Photography & Digital Imaging: Graduate Profiles
- Student Gallery
- International Center for Photography
- Graduate Profiles
- Visiting Artists/Lecturers
Damien Hickel, 2012
Damien Hickel is a third-year Photography and Digital Imaging major
at Ringling College. He originally hails from the south of France, but
has happily adopted Sarasota as his current hometown. In the last
semester of his second year, Hickel was accepted into the elite internship
program at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New
York City, where he is currently studying.
Hickel’s schedule at ICP is fairly demanding, although he freely
admits he puts many of these demands on himself. He normally goes
to one or two weekday classes and signs up for optional weekend
workshops whenever he can. Even when he has no class, Hickel is hard
at work at his art most days—and attends photo exhibits whenever he
gets the chance.
What inspires him about the ICP program?
A key element for him has been ICP’s diverse students and faculty.
“People come here from all sorts of different backgrounds, places and
perspectives,” he says. “Each has something unique to offer. The interaction
constantly pushes you to a higher level.”
He’s thrilled with the opportunity to take advantage of ICP’s stateof-
the-art facilities. “The program offers some of the best darkrooms
and digital labs I’ve seen.”
According to Hickel, good photography is a blend of self-expression
and technical mastery. The knowledge he’s gained at Ringling College
and ICP has freed him to reinvent himself. “As an artist, you have to
keep moving forwards. My earlier work dealt with adolescence and
despair. There’s only so much you can say about that—there’s no
room to grow. I said what I had to say, so I’m moving on. Currently I’m
addressing issues of the photographic medium itself and its role in
After his ICP internship, Hickel will return to Ringling to get his BFA
and possibly go to graduate school after that.
“Who knows? At some point in the future, I’m also interested in
teaching. For now I’m just taking baby steps.” Hickel adds that his experience
at ICP has been a step in the right direction.
Should other PDI students follow his example?
“Absolutely. I recommend it to anyone who wants to take their work
to the next level. That’s exactly what it’s done for me.”
Matthew Holler, 2011
Holler’s arresting fashion images, dynamic street scenes and landscapes, and sexy product shots are produced with the flair of a seasoned professional. His haunting photographs of Sarasota streets could easily pass for outtakes from a Fellini movie. That’s no accident. He loves Italy and is a Fellini fan.
Like many creative people, Holler has a longstanding love affair
with all of the arts. By his high school years, he knew that he wanted
to pursue photography—specifically fashion photography.
And that’s exactly what Holler has done. In his brief career at Ringling
College, Holler has created powerful images for area-based fashion
and jewelry designers. His photographs were also a hit at the College’s
“PH_ashion121,” a 2009 exhibition of work by photography and digital
imaging majors. Last October, Holler helped organize “Industry,” a runway
show and exhibition of his work.
“That gave me a lot of satisfaction,” he says. “I got tired of hearing about
my peers leaving Sarasota to find work. We need a generation of artists
to stay and work here! I pulled that show together to demonstrate our
community’s interest in contemporary art and fashion.”
Holler thinks like a community-minded professional. He credits Ringling
College for empowering this thinking. “Our professors are always
encouraging us to get out into the community and work with people,” he
says. “They’re very clear about how important that is.”
Something else his instructors have made clear? Successful arts professionals
need people skills for the rest of their lives. “Our instructors
don’t coddle us and provide everything for us. We know we’re heading
out to the real world—and how hard that can be. But we also know
there’s a strong safety net of help behind us.”
Like any good photographer, Holler’s focus is always on the work
itself. “My work has been described as escapist,” he says. “I think that’s
fair. My images help you escape from reality—or take you to a different
place. When you look at one of my photographs, I want you to feel the
same excitement I felt creating it.”
Holler’s looking forward to his professional future. He hopes to live
comfortably and have the freedom to produce his own work. “If I can do
that in Sarasota, I’ll do it. I’ve seen some exciting changes in Sarasota’s
art community. I’ll see what comes of it. If not—there’s always Florence!”
For more information, visit www.matthewholler.com.
Athena Torri, 2011
Talk about experience.
In the past two years, Athena Torri has amassed enough to fill dozens of
resume pages. “I like to say I am a professional intern,” she laughs.
