In the ever-changing world of visual storytelling, Meg Weston ensures that Maine Media Workshops + College stays relevant
New England is certainly known for our prestigious academic institutions oriented towards knowledge, technology and creativity. Maine Media Workshops + College seems to be the intersection of all three, and its President, Meg Weston, fully understands what this intersectionality should look like in the context of our current cultural landscape.
Starting her career in the consumer photography industry where she eventually ran a photo finishing company that processed 50 million rolls of film a year, Meg began to understand the importance of imagery and how we relate to the ones we create. After departing from her twenty year career in consumer photography, Weston earned her MFA in creative writing and was appointed to the Board of Trustees at the University of Maine.
What space do you feel Maine Media Workshops + College occupies in the broader scope of new culture happening in New England?
We focus on teaching the art and craft of visual storytelling. We’ve been around for more than 40 years, so we started with photography workshops then added film and television workshops as time went on. The idea of visual storytelling is more relevant today than ever before. In 1999 consumers took about 80 billion photos. In 2015, Facebook alone, two billion photos a day are uploaded by 1.4 billion users. Clearly, we’ve become such a visual culture and to effectively tell a story, whether its a very personal one that you want to tell as a fine artist, or whether it’s an organizational story or a news story, we’re all looking for visual media or using visual media more and more to tell those stories. It’s just such a big change and the way we see the world (imagewise) effects what we think about the world. If you can be a more effective storyteller then you will change the way people see the world.
Do you feel you have a way to address rationality in the context of the kinds of storytelling you teach at the college?
We’re in a very beautiful part of the world here – the coastal harbor of Rockport, Maine – it is partly the location that draws people to come and immerse themselves in the environment. We have a long history of the arts, unique light, and culture in this part of Maine in particular, which makes participating in this school and learning how to tell stories here unique.
As you pointed out, the college adapted in the past to cater to the drastic shifts in our culture and the mediums we use to tell stories. Do you have an idea of how Maine Media College + Workshops will adjust to future movements in culture and education in terms of programming, workshops and courses?
This all changes constantly because technology changes. Originally, we had all these darkrooms where students were processing film, we were shooting movies on film or you were shooting still images on film. In the late 1990s and the early 2000s there was the whole shift in technology towards digital and we were at the forefront of that.
We teach these historic processes as well as the latest technologies. For instance, we offer a practice lab and many workshops in what we call alternative or historic processes, which means we teach people how to…make images in the way they were made in the 1800s. At the same time, students can use digital negatives to take an image on their iPhone and print it as if it was printed in the 1800s. We try to expand the breathe of our courses and workshop from these historical processes to the most recent technological advances.
The college embraces the whole range from historic to the latest technology and we embrace the convergence and diversity of ways you can tell a story. We’ve added a book art studio, a historic dark room, lighting classes. We’ve always taught screen writing, but now Richard Blanco teaches a poetry-writing class called Images in Imagination, where you write poetry based on your internal imagery.
In addition, we changed one of our certificate programs from a professional photography certificate to a professional certificate in visual storytelling. Students come for 30 weeks but they don’t just graduate with a portfolio of pictures, they learn multi-media skills; audio recording, and video recording. We want them to learn all this because even if a student wants to be a fine art photographer and show their work in galleries, they’re going to need to promote themselves via several channels. Students will need all these other skills if they want to work editorially. Our professional certificate programs have evolved and we see more photographers who want to pick up some of the video skills and videographers that understand the power of the still image. Even though they’re very different courses sand demographics, there’s a lot more cross over between them.