Alumni Feature: Sara Clarken

Sara with her work Smoke Signals, Los Angeles, 2017, Image Courtesy of the Artist

Sara Clarken, BFA ’15, wears many hats within the creative world, from being an Artist, Independent Exhibition Director, and Berlin Editor-at-Large of FOUNDATIONS Magazine. While in her undergrad at VCU Clarken kept very busy, taking all sorts of photo jobs, creating “look books” for Fashion Department students, working as the first assistant for fashion photographer Matt Licari and interning as a digital retoucher at Need Supply Co. Immediately after graduation Sara started work at MAMA gallery in Los Angeles, working her way up to Assistant Director. After gaining more experience in the LA Gallery world Sara was given the opportunity to direct an international satellite exhibition in Berlin for MAMA gallery, and then was invited to curate a massive, international group show of works on paper at The Dot Project in London. She now has a German Artist Visa for 2 years, and is living in Berlin researching, networking, and creating opportunities to unite creative capitals globally.

“I continue to depend on the support of my classmates and professors to critique, and evaluate executed ideas. VCU has offered endless opportunities for me to connect with working artists in all departments, both professors and students. The most valuable relationships I built have become the foundation of my professional practices.” says Clarken.


Alumni Feature: Austin Aviles

Austin Aviles’ Studio, Doha Qatar

Austin Aviles, BFA ’17, is currently participating in the 2017-2018 VCU Qatar Fellowship program, a 9 month residency at the VCUQ campus, based in their Painting and Printmaking Department. Aviles found out about the residency after the Tasmeem Doha 2017 Biennial earlier this year. In the past, the position has only been open to VCU’s Painting and Printmaking Department, but has recently also been opened up to the Department of Photography and Film. While participating as the Artist in Residency at VCU Qatar, he has also been given a job there as the Digital Print Lab Manager.

“The fact that I am able to travel for this opportunity just months following my undergrad is incredible and the idea is still continuing to sink in.” Aviles says when asked about how it feels to have been able to jump into this right after graduation. He has already had many cultural, political, and educational experiences that he would never have been privy to if he hadn’t received this residency. “…the chance to step out of my comfort zone and into a complex and unique environment such as this was too good to pass.”


Alumni Feature: Stephen Wozny

“If I can give one piece of advice to VCU Photo/Film students that I wish I’d known when I was there, it’s that the relationships you have with your classmates are just about the most important thing you’ve got for getting your careers started. Some people can jump right into solo freelancing, but most of us can’t. Getting started is tough, and collaboration is one of the best things you can do to start getting professional assignments.”

Stephen Wozny, BFA ’12, currently works as a photojournalist for five different local news stations in Michigan, covering state politics. Since he works in a bureau, he has a little more flexibility than the rest of the crew in the newsroom. They generally are able to know what story they are going to cover a couple days to a couple weeks in advance.

“What makes it interesting is finding people who are affected by the politics, for instance we recently talked to someone who was no longer able to afford the medication he needs to treat a serious condition, within the context of a Democratic member of the Michigan Senate who wants to regulate the process of prescription drug pricing to prevent gouging.”

He says that the work he is doing now for the news stations is a vital step towards his dream of being able to document NGOs and humanitarian work. He also hopes to one day work covering conflict zones.


Alumni Feature: Hunter Brumfield

Hunter Brumfield is currently working as a freelance director and editor. He works on regional and coastal Tv spots, brand anthems or web media. He is also always improving his craft through working on music videos and short films – which at the same time helps him increase his visibility. Hunter began working in the film industry freshman year at VCU when he heard there was a lifetime christmas movie being filmed in downtown Richmond. He jumped at the opportunity to be a production assistant on set. He wanted to get a real feel for how the world operated. “It felt a bit like a thankless job in a sense, but in hindsight it was an invaluable experience and one that everyone should go through as a student.” says Brumfield. “Being on set, even if it’s a schlocky christmas movie, humbles you to the mass amount of positions that a set requires.”

Above is the music video Brumfield directed for Lucy Dacus’ song I Don’t Wanna be Funny Anymore.

Continuing in his undergraduate degree, he worked as an assistant for a corporate photographer where he learned the language of being a creative as well as how to deal with corporate clients. He says there is a deftness and structure in how you handle them. Hunter continued his photo assistant work into his senior year and he was asked to work on a job for the World Trade Center doing data management and C camera. This means he was running the 3rd camera, picking up smaller shots while the A and B cameras gathered the main footage. This was for a production company based downtown that had a very high stress environment. Here, everything he had been learning in previous jobs was culminating into one. After getting back to VA, he was asked to edit the project. He did this job for free, knowing that the company would likely offer him a paid gig the next time if he was able to impress them and sure enough they did. That company was the Branching, where Brumfield is now currently posted. Three years later and he is now one of two primary editors at this space, as well as a director. Each new project he gets is bigger in scope which he says is “…certainly a matter of gained skill and mutual trust.”

“Photo+Film laid out the foundation for the A to Z of filmmaking” Brumfield says. “They gave you the tools, but it was totally up to you whether you want to master them or passively accept them.” He also mentions the importance of his peers from Photo+Film. The network he was able to sustain in Photo+Film is vital for him because they continuously recommend each other for jobs and solicit each other’s specialized skills for their own works. “I absolutely owe them when it comes to where I am at today.”

Hunter Brumfield on the set of “Bones” by Anousheh – a new music video he directed. Coming Soon!

Summer Internship Highlight: Connor Gillooly

“What was great about the internship was being able to see all of the scripts that Hollywood was looking at, and be able to see if my writing would be able to hold up to them.”

In the bustle of New York City, Connor Gillooly – a film senior – interned for two production companies this summer. For both, Staygold Features and Red Crown Productions, he read  every script that came in as a proposal to the company. He then was able to suggest which scripts they should produce. Gillooly says that reading other people’s scripts was so useful for him because he was able to compare his own writing and also learn which types of scripts companies were looking at producing. His experience in VCU Photo+Film learning to work successfully in teams with so many other creative people helped improve his communication skills and prepared him for working professionally with other creatives at his internship.

While in NYC, Connor also wrote and directed a short film called Penumbra as a result of participating in a film intensive based in Greenport Long Island at the Manhattan Film Institute. The program is a privately run intensive with an international pull that brings together big name actors, producers, and writers etc. from the industry to teach and work with a group of aspiring filmmakers to make 25 films in the span of 2 weeks.

The film Penumbra is about exes who find themselves trapped in a cycle of habitual comfort. You can watch the film below.

He stayed extremely busy and was a key crew member on 6 other films as well as directed and edited a 7th film all this summer!

Follow Connor’s vimeo account and keep an eye out for new things coming soon!

Alumni Feature: Heather West

Heather West, a Photo+Film alumni, graduated with her concentration in photography in 2014. She is currently working as an Art Department Production Assistant for TV and Movies. She has worked on numerous projects including Rectify Season 4 (AMC), Logan Lucky by Steven Soderbergh, Pitch Perfect 3 (Universal), and Black Panther (Marvel). The film industry has many niche jobs. Heather’s main duties involve designing all of the signs, labels, vinyl wraps for cars, logos, and menus etc. Almost nothing from the real world can be used because of copyright laws, so West utilizes her photoshop and design skills to produce the graphics content that you see in TV and Film. For the film Pitch Perfect 3, she made all of the passports you see and every single cereal box. She also does a lot of photo manipulation for pictures seen throughout the films and TV shows. Right now she describes her responsibilities as being 50/50 between creative work and administrative work because she also ends up doing a lot of paperwork.

Heather West with a dollar tree receipt of props for the film Logan Lucky.


Summer Internship Highlight: Riley Goodman

“I had the opportunity to handle and catalogue the original glass plate negative of Abraham Lincoln that was used as the template for the penny.”

Riley Goodman examining a portrait from the Mathew Brady Studio for damage before inputting it into the National Portrait Gallery’s online database.


