Photography (MFA)

Applications are currently being accepted for this program on a rolling basis. 
Time to degree: two years (60 credits)
Part-time options are available

Refine your creative vision in Columbia College Chicago's selective Photography Master of Fine Arts program. Our faculty of award-winning photographers will guide you through this two-year program as you build a sophisticated body of work that you'll exhibit in public venues. You will have access to our advanced photography and fine art facilities, including graduate studio space, a digital imaging lab, a commercial lighting studio, and darkrooms. In a supportive critique setting, you'll share your work with our faculty members, guest curators, and visiting artists. You'll make professional connections through our partnerships with the Museum of Contemporary Photography and local galleries, museums, and studios.

Anahid Ghorbani MFA '17 from the Color is Black series, 2016
Anahid Ghorbani MFA ’17, “Untitled,” The Color is Black, 2016

Columbia College Chicago's MFA Photography program doesn't focus on one school of thought. Our students bring diverse perspectives and experiences to the program and continuously challenge, inform, and support each other.

In the Classroom

 jordan putt field series

Jordan Putt MFA ’20, from the series “Field Book”

Several features of the Photography MFA program at Columbia College Chicago are unique. Here’s what you can expect:

  • In addition to traditional image-making, Columbia students work on documentaries, videos, collages, and installations. You’ll take a Graduate Seminar course every semester with other MFA Photography students, refining and discussing each others’ artistic practices. The seminar courses often form communities of artists who challenge one another to consider new ideas in their work.
  • The Graduate Seminar course is coupled with a Graduate Forum course, which you will take every semester. Led by faculty, the forum allows for a flexible range of learning experiences, which include field trips to galleries and museums, studio visits with prominent Chicago artists, discussions with visiting artists, workshops, and ongoing critical dialogues.
  • You’ll take required courses in photography, video, history, theory, and criticism. You’ll also choose electives on subjects such as the portrait, bookmaking, and documentary. Our close relationship with the Art and Art History Department means you can take a wide range of courses in subjects such as performance and installation.
  • You’ll make connections in the Chicago photography community and meet with guest curators, visiting artists, and other professionals we invite to critique graduate work each semester.
  • Your primary focus will be your artistic practice, but you’ll also gain practical skills for becoming a working artist and begin charting your career.

Graduate Faculty

The MFA program is supported by a full-time faculty of renowned photographers representing diverse styles and philosophies. Faculty members have made substantial contributions to contemporary photography and have exhibited their work at venues such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, the Whitney Museum in New York City, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Faculty members take their roles as mentors seriously. They will critique your work regularly and provide guidance as you chart your professional career.

Graduate faculty members in the Photography Department include:

Dawoud Bey

MacArthur Genius Fellow Dawoud Bey began his career in 1975, photographing people in the streets of Harlem, New York. The five-year project was later showcased in his first solo exhibition, Harlem, USA, at the Studio Museum in Harlem. His photographs have been widely published and exhibited extensively at such institutions as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Barbican Centre in London, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, among many other.

Alison Carey

Alison Carey’s work explores uncharted territories. In her studio, she constructs landscapes of the ancient past and landscapes that may exist in the possible future. Carey was a Roswell artist-in-residence fellow in New Mexico and a junior artist-in-residence at the Oregon College of Art & Craft. Carey has exhibited her work throughout the United States. 



Kelli Connell (Graduate Director)

Kelli Connell’s work has been exhibited in the United States, Australia, China, Denmark, and Spain. Her work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography, among others. Publications include Vitamin Ph: New Perspectives in Photography (Phaidon), Photo Art: The New World of Photography (Aperture) and a monograph Kelli Connell: Double Life (DECODE Books).

Paul D’Amato

Paul D’Amato’s work is in the permanent collections of several museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Fogg Museum at Harvard University, and the Portland Museum of Art in Maine. He has been awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, a New England Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, a Maine Arts Commission Grant, and an Illinois Art Council Grant. He was also a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow in Bellagio, Italy.

Peter Fitzpatrick

Peter Fitzpatrick is an Australian artist and educator. He works with still and moving images, reaching across analogue and digital technologies. He has been involved in developing the teaching and research programs at the Photography and Media Arts Department at the School of Art, Australian National University, and the Australian Centre for Photography. He has participated in artist-in-residence programs, festivals, education forums, and exhibitions in Australia, China, the Czech Republic, Singapore, New Zealand, and the USA. In 2001, he was the recipient of the National Photographic Purchase Award from Albury Regional Art Gallery. The Australia Council funded him in 2008 to be an artist-in-residence at the MeetFactory in Prague. In 2017, he was an artist-in-residence at the Redgate Studios in Beijing. 

Greg Foster-Rice

Greg Foster-Rice is an art historian who teaches the history, theory, and criticism of photography. His research focuses on the intersection of photography, urbanism, and race, although his interests span the full range of photographic media and subjects. He co-curated the exhibition and catalogue The City Lost and Found: Capturing New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, 1960-80, which won the Philip Johnson Award from the Society for Architectural Historians. He is working on an exhibition and book about the photographic collage artist Ralph Arnold at the Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Ross Sawyers

Ross Sawyer’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is part of numerous public and private collections. He has had solo and group exhibitions in places such as New York City, Seattle, Richmond, and Pingyao (China).

Jay Wolke

Jay Wolke has had solo exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, the St. Louis Art Museum, Harvard University, and the California Museum of Photography. His photographs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), the Art Institute of Chicago, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Studio and Creative Spaces

All MFA students have dedicated space to create their work in studios located on campus in downtown Chicago. You’ll also have access to a state-of-the-art digital imaging lab and a commercial lighting studio as well as extensive darkrooms. 

