Although it's still six months ahead, we urge the third graders to think about where they want to run their internship this spring. The reason we start this early, is that it becomes harder and harder to find good quality internship places. The times that you could call a photographer and work fulltime for three or four months is definitely over. Students have to work really hard to find a good and meaningful spot. Often they work at several places, dividing the week between several photographers who can use assistance for one or two days a week, but not the whole week.
The benefit is that the students take note of different ways to run a business, but the downside is that the students find it hard to have a good working relationship with the photographer and the chores are more superficial. Also a lot of students try to find a place abroad. They want to break free from the academic routine and combine that with working in a different environment. The danger herein lies that the student try to work with their 'heroes', which is not always the best place to learn. The tendency to pick photographers as a place for an internship based on their work is an interesting one. In what way the work reflects the day-to-day routine of the photographer and is that the best place to learn about the trade? Maybe another photographer, who is not on the shortlist of the student and is not that 'hip' or 'important', has good assignments frequently and can teach the student a lot about building up a sustainable and inspiring business.
Every now and then a student returns from this period with the phrase: 'I learned more in three months than in three years at the academy.' That always makes me smile and frown at the same time. Although happy that the student had a good and meaningful experience, it also says a lot about the way the student worked the past three years… And of course it can also mean that we have to take a look in how to incorporate more 'real-life' experiences in the curriculum.
The big question, though, is: should we still fill up the period of the internship with sending out the students to work within the businesses of other photographers? There is an interesting development going on, in which the students themselves want to conduct a more research-based project, in which they try to get a grip on the complex creative industry. With a clear goal they investigate a certain aspect of the professional scope, interviewing and visiting photographers, graphic designers or other professionals they think are important to them. They build up knowledge in their own way, trying to find out what place they can occupy in this world and figuring out a way to relate to the fast changing professional community. Maybe this is a more adequate answer to prepare the students for the future ahead.
Robert Philip is a photographer and course leader at the Utrecht School of the Arts.