Rethinking photographic practices on Belfast School of Art's world leading MFA Degree in Photography.
At the Belfast School of Art we strive to develop unique photographic voices, which sit firmly at the cutting-edge of a contemporary international context, while also mining the specifics of our unique geographical and cultural position.
We have been profiled by the British Journal of Photography as one of the most significant photography schools in Europe. Our graduates work internationally between the book, gallery, web and magazine, continually challenging photography’s place within contemporary society and the way we photograph now.
The teaching team is comprised of contemporary practising photographers, writers and thinkers who exhibit and publish internationally. These are Professor Paul Seawright, Ailbhe Greaney, Dr KayLynn Deveney, Ken Grant, and Clare Gallagher as well as two members of the prestigious Magnum agency, Martin Parr and Donovan Wylie. We have a progamme of Guest Lecturers, recently including Hannah Starkey, Guy Martin, and Donald Weber. Throughout the programme students develop an awareness of photography as it exists in a culture of evolving technologies. They are challenged to rethink their practice both visually, theoretically and contextually. Our close links with photographic galleries and photography festivals helps students to build networks and professional practice. The programme is complemented by a series of master classes and advanced skill workshops; an annual field trip to Paris and regular site visits to a variety of cultural institutions such as museums and galleries in Ireland, the UK and Europe.
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The MFA Photography has an international reputation and is available for study on campus in Belfast (Thursday delivery) and fully online (eLearning) for students living and working outside Ireland. A Master of Fine Arts degree is a creative degree, which centers around practice in a particular field, in this case Photography. The qualification provides students with a high level of specialisation and allows graduates to teach at University level.
The MFA Photography degree exposes students to key critical debates in photography and offers a dynamic environment in which to develop a major body of photographic work for exhibition and publication. Staff are leaders in the field of photography. Internationally recognised photographers, artists and researchers regularly review student projects, give lectures and critique photographic work.
Guest Lecturers have recently included: Hannah Starkey, Brian Griffin, Mark Power, Anna Fox, Wendy McMurdo, Doug DuBois, Simon Roberts, Chloe Dewe Mathews, Léonie Hampton, Gareth McConnell, Raphaël Dallaporta, WassinkLundgren, Rob Hornstra, Raimond Wouda, Lotte Sprengers, Corinne Noordenbos, Stephen Bull, Gerry Badger, Louise Clements, Tim Clark, Adam Murray and Liz Wells.
The course looks to recruit photographers that are serious about challenging their working methods and extending their visual vocabulary. The course has excellent links with galleries and museums and draws on an exemplary network of artists to create a study environment that is stimulating and encourages experimentation.
Structure & content
The programme is delivered through a range of learning methods, including seminars, presentations, tutorials and group critiques, to enable students to acquire the cognitive skills of a self-reflexive independent learner. There are optional exit points for students to exit with a PGDip or MA.
Reviewing Practice (40 credits)
Photography and Culture: (20 credits)
Contemporary Contexts (40 credits)
Photographic Futures (20 credits)
Optional Exit Award - PGDip (120 credit points)
Master's Project (Involves a major piece of practical photography work with accompanying contextualisation. Creative written and photographic resolution of a major body of work is emphasised here.) (60 credits).
Optional Exit Award - MA (180 credit points)
Master's Project (Involves a major piece of practical photography work with accompanying dissertation. Resolution of the Master's Project through publication via book and/or exhibition is emphasised here.) (60 credits).
Final Award MFA (240 credit points)
Full-time 4 Semesters - Belfast Campus or Online: September - January; January - June; September - January; January - June;
All the core teaching takes place on Thursdays and you should expect to be on campus from 10am - 7pm. During this time you will engage in one-to-one tutorials, a lecture programme delivered by staff and visiting guest speakers, group seminars, group critiques and technical workshops. The rest of the week is spent attending optional tutorials/workshops and engaging in independent study.
