The photography department at the University of New Mexico remains one of the top photography MFA programs in the country, and continues to stay on the cutting edge of interdisciplinary arts.

UNM’s photo department is currently ranked No. 8 in the U.S. News & World Report’s list of the best graduate schools to study photography.

As one of the oldest photo programs in the country, associate photography professor Patrick Manning said UNM has always made photography a priority in the fine arts department.

“With our community, it’s always just been part of art,” Manning said.

With new photographic technology being developed everyday, the curriculum for the photography department is constantly evolving. However, Susanne Anderson-Riedel, an art department chair at UNM, said older methods are just as important as newer ones in the department’s focus.

“The tools are changing … but the tool is a tool,” Anderson-Riedel said. “The concept, the ideas and the desired aesthetic is what drives the selection of the tools.” 

Manning reiterated this, and said older methods of photography are actually coming back in fashion.

“We’re always listening to the students and looking at the world and trying to match that as much as we can,” Manning said.

Kufre McIver, a photography minor at UNM, said his current black and white photography class has stood out as one of his favorites in the department.

“I think film photos just look super good; they look better than digital in my opinion so learning more about the whole process and different ways to get creative with it, and also developing it yourself with a bunch of different methods, has been really cool,” McIver said.

The faculty at the photo department represent a diversity of topics, some with national attention, and an increasingly renewed focus on interdisciplinary works, according to Anderson-Riedel. She attributed these efforts to why UNM’s program is nationally recognized as one of the best.

“They’re really highly recognized professors, and … they are so deeply involved with their students,” Anderson-Riedel said. “They’re really hands-on professors who engage with their students and help them develop.”

McIver noted that his professors and colleagues stood out in the photography department.

“All the people in the department I’ve had are super cool, not just people I’ve met in my classes, but also all the professors themselves … It’s just a very nice space to be in,” McIver said.

Being a professor in the UNM photo department is a balancing act between professional work and teaching. Manning said juggling networking, gallery outreach, department service and more along with education has always been difficult for him.

“Even before the pandemic, it was never easy. It’s sort of like having two and a half full time jobs,” Manning said. “One is teaching, which I find to be very important and I think all of my colleagues put an incredible amount of effort in doing it as well as we can, and then another job is making your own work.”

One trait that made the photo department stand out for McIver was its accessibility. The program allows all students to participate in the methods classes without being burdened under financial strain for equipment.

“None of the assignments I encountered required the use of a specific camera mode,” McIver said.

Manning said the facilities that the photo department has are exceptional because of support from the fine arts department and university overall, but that financial concerns are still present.

“It’s a challenge budget-wise because of the costs involved, with trying to provide access to enough computers that are good enough to run the (editing) programs,” Manning said.

Overall, McIver said the department pedagogy succeeds in its attempt to remain inclusive and accessible.

“They seem to make it really inclusive to all different styles as well as ability,” McIver said.

Anderson-Riedel said the physical structure of the photography department encourages community work, and students can either work independently or collaboratively in an engaging and comfortable workspace.

“There are very few other areas in our department who have that kind of setup … that really shapes a community among the photo students and other art students who come and work there,” Anderson-Riedel said.

A limited amount of advanced photography classes have been offered in person during the pandemic following safety standards, and Anderson-Riedel said the department is waiting on University guidelines to judge how things will be in the fall.

“Art needs community. Art needs dialogue; a dialogue that goes beyond Zoom meetings,” Anderson-Riedel said.

Megan Gleason is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @fabflutist2716