In the heart of Washington DC, Riley Goodman, a photo senior, interned with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in the Department of Photographs. He got his internship as the Collections Intern after applying through the Smithsonian’s SOLAA application program. During his time there he was responsible for cataloguing the Frederick Hill Meserve Collection of glass plate negatives which were taken by the Mathew Brady studio during the Civil War era. This involved handling the negatives, describing their subject matter, and entering the information into the Institution’s online databases. Riley mentions a few of the subjects of the images he worked with included Abraham Lincoln, PT Barnum, and Ulysses S. Grant. While at the National Portrait Gallery, he also worked alongside his boss Jennifer Nikolich, the Collections Manager for Photographs, Prints, and Drawings, to handle, store, and prepare works from the collection for cataloging, display and mailing. Riley says the best part of his internship was the ability to immerse himself in the Institution. He got to “see the collections and behind-the-scenes of various museums and [g0t] to attend lectures, lunches, and events across the entirety of the Institution.” By doing these things, he was able to make great connections that will help him land his first job after graduation. While interning at the National Portrait Gallery, he was able to learn how to catalogue, clean and handle all types of art. He was also able to expand his knowledge of art history and he learned the importance of the Mathew Brady Studio during such a pivotal time in American history.


Dear students, parents, teachers, alumni and friends VCU’s Department of Photography + Film,

I write to share our department highlights of the summer and “Save the Date” information for upcoming public events!




Our second annual Summer Study Abroad Program in Berlin was a smashing success!  Led by artist and affiliated faculty, Matthew Warren, students in this 4-week, 6-credit Berlin: Studio & City course were immersed in the diverse contemporary art community of this most vibrant of cities.  Students spent their time both in the studio, exploring their own independently-driven visual ideas and artistic goals, and outside, discovering the city’s museums, galleries and professional artist spaces.  They also had a culminating public exhibition at GlogauAIR!  Stay tuned for future announcements about how to apply for 2018.

In late May, our Department was well represented at the Richmond Visual Arts Center’s effort to get into the Guinness Book of World Records (!) for the creation of the World’s Largest Cyanotype (see picture above), with participation by Assistant Professor John Freyer; intructors and artists Alyssa Salomon and Sarah Midkiff, and dozens and dozens of volunteers.

In departmental news, as many of you know, Matt Warren is taking a leave of absence this year, to pursue professional and artistic opportunities in New York.  Taking over his many duties is former VCUarts Dean’s Scholar and BFA alumni Kimin Kim.  Intrepid intellect, artist and Gradate Director Paul Thulin will serve as the interim Chair of the department for the fall 2017 semester, for which I am very grateful.  I will be on research re-assignment to complete my four-years-in-the-making feature documentary film, Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable, which will have its national broadcast premiere on PBS in 2018-19.



  • TUES AUGUST 29thVCUarts MFA Slide Slam! Studio Arts graduate students introduce their work.  Hardywood Brewery,6-9pm
  • SEPT 6-9The VCU Southern Film Festival with screenings at Cabell Library the Virginia Historical Society and the VMFA. If you haven’t yet seen Loving – producer Nancy Buirski visited our students in 2016 – make sure to catch it on the 9th
  • SEPT 14-17  The Afrikana Film Festival of Richmond, with screenings at the Grace Street theater, the Bijou and with our friends at Candela Gallery, among other venues
  • FRIDAY, SEPT 1st/ THURS SEPT. 7thAlso at Candela, the First Friday Opening (9/1) and Artist Talk (9/7) of Theory of Place, a group show with Marcus DeSienoCourtney JohnsonCamilo Ramirez, and our very own favorite, beloved prof Justin James Reed.
  • FRIDAY, OCT 20th– Our friends at theJames River Film Society host the Award Screening for the Best James River Short Film at the VMFA
  • FRIDAY, NOV 3rd– InLight, Richmond’s one-night-only, spectacular exhibition of light-based art and performance, organized by 1708 Gallery
  • NOV 21 –DEC 12Photography + Film MFA exhibition, FAB Gallery


Kudos to Our Staff!

Congrats to Graduate Director Paul Thulin whose work is included in two upcoming group exhibitions, at the Denver Month of Photography and the Belo Horizonte International Photography Festival in Brazil. Justin James Reed’s work with collective Piece of Cake was included in For Freedoms at the Aperture Foundation in New York; Justin was also included in Paradise Out-Front at the Southern Gallery, named one of the Ten Best Photo Exhibitions of Winter 2017 by American Photo Magazine.

Work by Justin James Reed (left) Work by Ben Alper (right)