Learn more about our facilities.

The Museum of Contemporary Photography

Museum of Contemporary Photography

Columbia is home to an international hub for contemporary photography. The Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) brings some of the world’s most innovative artists to Chicago each year. Our strong partnership with the museum provides MFA students opportunities to form close relationships with professional photographers, and students have access to a comprehensive visual study center, where they can view the Midwest Photographers Project and MoCP’s extensive collection. The museum also offers work and study opportunities to MFA students.

Lectures in Photography

The Photography Department and MoCP cohost a lecture series that brings some of the world’s most exciting artists, curators, and scholars to campus for discussions. Past lecturers have included Jennifer Blessing (senior curator of photography at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York) and Lesley A. Martin (creative director and publisher of The PhotoBook Review at Aperture) as well as artists Kristine Potter, Sam Contis, Teju Cole, Zackary Drucker, John Divola, Deana Lawson, Martha Rosler, and Zanele Muholi.

Thesis and Exhibition

At the end of the program, you’ll share your thesis project with the photography community. Our graduate thesis exhibit draws the attention of artists and curators from across Chicago. As an emerging artist, you’ll have opportunities to build a reputation and network, and you’ll join Columbia’s community of accomplished and active alumni.

Shawn Rowe exhibit, Z, 2018Shawn Rowe MFA ’18 exhibits V at the 2018 Thesis Gallery Exhibition

Before graduating, you’ll also complete a written thesis project. You’ll take a course that will prepare you for it, giving you an introduction to graduate-level research methods and cultural theories that influence the study of photography. You’ll work with a thesis advisor to plan and create your own research project.

Grants and Awards

Chicago: A Fine Art Hub

Studying in Chicago will give you access to hundreds of galleries, museums, and events. Some of the world’s most innovative artists live in Chicago and interact with Columbia students through events and forums. We’ll encourage you to take advantage of all the city offers. Photography faculty members often invite students to participate in events and exhibitions across the region. 

Alumni Success

Columbia College Chicago’s Photography MFA alumni have a strong reputation as well-rounded practitioners and ground-breaking fine artists. They have been recognized by the Guggenheim Fellowship Award, Aperture Portfolio Prize, the Whitney Biennial, and PDN’s 30: New and Emerging Photographers to Watch, among others.

Alumni Highlights

  • Clarissa Bonet ‘13 has exhibited work at the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Aperture Foundation, Magenta Foundation, and Catherine Edelman Gallery. Her work has been published in The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, CNN Photo, Chicago Magazine, Harpers Bizarre, Juxtapoz, Aint-Bad, The Eye of Photography, Photo District News, and many other publications both nationally and internationally. She has received an Individual Artist Grant from the Illinois Arts Council and her work won inclusion in “The Outwin 2022: American Portraiture Today” competition as a finalist.

  • Jonathan Castillo ’19 has had work featured with The New Yorker, Wired, CBS: Los Angeles, and Brazil's G1 Globo. He has appeared on the radio to discuss his photography on the BBC's “World Update” and local Los Angeles public radio programs KPCC and KCRW. Jonathan is one of fifty artists recently selected for the City of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs 2020-2021 prequalified list for public art commissions. His work was included as part of the City of Chicago's Artist Billboards Project – 20 artist-designed PSA billboards for communities of color most impacted by COVID-19, presented by Chicago Mayor's Office and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Exhibitions include those at Photo LA 2020, the Center for Creative Photography, Aperture Gallery, House of Lucie, Filter Photo Gallery and Ralph Arnold Gallery. Jonathan is represented by Samuel Maenhoudt Gallery in Belgium and his first solo museum show is scheduled for Spring 2021 at the California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks.

  • Jess Dugan MFA ’14 received the 2019 Infinity Award, International Center of Photography, Dugan’s work has been widely exhibited and is in the permanent collections of over 40 museums throughout the United States. Dugan’s monographs include Look at me like you love me (MACK, 2022), To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults (Kehrer Verlag, 2018) and Every Breath We Drew (Daylight Books, 2015). They were selected by the Obama White House as a 2015 Champion of Change.

  • Natalie Krick ’12 was the 2017 Aperture Portfolio Prize winner for her work Natural Deceptions. In 2015 Krick was a recipient of an Individual Photographer's Fellowship from the Aaron Siskind Foundation. Krick’s work has recently been exhibited at SF Camerawork, The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Aperture Foundation, The Museum of Sex, and Blue Sky Gallery. Her photographs has been highlighted in several international publications including BOMB, The New Yorker, Vogue Italia, PDN, Aperture, and Vrij Nederland.

  • Whitten Sabbatini ‘17 has work published frequently in periodicals including The New Yorker, The New York Times, Bloomberg, and Mossless: The United States 2003 – 2013. Sabbatini’s photographs are held in various permanent collections, including The Do Good Fund, Candela Books, and The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.

Natalie Krick MFA ’12

Photography MFA alum Natalie Krick teamed up with her mother to interrogate cultural perceptions of women in her award-winning photography collection Natural Deceptions.

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Jess T. Dugan MFA '14 on How Artistic Expression Can Empower Authenticity

Dugan's photography has long engaged with concepts of personhood, identity, and relationships.

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Anahid Ghorbani MFA ’17

2017 Dammeyer Fellow and Photography MFA alum Anahid Ghorbani uses photography to create visual narratives of marginalized people.

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