It all began in Torri’s junior year when she was chosen by Ringling
to participate in the yearlong International Center of Photography program
in New York City. While there, she interned at the New York State
Council on the Arts where she got first-hand experience learning how
arts grants work. From there, she moved on to assist the artist, Corinne
May Botz, on a book project entitled “Haunted Houses.” After that
project was completed, Torri ended up working with the renowned
photographer Nan Goldin. “The feeling I got from sitting in her studio
for the first time was one of those moments I’ll never forget,” says Torri.
Great experiences—but Torri doesn’t let them define her. Her identity
as a budding photographer is just the latest in a long series. She happily
explains her journey.
Torri was born in Milan, Italy, grew up in Quito, Ecuador, and then
moved to south Florida when she was 11. After so many culture shifts,
Torri finds it difficult to settle on any one definition of self. Like clothes
in the wrong size, the off-the-rack identities she has to choose from
are never a complete fit.
“I don’t necessarily feel like I’m Italian, Ecuadorian or American. I
often joke that I know three languages—but none of them completely,”
Torri deals with the displacement of identity in her art. Last year,
she created the “Dylan Come Home” series of photographs involving an
adolescent boy who she also portrays. “Dylan wants very much to fit
in. He’s a boy trying hard to be a man. Yet I’m playing Dylan! No matter
how masculine he tries to be, an underlying femininity still radiates
through. People try so hard to fit in. My work questions that—and the
idea of identity itself.”
Torri says that Ringling College has been a safe place to grow; it’s
also prepared her to keep growing in the not-so-safe world outside of
college. “The technical knowledge I’ve gained here puts me light years
ahead,” she says. “The support from my professors couldn’t be better.
Thanks to this empowerment, there are no limits to what I can do.”
With a lighthearted smile, she says her plans for the future don’t
involve fitting in. They do involve keeping her possibilities open and
sharpening her skills as a photographer.
Torri hopes to go to graduate school, expand her experience, keep up
her artistic practice and build her portfolio. “Hopefully, my efforts will
be fruitful and my work will get picked up by some galleries,” she says.
Beyond that, she hopes to teach art and photography at a graduate or
“I never stop discussing art and photography. I want to teach these
things—it’s in my blood. That’s a good sign it’s what I should be doing.”
For more information, visit www.athenatorri.com
Jay Van Dam, 2011
Jay Van Dam didn’t plan on becoming a professional photographer until his senior year in high school. Electrical engineering had been his original career goal. But years before, his father, also a photographer, had planted the seed. “He always let me play in his studio,” Van Dam remembers. “He even put his old Rolleiflex in my toy box. The camera didn’t even have any film but I enjoyed playing with it and looking through the viewfinder.”
Today, Van Dam isn’t playing around anymore. But he still brings
a spirit of play to his photography. As he sees it, great work emerges
from a childlike, try-anything attitude. He adds that you still need
adult self-discipline to finish what you’ve started. That’s one of the
key lessons he’s learned at Ringling College. Hard work aside, he’s still
He says his most satisfying project to date was his final project for
his studio lighting class in his sophomore year. “It was the first assignment
where I could do absolutely anything I could wrap my mind
around,” he says. “There’ve been many since then. I love the freedom
we get here—and the critiques we get about what we create with that
freedom. It’s given me a better idea of who I am as an artist.”
In his tenure at Ringling, Van Dam was given the opportunity to
intern with two celebrated photographers. He worked with Daniel Gordon,
whose work was exhibited in MOMA’s “New Photography 2009”
exhibit, and with Ryan McGinley, whose works have been shown at
major museums and galleries around the world. During his time here,
he also garnered a host of accolades and awards, including being
named as a 2011 Trustee Scholar and being selected for the President’s
List for three consecutive years.
Through his own photography, Van Dam wrestles with issues
of environmental responsibility and personal identity. The tension
between self-absorption and engagement is a recurring theme. (His
“Revelation” series depicts a literal breakthrough of a man isolated
inside a cardboard box.) “I use photography as a tool for making ordinary
things extraordinary,” he says. “I try to create a feeling of empathy—
an emotional connection between the viewer and the artist.”
Van Dam’s art-making routine flows out of a key principle: Always be
ready. “I always have a camera on me so I’m ready for happy accidents,”
he says. “I always carry a sketchbook, too, so I can take notes when an
idea comes to mind. When I’m free, I’ll pick and choose the ideas worth
exploring. I try to create at least one fresh image a day—even if I don’t
know how it fits in the direction of my work.”
For Van Dam, the direction of his future is still open. He might move
back to Ada, Michigan, to work at his father’s studio. He might move to
New York City to find work and meet new people. Eventually, he hopes
to find a suitable graduate school.
