Letter from Department Chair Sasha Waters Freyer


May 23, 2013
Dear students, teachers, alumni and friends of the Department of Photography & Film at VCUarts,

I write to share highlights of the Spring 2013 semester, my first as Chair, and my hopes and goals for the next academic year. Please read all the way down to see the many students, faculty and alumni to whom I say “Hats Off!” for your recent awards and honors!


Our awesome spring visitors were the icing on the cake of a very busy semester, among them photographer Chris Verene and LaToya Ruby Frazier, curators Wesley Miller, Larissa LeClaire and Hannah Frieser, filmmaker David Gatten, in collaboration with the James River Film Festival, and filmmaker Alexis Bravos, who served as this year’s Juror for the wildly fun & successful VCU Student Film Festival, organized by Jennida Chase and her Sensational Sophomores. Thank you Paul Thulin for facilitating, and to all instructors and students for welcoming our guests. I heart all whom attended the College Art Association conference in New York (February) and the Society for Photographic Education conference in Chicago (March). It was swell to bond with our peers and pals in the big cities and do outreach and recruitment together.

Speaking of togetherness and collaboration, I’d like to share that I am a recent co-recipient of a VCU Council for Community Engagement grant along with Dr. Colleen Jackson-Cook in VCU’s Department of Pathology. This money will support a complete HD filmmaking package for the Department (!) to be used by a Spring 2014 Service Learning course in which students and I will co-create a 20-minute documentary about children with Down syndrome. The class is primarily for Senior and Junior Film majors, however remaining seats will be open to any student in the Department with a passion for nonfiction. Also teaming up this summer is rising senior Zoë Dehmer who is a part of the Global Bridges Project, directed by Dr. Maghboeba Mosavel of VCU’s Graduate School of Social and Behavioral Health. Zoë will be in the Kenneth Gardens public housing community in Durban, South Africa, teaching documentary photography and conducting fieldwork. Zoë, this project sounds awesome, and we look forward to hearing more about it!


In fall 2013, we look forward to welcoming new faculty member John Freyer, most recently in the Department of Media, Social Practice and Design at the University of Iowa, and Mary Beth Reed, who moves her appointment from the Cinema Program at VCU to Photo & Film. John will teach Photography and Digital Film classes, and in spring 2014 will begin teaching in AFO. Mary Beth is hitting the ground running with the Filmmaking 1 class this fall, as well as sections of Elements of the Moving Image and Senior Portfolio. We realize that people are what make VCU special, not technology, however we are thrilled to welcome as well our new Black Magic camera! MFA candidates, Seniors and the Junior Workshop class will have priority, however we hope you will all have a chance to check it out. Thanks to Paul T. for writing the proposal that secured the funding for this camera – we all appreciate it!

Other plans for fall 2013 include: the creation of a Student Advisory Council with two representatives per cohort; development of Summer Study Abroad opportunities for Photo & Film students; and working with the faculty to identify friends of the Department to invite to participate on an Advisory Board. This Board will ideally brainstorm opportunities for deeper alumni engagement and the establishment of a post-baccalaureate fellowship housed in Photo & Film.

Throughout the spring, the Photography faculty and I worked together on changes and updates to the Photo B.F.A that will ultimately include more shared courses with the Film cohort and more Topics courses focused on specific areas of interest to students. We have voted on a new curriculum that will be submitted for approval in August, with the hope of a full launch in Fall 2014. The Film faculty will meet to discuss similar revisions, so Film students if you have any ideas or suggestions, please do let me know.


To filmmaker and Associate Professor Sonali Gulati, recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship!!! Sonali is now one of SEVEN faculty members across the School of the Arts to earn this prestigious, national award. Brian Ulrich for his Solo Exhibition “Close Out—Retail Relics and Ephemera” at the Anderson Gallery in Richmond. Paul Thulin for his Solo Exhibition “Pine Tree Ballads” at United Photo Industries, also the winner of the 3rd Annual Conveyor Exhibition Grant. To the ever-modest Jon Sheridan, declared one of the “100 Under 100: The New Superstars of Southern Art” by Oxford American Magazine. While December 2012 technically pre-dates the spring semester, it is worth noting that month Justin James Reed’s book titled 2013 was selected one of the best photo-books of the year by both the British Journal of Photography and Photo-eye Magazine. Bravo Justin!

Hats in the air for all of the graduating class, but especially Elyse Smith and Michael Weinheimer for being awarded Solo Exhibitions at the Capital One Gallery by our friend of the Department, Francis Thompson; Mark Strandquist for his public art project People’s Library created in partnership with the Richmond Public Library, and Mark Harley for his upcoming internship at the Center for Photography at Woodstock. Bravo to rising Senior and Film major Rob Walker for his Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Fellowship. And CONGRATS to Joe Minek and Claire Krueger who are officially now Masters of Arts that are Fine!

The latest in alumni achievements include Carol Golemboski’s award in “Outstanding E-book Achievement” from the Independent Publisher Book Awards for Psychometry, Evan Hume’s participation in “Options 2013,” Washington Project for the Arts’ biennial exhibition of emerging regional artists, and Alma Leiva’s project “Bananas” featured on Creative Capital’s “On Our Radar” at CreativeCapital.org. Students & alumni please send me your news, always.

Have an awesome summer ­– I’ll see you in August,