Graduate Admissions

Photography Faculty Spotlight

Photography Faculty Kelli Connell


Professor Kelli Connell

Photography professor Kelli Connell was drawn to Columbia College Chicago by the strength of its alumni. At a photography conference, Kelli attended a panel discussion featuring recent alumni of the MFA program—Matt Seiber, Brian Ullrich, and Jon Gittlesen. She was impressed by the passion they expressed and the program’s sense of community. For Kelli, the true strength of the program is the support the students offer each other. The students and alumni are fierce advocates for each other’s work.

Kelli says that Columbia’s Photography MFA program is unique in that its students have the opportunity to work with all of its professors. Rather than working exclusively with one or two mentors, students are able to take advantage of the professional experiences of all of the program’s faculty.

A native of Texas, Kelli received her double BFA in Photography and Art Education from the University of North Texas and her MFA in Photography from Texas Woman’s University. She taught undergraduates at Youngstown State University in Ohio until 2007 when she came to Columbia. In the fall of 2010, Kelli was appointed Associate Chair of the Photography Department.

Kelli says that Columbia’s Photography MFA program is unique in that its students have the opportunity to work with all of its professors. Rather than working exclusively with one or two mentors, students are able to take advantage of the professional experiences of all of the program’s faculty. Kelli has found that her students are “passionate about making work” and that they not only “produce a lot of work, but are good at researching and pushing the content of their work.” Kelli and her fellow professors feel a “sense of pride” in both the program and their students.

In Kelli’s opinion, the urban setting of the Columbia campus offers countless opportunities to students. With its vibrant arts scene, Chicago exposes students to other working artists and current trends in photography. The MFA program includes end-of-year reviews in which photography professionals from around Chicago critique students’ work. The downtown location of the school gives students unique opportunities to showcase their work both inside and outside the classroom.

Connell believes that the MFA Photography students at Columbia College are well-positioned to succeed in the ever-changing arts world, due to their solid background established in their graduate studies and the support that they receive from their professors and one another.

While she enjoys teaching and working with graduate students, Kelli is also a working artist. Her photos are “an honest representation of the duality or multiplicity of the self in regards to decisions about intimate relationships, family, belief systems and lifestyle options.” Kelli is interested in not only what the photographs say about her, but also in what viewers’ response to her images says about their own identities and social constructs. She has had numerous solo exhibits which explore these questions of identity. She is currently pulling together her first full-length monograph, featuring the photos in “Double Life,” a series she has been working on since 2002. The book will be released in the fall of 2011.

Kelli believes that teaching graduate students “keeps her on her toes” and pushes her to keep up with what is current in her field. She is excited about how quickly the “definition of photography is changing and building upon itself.” She believes that the MFA Photography students at Columbia College are well-positioned to succeed in the ever-changing arts world, due to their solid background established in their graduate studies and the support that they receive from their professors and one another.

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