Interview: Photo School Guy Bill Gratton
By Aimee Baldridge
/ Published by MOCDeparting National Manager of Educational Markets Bill Gratton looks back on over a decade of working with the photography education community, and gives us his take on where photo education is headed and how students and educators can make the most of it to rise to the challenges of an ever-evolving market.
Aimee Baldridge: How did the MAC-On-Campus program get started, and how long did you work with it?
Bill Gratton: MAC-On-Campus got started about 18 years ago. Before MAC-On-Campus, the way the photo industry dealt with colleges and universities was to give equipment to the few bigger and better known photography schools.
MAC-On-Campus was created to make significant discounts available to any photography school, educator, or student. And while everyone else was trying to go into schools and just sell stuff, we would go in and explain how to use the tools and why certain types of photographers were using them.
I joined the MAC Group in 2000, and less than a year later, I took over the educational program. I feel really blessed to have been involved with the educators and schools. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to be involved with this particular community, because it’s a fabulous, caring community of really creative, neat people.
AB: How many photography programs did you work with over the years, and how many visits to schools did you make?
Bill Gratton: There are about 700 schools that offer photography programs in the U.S. I’d say I’ve been to about 450 of them. I’ve probably made over 2,000 visits to schools.
AB: How have you seen photography programs and students change over the years?
Bill Gratton: The most obvious change was from analog to digital.
There’s also been an increase in adjunct professors who are working photographers, as opposed to full-time professors.
When I started, the students were typically at least 70% male, and about ten years ago, that changed almost overnight. It’s probably about 60/40 now, with more females than males. The average student age has definitely gone up. We’ve seen a lot of career changers get into photography.
AB: What do you think are the most important things students learn from a photo program that they can’t learn on their own?
Bill Gratton: Photography programs force you to look at things in a way others have not. It’s also a place for students to go and make mistakes and explore their own vision.
I think the ideal education going forward is going to be a combination of distance learning and brick-and-mortar. There are some classes that can be put online, and there are also some in which the student should really be at a facility with an instructor and other students. One of the challenges today is that students can go through their lives without coming in contact with another person. They need to learn to work with people to deal with clients and subjects.
The fact is that photographers don’t work exclusively on their own. There are art directors and clients and all these people who have to work with one another. When schools encourage that and give students real-world experience, that’s invaluable.
AB: What do you think MAC-On-Campus has contributed to students’ education over the years?
Bill Gratton: My personal goal was always to be an asset to the educator. One of the things I’m most proud of is that it takes a great deal of trust for an educator to turn their classroom over to you. They feel a great responsibility to their students and have to know you’re not going to take advantage of their classroom to make sales.
I think having traveled to as many schools and worked with as many educators as I have speaks to the fact that MAC-On-Campus has been doing things the right way. The fact that MAC-On-Campus has continued to do it for so long and so successfully is a real tribute to the MAC Group, and it’s certainly my hope and expectation that they’ll continue to do it.
AB: Do you have any particularly great memories of your time with MAC-On-Campus?
Bill Gratton: My favorite memories with students have been when I could just see the light come on, when I realized that they’d just learned something they wouldn’t have gotten in their traditional classrooms. That often involved shoots we did outside of class.
I keep images from some of those student shoots on my phone and look at them for inspiration, because there’s this whole generation of photographers out there that’s doing things I never dreamt of doing and who will find ways to make a living doing them that I probably can’t even think of today. To me that’s very exciting.
AB: Do you have any parting advice for photography students?
Bill Gratton: Most people have multiple passions. Take your secondary passion, and merge it with your photography. I like business and growing things, and I love photography, so the job I had with MAC-On-Campus was the perfect job for me. It goes back to the old adage, If you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Once you know that photography is what you love, if there’s something else you can tie that into, you’ll have the same situation. When other people sense that passion, they’ll want to hire you to do the things you want to do and photograph the types of things you want to photograph.
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