School of Art, Media, and Technology

Interview with Spencer Kohn (BFA Alum 2014)

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WHERE DO YOU CURRENTLY CALL HOME TODAY?

I live in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR CURRENT PRACTICE?

I am currently working as a fashion photographer just opened up my second studio in Brooklyn. On the side I have a fine art series using technology to compress video into still images called Videographs.

WHO AND/OR WHAT INSPIRE YOU IN YOUR WORK?

I have taken this summer to re-assess my goals and work style. I am currently inspired by un-reality. I realize that photography is able to transport the viewer to other places and allow them to examine their desires and fantasies.

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT?

I would have to say my biggest professional accomplishment is a tie between winning the Amazon Fashion competition last year with other Parsons students and being featured in a Parsons group show at the State Hermitage Museum in Russia. Both of these opportunities I owe to faculty member Thomas Werner, for turning me on to the competition, and for curating the Hermitage Museum show and having my work in it two years in a row.

HOW DO YOU EARN YOUR LIVING?

I work as a freelance photographer in NYC, I lease my own studio in Brooklyn shooting for designers, magazines and other clients. Lately I have been working with musicians pretty often and next week is New York Fashion Week where I will be shooting backstage at fashion shows and shooting lookbooks for designers. I also work as a freelance retoucher for a few clients to supplement times when work is not as busy.

DESCRIBE YOUR EXPERIENCE AT PARSONS

I was a transfer student, joining Parsons at my Sophomore year. I came in feeling very homesick for all of the friends that I made in San Francisco and it took me a little while to adjust. Through the remaining years I made a point to use the schools resources to my best abilities. You can never expect anyone to do your work for you. I took time to form relationships with teachers and students I really admired, for both their work and their personality.

All throughout school I set up my schedule so that I had big portions of my day free to take on jobs. The summer before my senior year I signed the lease on my first studio and managed to be working almost full time while taking 19 credits per semester. I never had the option not to work.

WHAT IS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT THING YOU LEARNED AT THE PARSONS?

Be nice to everyone. The person next to you usually has your best intentions, and after graduation whichever industry you go into can only get smaller. Obviously stand up for yourself if necessary but try not to be too sensitive. I always believe that if somebody is giving you a harsh critique, it is because they truly believe in you and want you to get better, otherwise why would they waste their time?

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR CURRENT STUDENTS, ABOUT THEIR TIME IN THE PROGRAM OR THEIR CAREERS?

My best advice is to make friends with everybody. Maintain relationships with teachers, and really put your best foot forward. Every teacher understands that the school is rigorous, so you can sometimes get away with a late assignment here and there, but ultimately these teachers will end up as your colleagues. I always made a point to get to know everybody in the building. But also be genuine about it. If you are not willing to talk to Doukrou at the front security desk, and ask about his day, then why should the head of the program talk to you either?

Try to spend as much time at school as you can. It is easy to go home after class and do your homework there, but you won’t meet anybody holed up in your little railroad apartment. Senior year I found this out accidentally but it made the biggest difference for me. My computer broke in the beginning of senior year and I didn’t have the money to fix that and complete my thesis as I wanted to, so I made going to school to use the computers into my day job. I was in the labs or printing every day until 11PM. I then began to realize more and more how awesome the people are at The New School, and regret not spending more time in the labs earlier on.

LOOKING BACK WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THE STUDENTS JUST ABOUT TO GRADUATE OR OUR VERY RECENT GRADUATES?

Try to make the transition from Senior year to “real life” as smooth as possible. Unless you are making contacts and promoting your work, nobody will ever see it. It is not enough to just be making work in school, and every professor will tell you the same. Go to gallery openings if you want to be in that world. Join modelmayhem if you don’t know how to get into fashion photography. Make a portfolio and be fearless. Confidence is a necessity if you are going to be a working artist because if you don’t believe in yourself, who will? I am not a naturally outgoing person, but I had to train myself to be that way if I wanted to make my dreams come true. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for things.

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