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EMA alumnus Jeroen Bocken speaks about his experiences

September is not only for our students at the Academy an exciting time, it's also the moment a lot of teachers, some of then for the first time, get ready for the start of a new and thrilling school year. How does it feel to stand in front of the classroom on the first of September? Are you nervous every time again or do the nerves get better the longer you have been teaching? And why have you chosen the teaching profession in the first place? All these questions and more I asked to two of alumni of our Educational Master Fine Arts at the Academy? Won't you read along?

You graduated from the Educational Master Fine Arts in 2020. Before this you got your Bachelor and Master diploma Photography, and all of this at the Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp. How did you end up there?

In 2016 I decided to study photography and started looking for the perfect school to accommodate this. Or at least the perfect school for me, because what is essential for me might not be on someone else’s wish list at all. It turned out to be quite the task to choose an academy, but in the end I am very happy with the choice I made. 

At the Academy there is a strong emphasis on finding your own style and developing it accordingly. Je are constantly encouraged to discover what you want to do and how you want to tackle it and you are granted the necessary freedom to do this. And yet there was enough discipline as well. It was the perfect mix. I have a vivid memory of the photographer who came by during one of our first classes and talked about his practice and career path. I remember being greatly impressed by this real-life experience that was being offered. I was definitely in the right place!

Was there a seamless transition from your master diploma to the EMA?

After I graduated as a Master of Photography, I was able to participate in a number of exhibitions and exhibit my work in these. I was part of Breda Photo, the Bijenkorf in Amsterdam and also took up a residency at Studio Start, which is known as Morphy now. My biggest focus lay in showing my own work. After this I ended up in the theatre world for a little while, as a backstage technician.

These years made it possible for me to check out what I could and wanted to do with my diploma and what path I wanted to choose. One possibility for photographers is to go in the commercial direction, but I was quick to decide against that. And then you are practically only left with expositions, which in most cases does not guarantee a steady income. You have to keep in mind that this was also the period where minister Jan jambon had changed the subsidies in the art world, which made it nearly impossible to get permission and, more importantly, a grant to be able to live comfortably as a independent artist. This caused quite some headaches and helped me decide to start the educational master at the Academy.

Did you see it as a calling of some sorts?

After I graduated as a Master, I also worked in the horeca for a little while. And I can tell you for sure that that was not my calling. In the meantime I had already started teaching at the Photo Academy, which offers courses to interested people through an online platform. The structure of the company itself remained rather vague to me, but the teaching itself was the greatest discovery!

Thinking back on it, I have always enjoyed the idea of passing on the knowledge that I myself enjoyed learning so much during my years at the Academy. I like talking about is and enjoy the interactive aspect of teaching: not only do the students learn from you, but as a teacher you also come into contact with unique and creative visions that you might not have encountered if it weren’t for the classroom environment. And the researcher in me loves it as well, because during and after the hours spent in front of the class, there is plenty of time to investigate and find out what and who I truly want to reach with my art.

What did you think of the Educational Master at the Academy?

There are a lot of aspects that I had no idea were important in an educational master. During the training you get to chance to do your own thing and to steer the course in the direction you want. Are you interested in finding out more about the digitization of our education or do you feel like analogue work is still the way to go? Everything is possible! Mostly what I learned there is to think independently about the school system. As more and more digital and online lessons are introduced, the question comes up as to a physical school is even still necessary. Wouldn’t it be enough to teach fully online? Why or why not? These are just some examples of greatly interesting questions that were touched upon during class.

During the Educational Master I was already connected to Sint-Lucas in Antwerp. I helped students experiment with various printing methods. Afterwards I got the chance to teach digital image editing to the professional bachelor photography. That transitioned into teaching studio techniques and before I knew it I was hired as teacher of the practical photography classes in 1st Bachelor.

Do you teach 100% now?

No, not 100%. That would not work for me. In my function at Sint-Lucas I found what I was looking for: a fun and stable job and income. But I still want to have time for my own photography work as well. Being creative has remained important to me and I want to make sure to leave enough time for it. Here and there I am asked for a photography assignment and I try to exhibit my work to a wider audience whenever there is an opportunity. In November I have an exhibition coming up in Aalst, for example, together with other alumni from the Academy. Activities like these remain of the greatest importance to me.

What do you think of the visible upgrade and popularity of art education these last couple of years?

I am inspired greatly by my students, every single day. I learn so much from them and find it important to ask about their own experiences and vision instead of pushing my perspective on them. What do they value and what don’t they think is important to focus on? How do they view the world? This is the first truly digital generation and that has an enormous influence on their thoughts and actions. And to me it is an important source of inspiration as well!

I have noticed that artistic educations are indeed very popular right now. We started this academic year with 120 studets in the first bachelor photography. That’s really a lot. Four years ago there were only 80 who started in that bachelor. This shows me that the arts have not left the world yet.

How did you feel starting the new academic year?

This feels like the first year where I was confident to be fully prepared, especially compared tot he other years. I didn’t have any stress, which is different from the last couple of years. That makes me very happy of course!

Last school year started out normally, but then we had to close very quickly after another corona wave hit the country. The advantage of the courses I teach is that they translate easily to online versions. I can just as well teach digital image editing from home, with tutorials and online movies. But the assignments I like to give my students focus on collaborations and contacts, often across the whole school. For this to be possible, it is important that we can keep meeting on campus. So fingers crossed that this will be the first normal school year in a long time!