Whatever his future holds, Van Dam is confident that Ringling College
has prepared him for it. “Anything can happen, so you have to be
ready for anything. That’s another lesson they drill into you!”
For more information, visit www.jayvandam.com.
Haley Jane Samuelson, 2004
Haley Jane Samuelson’s style is unmistakable—a photographic iconography that’s all her own. Her images reveal ambiguous narratives of subjects (often Samuelson herself) in strange, surrealistic interactions with their environments. Samuelson first picked up a camera at the age of 13 when she was living in Holland, where her family had relocated. She missed her friends and family in America; taking photographs of her new surroundings became her way of dealing with life. Ultimately, Samuelson’s love of the photographic medium took her to Ringling College, where she graduated in 2004 with a B.F.A. in photography and digital imaging. Samuelson went on to earn her M.F.A. in photography at Parsons the New School for Design, in 2008. Today, Samuelson is represented by the Hous Projects gallery in Soho, and her work is published in major magazines and shown at art shows across the globe, including photo l.a., Photo Miami, and Art Basel. Samuelson lives in Brooklyn with her husband Michael P. Sincavage, a 2005 Ringling College illustration alumnus.
Where did your interest in art come from?
I was always interested. Many parents think their children will wind
up in the streets if they pursue an artistic career. Mine were extremely
supportive, so I kept at it. Besides, I was awful at math and science.
Being a Rockette was my earliest childhood dream. But I would have
made a horrible Rockette.
What Ringling teachers made a difference in your life?
Thomas Carabasi taught me how to be on time and love what I do.
Dr. Ann Albritton taught me the right questions can be better than
the right answers. Kevin Dean taught me how art is contextualized
throughout history. Tim Rumage taught me to think outside of myself.
David Steiling taught me the importance of being well-rounded. And
Alison Watkins helped me understand my own artistic agency, before
I even knew what that meant.
Describe your art.
My work is a narrative-based study of contemporary existence, and my
own internalized dramas played out within each scene. I’m concerned
with the delicate balancing act of self in today’s unstable, fragmented
world. We’re caught between internal and external forces and our
often contradictory roles.
You’re often on both sides of the camera—both as a character and as a creator. Is that a difficult balance?
No. There is no distinction between character and artist in my work.
I’m not performing as someone besides myself; the author and the
subject are the same. My work plays off that dichotomy.
Have you found a good balance between art and life?
I think so. Sometimes I feel guilty for it! Art school rivals Catholicism
when it comes to prefabricated guilt. In art school, they tell you that
good artists work all the time. If they aren’t making art, they’re thinking
about it, looking at it, or dreaming about it. If that were true, all art
would be about art. Sometimes, you just have to live—and I do.
One reviewer said your “Another Room” series explores the balance between childhood and adulthood.
I’m the casualty and consequence of many dichotomies. The tension
between adult and inner child is one, but only one of many. “Another Room” explored that tension—but there was much more to it than that. I think the reviewer noticed my age and sense of awkwardness in the apartment, and reduced it to that one idea.
Your “Other Lovers” series blurs the boundaries between film, photography, stand-up comedy and performance art. What was the origin?
It began as collaboration with my husband Michael. The work chronicles
the obsessive start of our relationship—but it’s not a literal documentary.
It suggests a narrative, but doesn’t commit to it. It’s fragmented and
figurative, like an allegory or a dream. It references graphic novels,
film, popular music and childhood iconography. It employs humor, overt
sexuality, and a lot of chocolate, all with the aim to create a body of
work that speaks about love as an impossible language. It’s full of
horror, humor, and humility, but beyond the two people who are experiencing
it, it often seems to lack any sense or logical foundation at all. There are four characters. Michael’s alter ego is a duck; mine is a rabbit.
Do images like that just pop into your head? Or do you go out looking for them?
Both. Once I have come up with an idea, the rest is relatively simple.
How do you know when you’re finished?
I only know I am finished after I’ve gone too far and realize that it’s time
to go backwards.
What’s the process?
I set up the scene, turn on the self timer, and compose a sort of accidental
ballet between the subject (or subjects) and the camera. I capture their
reactions to one another within the narrative and scene I’ve created. So,
while the set is controlled, what happens on set is intuitive. I never know
what I’m going to get.
Who are some of your favorite contemporary artists?
Sophie Calle, Sally Mann, Francesca Woodman and Sylvia Plath. The
latter two are dead, but their work is still relevant.
