As part of our efforts gathering student feedback, we spoke to Professor Stanislav Shmelev, one of our graduates, about his experience studying for an MA in Photography online, and how it's impacted on his career.
Stanislav is Executive Director, Environment Europe Foundation Stichting, the Hague, Netherlands and Professor, Kazakh National University, Kazakhstan. He's also an award-winning photographer, combining his interest in fine art and sustainability through oil paintings and photographs, printed on aluminium plates.
Read our Q&A with Stanislav to find out more about his career and work:
What stage in your career were you at before you decided to do a masters?
I already had a PhD and experience working as a Senior Researcher for Oxford University and a Founder and Director of a social enterprise, Environment Europe. My passion for art goes back to my studies in art history at the Hermitage museum at the age of 10-15 and photographic explorations that really started in 2002 when I got a new camera and started reading the photographic literature acting as a Visiting Researcher at one of UK’s universities. By the time I started my MA at Falmouth I had already taken a contemporary art practice course with one of the London art galleries that represented my work.
What motivated you to study a masters, and why online?
My aim was to excel in photography from a practical point of view, strengthen my expertise of the photographic medium and make a stronger connection between my two passions: the visual art and photography and sustainable development and ecological economics.
Online gave me a lot of flexibility; I did not have to travel e.g. to London spending three hours each way for one lecture. The format fitted me perfectly also due to the various sessions abroad like our wonderful tour of Amsterdam’s UNSEEN photo festival. I had a serious goal to become a professional artist to be able to sell my work to international collectors.
What made you choose to study with Falmouth Flexible?
The reputation of the university, I heard very good reviews while I was a member of St Ives Arts Club exhibiting my art in Cornwall in 2010-2012. I realised that Barbara Hepworth, the artist I adore and consider one of the most important figure in 20th century British art played a role in setting up the college of arts. At the same time, the flexibility that was allowed by online learning, when you can go on a photoshoot, reserve time to read some literature in the evenings and watch a lecture as and when you need it. It was very convenient.
What have you been up to since graduation? What impact has your masters had on your career?
I never stopped studying. In fact I submitted an application to one of the best Executive MBA programmes in the world and got accepted. The programme is run jointly by the London School of Economics, New York University Stern School of Business and HEC Paris. This experience helps be to focus on the business and more commercial aspects of my career.
I was able to register a non-profit in Europe and enhanced my financial management, marketing and team management skills. Recently I have been appointed a Professor at a leading university in Kazakhstan and give lectures and work with PhD students there (exclusively online).
The Falmouth MA certainly gave me new confidence as a photographer. I started to attend as many international photography festivals as I could, including UNSEEN, Rencontres d’Arles, Photo London, Paris Photo etc.
The album I published as my final project at Falmouth entitled ‘ECOSYSTEMS: Complexity, Diversity and Nature’s Contribution to Humanity’ has been quite a success. With the exhibition held at Oxford University Mathematical Institute, the album was launched at the 50th anniversary conference of the Club of Rome and was presented at the British Pavilion at the UN Climate Conference in Katowice and later at the UN World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi.
The letters of support we received came from President Macron of France, Prime Minister Modi of India, Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands, Sir David Attenborough and even HRH Prince Charles. I made the 34 prints from the exhibition available for sale and hope that the social media networks will help to spread the word. We are currently discussing plans to turn the ECOSYSTEMS exhibition into a travelling show.
It has to be said that it was notoriously difficult to get any media support for the book and the exhibition. It seems to be the sad sign of our times when everything is becoming very commercialised.
How would you describe your photography and how did the course influence your style?
I focus predominantly on landscape but explore travel, music and street photography genres. The course definitely challenged my thinking in the sense that I got to explore a lot of theoretical literature, some of which I am longing to go back to, review and critically reassess the contemporary work of other photographers, create a deeper narrative and of course experiment more with exotic lenses and camera types.
Due to the MA course, I started to undertake very long photographic sessions lasting 1-2-3 days, which allowed me to get immersed in the subject matter, meditate and explore letting the story unfold. As a result, I experiment a lot more with vintage lenses, explore new shooting conditions including low light, new points of view and exposure times of astrophotography, experiment with light painting, and continue to travel, combining my two passions for photography and sustainability, giving lectures and photographing in countries like Japan, USA or France.
Would you recommend studying for an online masters to others?
Yes, I definitely would. One important thing to bear in mind is the amount of independent work one has to put in. The final result will depend entirely on the level of commitment, the depth of understanding of the photographic medium that one would build and the all the hours spent on shooting, selecting, editing, sequencing, presenting and building connections.
Is there anything else you want to share?
I would be delighted to share my social media channels, which everyone is most welcome to follow:
Stanslav is a graduate of Falmouth Flexible's part-time, online MA Photography. Find out how the course could help you realise the potential of your ideas and succeed as a professional photographer: