and I said to myself ‘I’m gonna show that woman'”! I replied by saying “You just did”, and everyone cheered and roared as an almost celebration of how far she had truly come.
It was wonderful to be working with the Maine Media Workshops again, as it always is. Over so many years, I have developed a sincere fondness for the school, it’s supportive environment, and the goodwill displayed by the faculty and staff towards the students. Everyone is enabled to go beyond what they think they are capable of and it is extremely rewarding for me to be a part of. The opportunity to work alongside the other visiting faculty was truly an illuminating experience, and all of the students presented innovative, highly sophisticated work. Bestor Cram, executive producer and creative director of Northern Light Productions who was the other visiting artist, summed up the experience beautifully:
“This years MFA retreat experience for me as a visiting faculty member was a powerful reminder of the capacity for art to be transformative. I am impressed by the culture you — the faculty and students — have created that supports the growth of individual creativity as a discipline that emerges from a determined pursuit of self realization, and a recognition that boundaries are to be crossed.”
Many thanks to MMW+C for all of their support and hospitality, and CONGRATULATIONS to Joe Mullan and Rob Skeoch on graduating with their MFA degrees- you both worked extremely hard and have earned it!
For more excellent photo coverage of the retreat by Alexis Mpaka, click here!