Tell us about your art-making routine.
I’m a lazy photographer. I wish I could say that I always carried my
camera around, like a little pet Chihuahua, but that would be a lie.
Sometimes, I don’t pick the damn thing up for weeks. If my camera
were actually a Chihuahua, it would probably have died from neglect
long ago. But when I do work, I work a lot. My artistic process is volcanic
in that way. There are large periods of dormancy, followed by unforeseen
eruptions of productivity.
Jason Rogers, 2000
Jason Rogers (’00) has a strong sense of place and form. You can see it in
his images, which celebrate the texture of unhomogenized American life—from a
cloud-shrouded Coney Island, to a hauntingly empty swimming pool in a wintry New England suburb. His mastery of form shines through in his bold portraits of people and animals, some staring directly at the camera—others in a quiet, private space. The journey that took Rogers to these places began with a Kodak Ektralite 10, a 110-mm plastic camera his grandfather gave him when he was four years old. “I loved seeing what the images looked like after the film was processed,” he says. “I’m not really a compulsive artistic creator, but more of an enthusiastic craftsman.”
Rogers’ love of photography stayed with him through his childhood
and teenage years. Ultimately, it took him to Ringling College, where
he pursued a degree in Photography and Digital Imaging. He remembers
that his best lessons weren’t always technical.
“Thomas Carabasi opened my eyes to an intellectual approach to image-making; Patrick Lindhardt stressed collaboration and process. My instructors taught me that a photographer’s most important tool isn’t the camera—it’s the mind. Not your own thoughts in isolation, but as part of a creative dialogue.”
He adds, “Ringling College taught me to hear criticism and not take it
personally. That gave me the ability to brainstorm with clients and art
directors without my ego getting in the way.”
After graduating in 2000, Rogers secured an entry-level position
at Viacom in New York City. It was his first full-time experience in the
“It was educational for me to see how creativity exists within a
corporate environment. I floated through different positions there and
survived three rounds of global layoffs.”
After the events of September 11th, the office relocated uptown, and
Rogers decided to go his own way. “I realized that job security for me
was an illusion in this new economy—and that gave me the courage to
pursue freelance photography full-time.”
A risky move, but it paid off. Today, his still images electrify the
pages of national publications. He shoots regularly for a host of leading
corporate and non-profit organizations, including Johnson & Johnson,
Pfizer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 92nd Street Y, and The Donaldson
Rogers sees no key distinction between his commercial and personal
photography. “I try to create the best possible photograph. Whether
I’m working for myself or a client, that’s always my goal.” But being his
own boss has its downside. “My personal work has no constraints, budget
limitations or client objections,” he says. “It’s devoid of collaboration
or parameters—and that’s not always good. I do my best work when I
start with a clear idea of what needs to be shot. That allows me to be
flexible and react to spontaneous moments. It’s a paradox, but creative
limitation forces you to a higher level of creativity. Absolute creative
freedom is highly overrated.”
His favorite shots, he says, come from “creating planned spontaneity,”
a phrase a colleague coined. “I like to let people exist in a confined
scenario and then let it play out. That said, some of my favorite shots
are street photography captures. Moments that I just happened to
have a camera with me, and the light was just right, and everything
fell into place. There have been plenty of times, too, when something I
viewed in the real world informed a lighting scenario that I engineered
for a client shoot.”
Rogers’ advice for Ringling College’s current crop of PDI majors? “The
key is not taking a great image, but having the tools for making a great
photograph,” he says.
“People will hire you as a photographer because you can make
things happen, even in the worst of circumstances. That only comes
with knowledge and experience. If you want to be a professional,
make that your goal. Learn and do as much as possible. Work with
whatever aspect of photography you can, whether gallery, production
company, equipment rental house or a stock agency. Being involved
with image-making in any capacity will inform the work you create.”
Today, Rogers lives in Brooklyn, with his wife Sarah, and their two
daughters, Daphne and Madeleine. His art continues to take him to
”I strive to create still and moving images that provoke thought and
contemplation, and to utilize modern and antiquitous tools, techniques,
and methods of organization in order to solve problems, create artistic
perspective, and tell compelling stories.”
