RITphoto invited Dylan Obser – a graduate student who is working on his MFA Photo and Imaging arts – to talk about his experiences in our learning community. He shared his answers in the narrative shared below.
I was born in Nyack, New York in 1978. I grew up between parents in metropolitan NYC and rural Pennsylvania Dutch country. Specifically I lived in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania and in the Bronx, New York. After high school, I attended the Westchester Artist Workshop in White Plains, New York and pursued a career as a DJ and electronic music producer. I returned to Pennsylvania after a few years and worked in healthcare, initially with disabled children in foster care and then moving into the Emergency Room as a medical technician. I returned to school finishing my BFA in studio art at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, (the hometown of Keith Haring)where I concentrated on Photography and Art History in 2011. I received my degree in December 2015 and began attending RIT the following August 2016. I am left handed and was named after Bob Dylan. If you told me that I would be working on my MFA at RIT eight years ago, I would have said no way and would have laughed in your face.
Why did you choose RIT?
On some level I think we chose each other in as much as I chose RIT, I feel it chose me. RIT was suggested by an undergraduate advisor, I thought I was not good enough to get in. I guess I was underestimating myself, RIT was my Harvard or Yale option, my shot in the dark. At the end of the day my decision was based on getting into my first choice of schools, although I did not apply anywhere else. After visiting, meeting the faculty and seeing the facilities, I gained a sense of collaboration, that my work had merit and I was entering into partnership with RIT to pursue my education and work. I wanted to go to a school that would help me to break apart my work and process and then be given the tools to rebuild it and taught how to use whats inside of me to continue forward.
Can you share a reason why the MFA program attracted you?
I was worried about attending a university where philosophically the drive was to disregard my past work and Ideas, where the curriculum would essentially remake me in its own image. At RIT I felt welcomed to bring my ideas, my drive to make and invent, to essentially continue in who I am as an artist but be made better, refined, and given the tools to succeed and make the best work I can. I felt a level of validation for what I had already accomplished, and for the first time in my life a professor whom I wasn’t already connected to told me they liked my work. RIT represents a place where I know I can do anything I want photographically, it provides the tools, mentoring, and teaching needed for me to succeed in the work I want to create.
What has been your most challenging assignment as a photography student?
My thesis work. The most challenging assignment as an artist/photographer has been the pursuit of figuring out what it is I do and where what I do comes from. I have been a photographer since the first photograph I took as a child with a polaroid. My pursuit after acquiring the skills and aptitudes of photography has been to make work that reflects my observations of the world. This reflection can not escape my own unique upbringing and life experiences, my fascinations, questions, and answers. So for me the biggest challenge is aggregating the data of my life to find the roots of why I look at the world the way I do and applying it to how and what I make images of. As I move forward as a Graduate MFA student and professional artist, my challenges are always going to be to hold fast to my vision and make work that reflects that truth.
What have been your experiences as an MFA student at RIT
It is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I have worked harder and longer than ever before and thats coming off an 11 year career in the emergency medical field. I revel in the experience and enjoy it like nothing else in my life before. I know that this experience with all of its crazy lows and highs is exactly as it should be. I feel very grateful to be here and on some days wish it wasn’t going to end. The experience of being around my fellow grads, the insanely talented undergrads and of course the faculty will shape me for the rest of my career.
How the community is helping to shape your work ?
I played tennis for most of my life and you only get better when you face someone better than you, being around the undergrads from all the different disciplines is a constant reminder that you are at the best school for image making in the world. You walk the halls and face student images on the walls that push you to refine your craft. The faculty becomes your community, they invest in your work and ideas and help you to create your best work. They provide avenues of learning and facilitate the connections you need to go beyond Rochester into the next community, where hopefully you can contribute. If there is something you want to learn, a technique a process, you need only seek out a professor here. If you have an idea, an invention, a novel concept, the community here will rally around you to make it happen and you have access to the tools and knowledge for that to take place.
What are you plans after School?
My plans are to move to NYC but I am open to other places, and pursue a career in exhibition, publication, and teaching. I hope to become part of a community where I can both continue to learn and contribute as a maker and mentor. Luckily NYC is full of RIT alums.