The full picture of Ryerson’s Image Arts: Photography Studies program

Image Arts: Photography Studies is one of Ryerson’s many programs that just catch my interest. I was lucky enough to sit down (virtually) with Samantha Jackson, a fourth-year student in the program to learn more about it. In part two of this blog series, Samantha tells me about the classes she’s taken throughout her time in the program, the experience she’s gained and more. Be sure to check out part one of this interview to get the full experience!


There are three images of a letter on a beach. The first one on the left is crumpled, the middle one is flat and the third one is folded

An image from Samantha’s untitled thesis project where she is exploring the relationship between her late paternal grandfather and her identity.

J: What are some of the photography classes that you’ve enjoyed taking so far?

S: I like the production classes, just because there’s always an element of freedom with what you get to do with it. You get more freedom as you move on in your degree. You get a bit more freedom to pick what your topic is going to be. Now that I’m in fourth year, I’m doing a thesis, so it’s like literally whatever you want to do. Another class I enjoyed taking wasn’t a required class, but an elective class that I enjoyed taking when I was in second year was a media business studies class. They brought in a lot of professionals from the creative industries to talk about their career trajectory and more. We had to do a lot of very practical assignments like considering our goals and creating a five-year plan, which was practice for thinking about and planning out what your current career trajectory is. I enjoyed that class.

J: That sounds cool. Tell me about some of the other assignments that you’ve submitted throughout this program.

S: There’s really a wide range. Every semester we have at least one very traditional theory class that has like written assignments and tests. Like I said, every semester we have a production class and those differ, but it’s typically handing in a series of images, but you do critiques for those in person. You would be making prints, coming in on the day of your critique, putting up your prints and addressing the class and talking about your work. Then the professor and the other students would talk about what they think is working and how you could improve things. It’s a really collaborative thing. We also had to do a bit of video work throughout our degree [including] basics of videography, which I think was a struggle for all of us just because we’re used to working with stills. Moving over to videography and film is like thinking in an entirely different mode. It was tough but I’m happy with what I made from it and it’s another thing I can put in my portfolio. 

J: Next up, what are the experiential learning opportunities like in this program? If you’ve completed any, what were they like?

An image of two red adirondack chairs on a beach. The sky is a pale grey and the water is a light blue.

An image Samantha took for a second-year term project called Temporary Absence.

S: [In] the program there isn’t any sort of mandatory co-op or internship but there is a class that’s called Co-operative Internship, and I took that in the winter of my third year. It was interesting because you can find a place that you want to work at and make sure that the professor approves of it, or you can say you’re interested in doing something in this industry [and ask] do you have anybody in mind, or any places that students have worked at in the past that I could work at. I was interested in learning more about the photography archives, because I knew that it was an industry that existed, but I hadn’t really explored it at all. I thought it was kind of something you needed to do a master’s degree in in order to even get into it. I worked at an organization called the Archive of Modern Conflict. Before COVID-19, I was going down to their office, which was right across from Nathan Phillips Square once a week for the day, and I was working on digitization. I’d get to work with objects in their collection and I would be scanning them and recording information about them in the database, scanning negatives, scanning texts…different things like that. The scanning process would take a while, so I would get to just look at things. I could pull a box off the shelf and take a look at things. I really found that super interesting. I would definitely recommend that people take advantage of it if they can.

An illustrated version of Toronto's Line 1 subway line. Each stop is accompanied by a photo of the outdoor of the station.

Samantha’s work called Arriving At, a visual representation of part Toronto’s Line 1 subway stops.

J: Out of your four years that you’ve been here what has been your favourite part of the program? 

S: I love the program. I think just the fact that it is a small program has been really nice, especially because there’s a lot of stereotypes about going to university and it’s you’re just one person out of like hundreds of people that are in your class. For the most part I’ve hardly ever been in any classes that are maybe bigger than 100 people. In fourth year right now, there’s like 30 some-odd people in my graduating class so everybody forms a close bond. And also working with the professors. All the professors are practicing artists, which is nice because they’re working in the industry right now. Everybody has different specialties, so there’s probably somebody that can talk to you. It’s helpful because for my thesis you’re encouraged to have a thesis advisor, and I was able to pick a professor that works in a similar style of photography that I’m interested in. It was really nice to get that feedback. I think it’s just a really good community, and I think that’s why we all really miss that in online learning.

J: So my last question for you, is why did you choose Ryerson? 

S: You pick the program first and then you look at the school. There’s just a lot of things that kind of checked all the boxes of what I was looking for. I was looking at academics first and I liked the program. I’m a competitive softball player and I really didn’t want to give up my softball career once I entered university, even though I was preparing myself for it because I was like, how am I going to go to art school and also play softball? I could go to a school that has a program that works really well with my interest, as well as having that stereotypical university experience of being on campus and having a big orientation. I also liked that it was right downtown and there’s good transit. I don’t need to have a car and I can get around pretty easily. I think that once you’re involved with Ryerson there is a very close-knit community, even though it is a decently large school. I’m definitely glad that I picked Ryerson.


That’s the end of this interview blog series! Thank you to Samantha for giving us the full picture of this awesome program. 

Featured image credit: Samantha Jackson


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An image of Samantha Jackson holding a camera at Toronto's Harbourfront