Digital Photography Faculty Q&A: Kaz Senju

January 20, 2022
Digital Photography

We recently sat down for a Q&A with Kaz Senju, photographer, visual artist, and creator of our Digital Photography Certificate. Professor Senju worked in Information Technology for several years before earning a BFA in Photography from Parsons. He then received an internship as a studio assistant for photographer Vik Muniz. After completing an MFA at the International Center of Photography, Senju traveled back to Japan and spent three years documenting the LGBT nightlife scene in Tokyo.

Why is Parsons the best place to study photography?

For more than a century, Parsons has been transforming creative culture here in New York. We have a long history of the photography major program, such as a BFA and a [master's] program. Now we extend those contents into an online certificate format.

What are the benefits of the certificate and how does it connect to Parsons as a whole?

Parsons has a long history in the photo community. We have been here for more than a century, and started with a creative culture in the education area. The online format enables us to extend this no matter where you are, coming from a different background, diverse background, as well as a difference in your career development. You could be an amateur photographer, just started to become a professional photographer, or maybe you’re into some of the creative field, marketing, social media, but you are more interested in how the camera works.

Who is the certificate for?

This program is perfect for those people who are interested in visual languages but not quite sure how to make it yet. The program will give you the opportunity to start with the basics of camera operation and then gives you the tools to create your own portfolio. This program could be perfect if you are amateur photographer, you’ve been shooting with a smartphone and just bought your new digital camera. You’ve been shooting with auto mode, but wondering what all these other settings are going to do. It’s also perfect for the social media digital asset content manager. You’ve been collecting all of these creative assets from other photographers and wondering how they’re making those contents.

Watch our interview with Kaz Senju and digital photography student Robert Thais

Could you give me an overview of what the certificate covers?

Through weekly modules, we go through some of the lecture portion, demo video, and then hands-on: your turn. Those are quick week-by-week projects to get into the detail of the camera operations. We cover different subjects, like still-life, street photography, portraiture. And then we combine those together based on the output of the real world scenario. At the end, you create your own portfolio.

How are you technically training these students to operate in a commercial environment?

Some of the course modules focuses on camera operation and the other part combines the post-production in the workflow. You take a picture but then you actually transform that using the color contrast, tonal range, making a color image into black and white. All of these are techniques to post-process your images.

What does the certificate offer in terms of balancing one's personal voice as an artist and as a commercial photographer?

This certificate program could be a really good way to combine your personal interest in art with the commercial part. The personal part, you get to understand how the camera works, start using the very specific technique, like depths of field. What the foreground, middle ground, and background should be; how you are going to frame the picture. All these shooting and the post-processing will help you to build your own voice. But also balancing that with your client’s need becomes an important part. This program will cover the entire work flow from the beginning to the end. So, you can create your own voice, as well as adapting your voice to your client’s need.

How do you help students in this certificate program cultivate their aesthetic voice and vision?

We combine the weekly video-based online material, as well as face-to-face time, like one-to-one and group critique. The weekly module and the video materials are great. You can spend your own time, at your own pace, at your home, go through each material to learn all the basics. But at the end it’s a vocabulary you’re building, and a tool set. Through the group critique you can demonstrate that with more critical language and be able to actually learn from each other.

Why is the portfolio an important takeaway from this certificate program?

The portfolio is your springboard to the outside world, to extend and expand your career.

What tangible skillsets are students walking away with?

The certificate program covers many different technical areas. How you use the digital camera in the manual mode, aperture priority mode, shutter speed. What’s the intentional framing supposed to be? All these technical skillsets are building through the weekly modules. And then we emphasize coming up with your own idea in the projects. With the intention for the output, we cover some of the digital workflow using Adobe Creative Cloud. Some of the programs we use include Lightroom Classic and Photoshop. By combining all of these together our final goal is for you to be equipped creating the portfolio.

What drew you to the skillset of digital photography and how have you seen the industry change and grow?

Digital photography is changing so much. But if you think about photography, it was always a combination of art and technologies, from the 19th century. It was a chemical back then, now it’s digital. Digital allows us to make more mistakes, rapidly improving them and coming up with a new idea. But we have to be on top of all of these technical changes. Technologies are changing, that allows us to take a picture from a simple smartphone, to a digital camera, even a surveillance camera. The pictures are everywhere. We are producing more photos than ever before and we are consuming that too. This certificate program is your opportunity to slow down and think about what visual language you are trying to build, how the camera operates, how the post-processing is working and create your own portfolio.

What role does digital photography play in the broader creative landscape right now?

In the creative landscape, image making is everywhere. It does not have to be just the photographer but you could be a creative asset manager, blogger, social media manager, marketing person. Every segment of creative work involves photography now. This course is not just for the photographer but the broader spectrum of creative people who want to build a visual language.

Why did you pursue digital photography?

When I was a student I was very specific about how I take pictures, constructing still life photography. Everything was in control. Before I clicked the shutter I knew exactly what the picture is going to look like. But then through the school I learned to let myself go. And being in the scene and be able to actually capture that, make them into my own language. My current practice is capturing those moments, documenting the scene and then creating that into a narrative. I hope this certificate program will give you the similar tools for your language and be able to have a story. So, make a mistake, correct from that and then make that into your muscle memory. Once you reach through that point you don’t really have to think anymore. That’s the next stage in your creative art making.

And how does that emphasis on story in your work influence your teaching? How do you bring that to the classroom?

The certificate program equips you with all these tools, again shutter speed, aperture, exposure triangle, depths of field. But at the end all these are tools, the tools are made for making your own story. I’ve seen the personal growth in many of the students through this certificate program. They are already coming here with an interest in photography and using some of the tools, they build a language. But at the end it’s the confidence. Being able to share your work with other students is one way to build your confidence. Seeing some other student’s work, also helps you to build your language. All these combine together preparing you to the outside world, the next stage of your creative development. The certificate program is a part of the Parsons bigger network. Just like we have visiting artists who graduated from Parsons and now are professional photographer, you are part of this network. Many different generations of photographers came and went through Parsons. You are part of this community, that makes a difference for our certificate program.

If you are an aspiring photographer looking to master the techniques and best practices of photography while developing a visual language, enroll now in our Digital Photography Certificate. Browse our courses to learn more about this certificate and other related offerings.

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