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Photography and Acceptance by Parsons School of Design with Scholarship

By Emily Dong, 2019-02-28
中文版

I began my career as a photographer in junior high school. At first, it was a struggle as photography can be somewhat technical. But I persevered as I knew that the equipment was secondary; your choice of subject matter, the lighting, depth of field, the angle from which I shoot, etc. was primary. So from the start, I didn't use a professional camera. Instead, I used a simple mobile phone to see what I wanted to record and then took a few more shots at different angles. As a result, my sense of composition improved and my “artistic eye” became more acute.

Photo Courtesy: Emily Dong

In those years I shied away from portrait photography as I preferred urban and still-life photography. Those subtle and gentle details and shapes and surfaces were very appealing to me. I preferred square-format composition because it gave me a harmonious and orderly feeling. Throughout my photography, it is not difficult to see that most of my photos are not particularly magnificent shots, but rather, casual yet detailed moments in life, or emotionally evocative scenes.

Photo Courtesy: Emily Dong

Photo Courtesy: Emily Dong

Later, my parents gave me an SLR camera. An SLR is more complex than a mobile phone camera so I took some time learning how to use it and practicing various techniques and understanding some basic optics like why the size of the aperture affects how much of the scene is in focus (depth of field). After that, I began by challenging myself with portrait photography.


One of the main differences between portrait photography and still-life photography is that communication is very important for portrait photography. As a photographer, a large part of the responsibility is to guide and plan the emotions and expressions of the model and to capture the subject’s expressions at the right moment. Although it is more complicated than still-life photography, portraiture brings a sense of emotional warmth.


(Photo Courtesy: Emily Dong)


Still, the most common thing in my life is still cell phone photography; it has become an indispensable part of my life. The beauty and details have naturally become the focus of my design portfolio.

Photo Courtesy: Emily Dong

Given my informal background in photography, you might think my decision to enroll in graphic design in college would be a contemplated one, but in fact, it was a relatively hasty decision. I applied at the end of 2018, but I decided in June of the same year to try to learn graphic design outside of bio-nutrition. It only took me two months to collect photos for my art portfolio. It was indeed very hasty. After all, I didn't have any formal training in photography, and my painting was also at a beginner’s level.


When I first considered graphics design at the end of June, I was opposed to the idea. I didn't know how to use the software -- it looked complicated and cumbersome to use -- and I really didn’t have ideas for subject matter, style, technique, etc. So I sought out guidance from an art instructor who helped me find my artistic interests and uniqueness using the art I had already created.



Throughout July and August, I worked with the instructor every day, working very hard to learn and think about the process of design. I quickly learned that design is not something that can be easily taught. Design is a process that requires the student to bring out from within themselves, the teacher can only provide counsel and point out obvious shortcomings.


(Photo Courtesy: Emily Dong)

Learning design was very hard at first because time was limited and the pressure was great. I once thought about giving up, and I wonder whether applying to art/design school was really just a whim or whether I was really serious about it. But like most new things, it was only difficult at the start -- as long as you persist, you master the basic, foundational skills and discover new things that can help you later on.

Photo Courtesy: Emily Dong

After such hasty training, I have come to realize that the true essence of graphic design is the unmodified, pure, unadulterated seed idea, a thing that is unique and deeply personal to the artist. Technology can augment the process and make things a bit easier but it is dangerous as it can tempt you away from the essence of the seed idea that makes the idea great. Innovation is necessary, but the core beauty of the idea must be preserved during the process of its unfolding.

Photo Courtesy: Emily Dong

Thank you very much Parsons for giving me an admissions notice along with a generous scholarship. This has been my dream come true. After all, I am a late comer with limited training. But I am really very grateful and happy to receive Parsons' affirmation of my art design and inspiration.


Photographic appointments, graphic design, music inspiration, etc., have all brought me warmth in human connections and taught me some meaningful truths. They have taught me not only to maintain keen observation but also to be grateful, humble, and self-reflective.

Finally, for those who want to study art/design at college in the US, I would like to give some suggestions regarding the problems that I personally encountered in the 2018 application process.

Start the application process early and prepare early. Otherwise, you will feel rushed and the quality of your applications will be compromised and it will glaringly show to the admissions officer. Time is really precious. Experiment with different artistic styles and reflect on them as early as possible. You never know if the next new style is right for you. Treat every critique with a humble, graceful, and peaceful attitude, and appreciate every other person's work. Learn from others -- understand that you don’t know everything. There is always something new to learn.


Then try to complete your collection independently; the instructor is just an assistant. No matter what kind of professional helps you, your efforts and ideas are the most important thing; cherish them and try to understand how the whole process works.


Lastly, I hope all of you aspiring students who go this route “seize the day” when applying for art schools.  Enjoy the process of becoming an artist with a good attitude when faced with the inevitable obstacles. I hope all your artistic dreams come true!

(Photo Courtesy: Emily Dong)