ECAL's Milo Keller speaks about disrupting teaching in the photography world

Top creative university ECAL is leading by example by catching up with shift in the photography industry.


 What is happening to traditional photographers in this era of smartphone snapshots and slick photo-editing apps? 

To gain some insight into the impact amateur image-makers are having on photography as a craft, we spoke to Milo Keller, Head of Photography at design university École cantonale d'art de Lausanne (ECAL) in Switzerland.

With a background in design photography, Keller and his colleagues are spearheading a new curriculum called Augmented Photography, that takes into account the role of the plucky DIY amateur in photography. It is their goal to rethink the way young photographers are educated about the industry they are to form part of, wanting to shed more light on how images are made, treated and shared on the web.

They want to get to the bottom of what success means for a photographer in this hyper-connected environment. Augmented Photography marks a new turn for ECAL as they are updating its teaching methods to bring them in line with internet culture. 

“We believe that, as an art school, ECAL needs to develop the creative potential offered by new technologies by embracing and responding to their impact,” says Keller. “Our Master program needed a new theoretical approach for the teaching linked with rapid developments in the photographic medium.”

The research part of Augmented Photograpy started with a series of panel discussions among artists, curators and designers between 2016 and 2017. The curators then put together an art exhibition, depicted below, that brings together past work of photographers that relate to the future of image-making and alternative photography. 

Augmented Photography puts focus on the new tools available to anyone with a smartphone and how it affects the way money is being spent in the image-making industry these days. Eventually, this will form part of ECAL's new curriculum so as to give aspiring photographers a more true-to-life learning experience of their industry right now.

According to Keller, it is no longer enough to hone the craft and post-production-side of photography. People are growing disinterested in the high-profile and expensive photographers of the world, choosing instead the lively amateurs who are making their own way with less emphasis on "correct" craft.

A similar conversation is currently underway in the graphic design world. In this interview at AGI Paris 2017, designers Andrew Ashton, Na Kim and Thomas Widdershoven discussed the challenge of staying relevant when technically correct design takes precedence over simple connection between artist and audience. 

All about communication over craft, some young designers are catering for emotive engagement from broader audiences instead of designing things that only other academically-trained people would care for. 

“A kid now can video themselves flapping around on the floor, cut it together with some typography and put it up on Youtube. Within 48 hours they can get a million people engaging with their concept,” remarked Ashton. “As much as I really love the craft, the audience’s gaze is moving somewhere else. We must be careful of not being relevant.”

Like the designers, Keller has witnessed this shift in photography as well. Many advertising agencies want a more personal, amateur-photography look for their campaigns since that is the aesthetic people online engage with daily.

It is vital that universities take notice of new technology and user behaviours. Students depend on teachers to act as the bridge into their chosen profession. It is no use producing young professionals that are maladjusted to the playground rules of the Digital Age. 

As journalist Charlotte Spear proffered earlier this year, there is a deepening divide between what most universities are teaching young people academically and what audiences and the industry is calling for.

"There is a very apparent need for universities to leave behind their outdated ways and allow us to become part of the brand new world that we live in," she said. "This entails accepting that this is a world driven forward by technology, not blackboards and paper handouts."

Keller takes a similar view and has become an agent of change in his own domain as a photography teacher. Augmented Photography of ECAL represents a valuable closing of this educational gap, an example of integrating parts of the real world into the classroom from which many other schools can learn.

“The skill of the new generation of image producers is self-evident," says Keller, "Young creatives who are comfortable with new technologies and are able to jump from one format to another apparently without effort, will be the first to respond to the needs of tomorrow."

Augmented Photography exhibit in ECAL

Augmented Photography exhibit in ECAL

Augmented Photography exhibit in ECAL

Augmented Photography exhibit in ECAL