The primary assessment method is the evaluation of photographic work in progress. Students work over the duration of the course on a major body of work that is subjected to regular and rigorous critique by staff and internationally renowned visiting photographers. Other assessment methods are visual presentations, seminar presentations, essays and a final year dissertation. There is an interim exhibition which is assessed at the end of the first year, usually in a public gallery.
Teaching, Learning and Assessment
Teaching, learning and assessment
The content for each course is summarised on the relevant course page, along with an overview of the modules that make up the course.
Each course is approved by the University and meets the expectations of:
the requirements of any professional, regulatory, statutory and accrediting bodies.
Attendance and Independent Study
As part of your course induction, you will be provided with details of the organisation and management of the course, including attendance and assessment requirements - usually in the form of a timetable. For full-time courses, the precise timetable for each semester is not confirmed until close to the start date and may be subject to some change in the early weeks as all courses settle into their planned patterns. For part-time courses which require attendance on particular days and times, an expectation of the days and periods of attendance will be included in the letter of offer. A course handbook is also made available.
Courses comprise modules for which the notional effort involved is indicated by its credit rating. Each credit point represents 10 hours of student effort. Undergraduate courses typically contain 10, 20, or 40 credit modules (more usually 20) and postgraduate courses typically 15 or 30 credit modules.
The normal study load expectation for an undergraduate full-time course of study in the standard academic year is 120 credit points. This amounts to around 36-42 hours of expected teaching and learning per week, inclusive of attendance requirements for lectures, seminars, tutorials, practical work, fieldwork or other scheduled classes, private study, and assessment. Teaching and learning activities will be in-person and/or online depending on the nature of the course. Part-time study load is the same as full-time pro-rata, with each credit point representing 10 hours of student effort.
Postgraduate Master’s courses typically comprise 180 credits, taken in three semesters when studied full-time. A Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) comprises 60 credits and can usually be completed on a part-time basis in one year. A 120-credit Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) can usually be completed on a part-time basis in two years.
Class contact times vary by course and type of module. Typically, for a module predominantly delivered through lectures you can expect at least 3 contact hours per week (lectures/seminars/tutorials). Laboratory classes often require a greater intensity of attendance in blocks. Some modules may combine lecture and laboratory. The precise model will depend on the course you apply for and may be subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. Prospective students will be consulted about any significant changes.
Assessment methods vary and are defined explicitly in each module. Assessment can be a combination of examination and coursework but may also be only one of these methods. Assessment is designed to assess your achievement of the module’s stated learning outcomes. You can expect to receive timely feedback on all coursework assessments. This feedback may be issued individually and/or issued to the group and you will be encouraged to act on this feedback for your own development.
Coursework can take many forms, for example: essay, report, seminar paper, test, presentation, dissertation, design, artefacts, portfolio, journal, group work. The precise form and combination of assessment will depend on the course you apply for and the module. Details will be made available in advance through induction, the course handbook, the module specification, the assessment timetable and the assessment brief. The details are subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. You will be consulted about any significant changes.
Normally, a module will have 4 learning outcomes, and no more than 2 items of assessment. An item of assessment can comprise more than one task. The notional workload and the equivalence across types of assessment is standardised. The module pass mark for undergraduate courses is 40%. The module pass mark for postgraduate courses is 50%.
Calculation of the Final Award
The class of Honours awarded in Bachelor’s degrees is usually determined by calculation of an aggregate mark based on performance across the modules at Levels 5 and 6, (which correspond to the second and third year of full-time attendance).
Level 6 modules contribute 70% of the aggregate mark and Level 5 contributes 30% to the calculation of the class of the award. Classification of integrated Master’s degrees with Honours include a Level 7 component. The calculation in this case is: 50% Level 7, 30% Level 6, 20% Level 5. At least half the Level 5 modules must be studied at the University for Level 5 to be included in the calculation of the class.
All other qualifications have an overall grade determined by results in modules from the final level of study. In Master’s degrees of more than 200 credit points the final 120 points usually determine the overall grading.
Figures correct for academic year 2022-2023.
