Photorealism with Allegra Wilde
© Riley Kern Studio

One of the best parts of heading off to school—apart from tearing 
yourself away from the old town, the old friends, and the old, well, everything—is the grand potential that lies in your self-reinvention. You’ll let go of stuff that doesn’t fit you anymore, and try on anything that might. Just to see how it feels (or looks).

It happens in everyone’s college 
experience, especially at the beginning, but the art-school milieu practically 
demands it. Did you change your hair, your aesthetic, your politics? Maybe. 
Did you photo-document every second 
of your metamorphosis? Definitely.

So how do you make the most of this constant flux?

If the photo program at your school is like most, there is plenty of focus on the technical necessities. This is hugely important. Knowing what buttons to push on your camera or computer so that your images look the way you want them to is the first step in building your creative toolbox. You already know this.

But concurrently, and amid the “shoot an egg” type of assignments you will undoubtedly receive, it is also time to merge your academic exploration of photography with your personal one.

The first step is shooting for no one except yourself. Don’t make photographs for Facebook, or Instagram, or your own blog. Or even for class assignments. Yes, I just wrote that. I get that you will need to learn how to collaborate and execute ideas and assignments given to you (especially if you intend to shoot commercially). And understanding the process is part of filling up that toolbox. But it is always worth trying to find a way to infuse your assignments with your own voice. Lock yourself in the metaphorical studio walls of your own true self—where there is nothing to prove, no audience to impress, and no peer (or professorial) pressure that demands you act or look a certain way.

A couple of practical suggestions: One is to rethink your idea of the selfie. Rather than simply using these images to express an “of the moment” mood or experience, try seeing all of your self-portraiture as sort of long-form documentary, one that lives outside the idea of photography—or vanity. Think of those images as inventory. Coming at it this way will give you much more room to relax, breathe, and improvise through the creative process.

Second (and you might hate this), 
try not shooting your friends for either school or personal work. Perceiving that your friend wants something from 
your creative project prevents you from 
viewing your subject as a repository, 
a vessel, or even a mirror on which to 
imprint your heart, mind, and spirit.

The best photography portfolios, images, and projects are materially self-portraits, made from the inside out. This is regardless of who or what you’re photographing. Or what you’re wearing. Or whom you’re sleeping with. Or even how you feel about photography.

No matter what, everything will change, but learning how to get clear with the expression of the truth of who you are right now, and doing your best to close the window on the noise outside of you, will give you the best head start in thinking and living like the artist you are becoming.

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Allegra Wilde is the cofounder and chief operations officer of Eyeist, the online portfolio review service (, Allegra Wilde is a picture/visual strategist, creative director, and consultant to artists, photographers, and other art-based businesses. She has served as an MFA mentor for the Digital Photography program at the School of Visual Arts and as a visiting instructor at Art Center College of Design, FIT, and many other university photography programs, where she has regularly critiqued graduating students’ final portfolios.