For more information about Jason and to view his work, visit: www.jasonrogersphotography.com
Christine Austin, 1999
Christine Austin graduated from Ringling College with a BFA in Photography and
Digital Imaging in 1999. After working for several years as a photographer’s assistant, Austin launched her career as an independent. Today, she works exclusively as a sought-after, New York City-based commercial photographer and photo producer. Noted for her fresh, intuitive style, Austin puts her talents to work shooting corporate portraits, editorial, weddings, high-end advertising campaigns and photo producing. Her clients include Kiss Products, Teen People magazine, Sports Illustrated for Women, Pfizer, the New York City Fire Department, and various law firms, doctors’ offices and private clients. Austin lives in New York City and has partnered on projects with Christopher Gammon, who graduated from Ringling in 1998 with a major in Graphic and Interactive Communication.
When did your interest in photography begin?
I have been a creative person my whole life. I took painting lessons as a
child but didn’t gravitate toward photography until I was 15.
What drew you to photography?
I realized I noticed things about light and composition that others didn’t.
A friend of mine was a professional photographer and encouraged me to
capture what I saw with a camera.
What was your first job when you came to New York City?
I landed a temporary position at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
I wound up working both in the president’s office and as an assistant to
the curator of prints. The experience quickly taught me the seriousness
of the business of art.
How did you break into professional photography?
For me, working as a photographer’s assistant proved priceless. It taught
me both real world solutions to technical conflicts, and it also helped
me polish my business savvy. I assisted photographers during my time
at Ringling, and then for one year in Atlanta, and several years in New
York. Assisting gives you great experience and generally leads to jobs.
So you’d recommend this path to budding professional photographers?
Yes, although I want to be clear that commercial photography is not the
only path. Emerging photography professionals have many avenues to
pursue. Other options include art buying, photo editing, photo producing,
running a photo department for a large corporation, shooting stills for
the movie industry, as well as new digital career possibilities that didn’t
exist a few years ago. The field of photography is constantly evolving.
Be aware of your options, continually educate yourself and explore as
many possibilities as you can.
Is it challenging to balance your commercial and personal work?
It boils down to time management. I budget some time in my schedule
to work on personal projects every month. That can be difficult, but it’s
worth it. Making time for personal expression keeps me fulfilled and
makes me push myself harder on my commercial projects.
How do you move from idea to execution?
I always start with notes and lists of needs. Next, I work on production
and logistics, which includes finding locations, renting equipment and
Do you leave room for spontaneity on a shoot?
Always! Nothing ever goes as planned. Spontaneity usually leads to
my best work.
How much work do you do in post-production?
Now that everything’s digital, about 50 percent of the work is postproduction,
20 percent pre-production and 30 percent shooting. I have
a standardized work flow using Adobe Bridge and Lightroom. I go
through the basic steps, including editing, tagging files with key words,
re-naming and archiving the files, as well as performing standard color
correction and sharpening. With a few more reviews and a second pair
of eyes, I then tweak my final edited images and I’m done!
Tell us about your art-making routine.
I don’t have one. My work happens organically when the energy feels
right. I do something creative every day, whether it is photography or
crafts or cooking.
What inspires you to create?
Dreams, other artists, social interaction and daily life. When I create,
I’m expressing my interpretation of life, which enables me to be true to
myself and feel complete in the world. That’s more important than any
amount of money.
How do you handle the business side of being an artist?
I utilize professional organizations, such as the American Society of
Media Photographers and the American Photographic Artists, and
fellow colleagues to help guide me. I’ve learned many lessons the
tough way—by getting burned and learning from my own mistakes.
The business side of art can be tough, which makes mentoring and
education in this area very important.
How did Ringling College prepare you for where you are today?
Ringling opened my eyes and my heart to being a true artist by introducing
me to different mediums and influencing me to continually
experiment. Ringling helped me push my ideas and taught me the
importance of discipline and commitment.
What Ringling instructors made a difference in your life?
Patrick Lindhardt introduced me to printmaking and the serious
approach toward fine art and the preciousness of materials. He made a
lasting impression on me that still informs my work today.
What advice do you have for Ringling’s current PDI majors?
Find a mentor! Establish a cohesive body of work consisting of 20 images
or more. Keep educating yourself; the industry is changing fast, and
that’s the only way you’ll stay in the game. Network, network, network.
Success is always more about who you know than what you know.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Having published a book, made a movie, and had my own gallery show.
On top of that, I’d like to create a not-for-profit organization that helps
the younger generation realize their potential through all forms of
creative expression, including fine arts, dance, music and agriculture.
Embrace life, feed passion and spread peace.
For more information, visit www.christineaustin.com