The University employs over 1,000 suitably qualified and experienced academic staff - 60% have PhDs in their subject field and many have professional body recognition.
Courses are taught by staff who are Professors (19%), Readers, Senior Lecturers (22%) or Lecturers (57%).
We require most academic staff to be qualified to teach in higher education: 82% hold either Postgraduate Certificates in Higher Education Practice or higher. Most academic and learning support staff (85%) are recognised as fellows of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) by Advance HE - the university sector professional body for teaching and learning. Many academic and technical staff hold other professional body designations related to their subject or scholarly practice.
The profiles of many academic staff can be found on the University’s departmental websites and give a detailed insight into the range of staffing and expertise. The precise staffing for a course will depend on the department(s) involved and the availability and management of staff. This is subject to change annually and is confirmed in the timetable issued at the start of the course.
Occasionally, teaching may be supplemented by suitably qualified part-time staff (usually qualified researchers) and specialist guest lecturers. In these cases, all staff are inducted, mostly through our staff development programme ‘First Steps to Teaching’. In some cases, usually for provision in one of our out-centres, Recognised University Teachers are involved, supported by the University in suitable professional development for teaching.
Figures correct for academic year 2022-2023.
Belfast Campus Location
The Belfast campus is situated in the artistic and cultural centre of the city, the Cathedral Quarter.
Here is a guide to the subjects studied on this course.
Courses are continually reviewed to take advantage of new teaching approaches and developments in research, industry and the professions. Please be aware that modules may change for your year of entry. The exact modules available and their order may vary depending on course updates, staff availability, timetabling and student demand. Please contact the course team for the most up to date module list.
The module develops the students' awareness of the cultural and critical determinants that have informed their practice. The module will introduce a range of issues that relate to photographic production and the construction of meaning; e.g. postmodernism, authorship, multi-vocal practices, subjectivity and reflexive practice, globalisation, fictional narrative, are all useful starting points within which to frame and reframe practice. The module reviews some key photographic practices; Issues of critical review, authorship, objectivity, photographic histories, social and cultural production and reflexive practice and use them to provide a framework within which students can question and challenge their existing practice.
Photography and Culture: Reading
The module will provide students with an historical and thematic introduction to current issues at the intersection of critical theory and photographic practice. It offers knowledge of key theoretical tools designed to encourage an understanding and skills of evaluating established and emerging issues in visual representation necessary to support their photography and sustain a professional creative practice in an international environment.
This module supports the ongoing development of the students' independent practice taking particular account of where photographs are sited in the expanding contemporary practices that comprise the medium today. The module encourages students to consider the exhibition, publication and distributional contexts of their work at the point of production. A number of case studies and gallery visits tease out the potential for photographs to change given their cultural context.
Photographic Futures: Writing
This module will enable students to develop their engagement with current issues at the intersection of theories of contemporary digital culture and the practice of photography. It offers knowledge of key theoretical tools designed to encourage students to understand, engage with, evaluate and critique established and emerging influences on photography and visual representation: to participate, contribute to and influence the photographic practices of the future.
This 60 Credit module is designed to facilitate a range of professional and critical outcomes encouraging students to develop a contextualised, independent professional practice that understands the complexities of disseminating visual material accompanied by a professionally resolved written statement. It is designed to provide a clear and committed direction that will result in a final body of photographic work demonstrating a high resolution of ideas and practice from which an appropriate selection will be made for a professional on-line exhibition. The module will strengthen and promote the student's ability to carry out professional photographic practice accompanied by independent research and disseminate this in a mature, confident and self-directed manner.
Resolution & Portfolio
This 60 Credit module is designed to facilitate a range of professional and critical outcomes encouraging students to develop a contextualised, independent professional practice that understands the complexities of disseminating visual material accompanied by a comprehensive academic written contextualisation. It is designed to provide a clear and committed direction that will result in a final body of photographic work demonstrating a high resolution of ideas and practice from which an appropriate selection will be made for a professional exhibition or publication. The written contextualisation allows the student to find the most appropriate form of expression for the historical and theoretical issues in relation to his/her practice-based work. It is initiated by student proposal and structured around tutorials that guide the student through research, content and academic conventions, resulting in a 4-7000 word contextualisation, properly bound and word-processed. The module will strengthen and promote the student's ability to carry out professional photographic practice accompanied by independent research and complete a substantial academic text in a mature, confident and self-directed manner.
i) a second class honours degree or higher from a university of the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland, from the Council for National Academic Awards, the National Council for Educational Awards, the Higher Education Training Awards Council, or from an institution of another country which has been recognised as being of an equivalent standard; or
ii) an equivalent standard (normally 50%) in a Graduate Diploma, Graduate Certificate, Postgraduate Certificate or Postgraduate Diploma or an approved alternative qualification.
In exceptional circumstances, where an individual has substantial and significant experiential learning, a portfolio of written evidence demonstrating the meeting of graduate abilities (including subject-specific outcomes, as determined by the Course committee) may be considered as an alternative entrance route. Evidence used to demonstrate graduate qualities may not be used for exemption against modules within the programme.
In all cases applicants must provide a portfolio of practical work at interview or on application.
English Language Requirements
English language requirements for international applicants
The minimum requirement for this course is Academic IELTS 6.0 with no band score less than 5.5. Trinity ISE: Pass at level III also meets this requirement for Tier 4 visa purposes.
Ulster recognises a number of other English language tests and comparable IELTS equivalent scores.
Graduates are prepared for advanced careers in the field of photography. Graduates work as photographers in the fine art and commercial sector, as well as industry professionals. An MFA develops the ability to perform research related to the photographic arts, while also building communication skills and introducing students to new aesthetics and new technology. Such key skills enable graduates to work as photographic curators, editors and critics, within museums, galleries and in publishing. MFA graduates may also pursue a career in education.
Work placement / study abroad
The programme is complemented by a series of master classes and advanced skill workshops; an annual field trip to Paris and regular site visits to a variety of cultural institutions such as museums and galleries in Ireland, the UK and Europe.
Fees and funding
Important notice - Tuition fees for this course may vary
Students should be aware that as the work is self-directed costs may and are likely to be incurred due to the specific material or research needs of that student’s development.
Field trips may incur additional costs.
It is important to remember that costs associated with accommodation, travel (including car parking charges) and normal living will need to be covered in addition to tuition fees.
Where a course has additional mandatory expenses (in addition to tuition fees) we make every effort to highlight them above. We aim to provide students with the learning materials needed to support their studies. Our libraries are a valuable resource with an extensive collection of books and journals, as well as first-class facilities and IT equipment. Computer suites and free Wi-Fi are also available on each of the campuses.
There are additional fees for graduation ceremonies, examination resits and library fines.
Students choosing a period of paid work placement or study abroad as a part of their course should be aware that there may be additional travel and living costs, as well as tuition fees.
Although reasonable steps are taken to provide the programmes and services described, the University cannot guarantee the provision of any course or facility and the University may make variations to the contents or methods of delivery of courses, discontinue, merge or combine courses and introduce new courses if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Such circumstances include (but are not limited to) industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key staff, changes in legislation or government policy including changes, if any, resulting from the UK departing the European Union, withdrawal or reduction of funding or other circumstances beyond the University’s reasonable control.
If the University discontinues any courses, it will use its best endeavours to provide a suitable alternative course. In addition, courses may change during the course of study and in such circumstances the University will normally undertake a consultation process prior to any such changes being introduced and seek to ensure that no student is unreasonably prejudiced as a consequence of any such change.
The University does not accept responsibility (other than through the negligence of the University, its staff or agents), for the consequences of any modification or cancellation of any course, or part of a course, offered by the University but will take into consideration the effects on individual students and seek to minimise the impact of such effects where reasonably practicable.
The University cannot accept any liability for disruption to its provision of educational or other services caused by circumstances beyond its control, but the University will take all reasonable steps to minimise the resultant disruption to such services.