Our teaching philosophy is committed to the interrogation of the practice of photography through its history and relationship to culture. The program pursues a specific interest in how the photographic image has become a dominant visual language and how as artists we are using this language to explore.
You’ll be exposed to a wide spectrum of contemporary fine art photographic practice, including narrative, landscape, portrait, documentary and expanded photographic works, such as installations and emerging relationships between the still and the moving image.
You will also explore aesthetic and conceptual perspectives in diverse areas of personal image making; learn to control the camera from 35mm to large formats, darkroom and digital workflow for all levels of production; and gain a strong grounding in professional lighting, the craft of the fine print and installation and display of your senior thesis project in a professional venue.
Experiential learning and the development of creative problem-solving skills provide the flexibility to adapt to the continuous changes in the discipline and prepare our graduates for thriving multifaceted careers.
Associate Professor & Chair
Tom Lewis is chair of photography, filmmaking, animation and interactive arts. He taught photography and new media at KCAI in 2001 and 2003 and joined the Foundation faculty in 2005, becoming director of the School of the Foundation Year for 2012-2013. He joined the KCAI faculty after having taught at the University of Washington School of Art, Seattle. While there, he also served as an assistant to Rod Slemmons at Crux Photographic Restoration and he assisted Michael Van Horn, curator for “After Art – Rethinking 150 Years of Photography,” at the Joseph and Elaine Monson Collection. He was co-founder and manager of CORE 317, an alternative space in Denver, and completed an internship at the International Center of Photography in New York. Lewis studied at KCAI on a Presidential Merit Scholarship and went on to earn a B.F.A. degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an M.F.A. degree from the University of Washington, where he held the Jane and David Davis Fellowship and Parnasuss Endowment. His range of expertise includes photography; photographic restoration, stabilization, research and exhibition; installation; archiving; printing; processing; and cataloging.
Dwight Frizzell, an alumnus of KCAI, is an internationally recognized artist whose interdisciplinary work combines video, performance, installation, music, audio art, and writing. His projects emphasize research and a commonality between the fine and performing arts. Frizzell’s work about his boyhood neighbor, Harry S. Truman, was featured in the Peabody-awarded “Lost and Found Sound” series broadcast on National Public Radio. His art pieces have been shown at major international galleries. Currently, Frizzell is developing an opera based on the life of Charles Darwin. In addition to his B.F.A. degree from KCAI, he holds a terminal fine arts degree in Sound Design from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Diana Heise’s practice engages video, photography, performance, installation, film, writing, sculpture, public intervention, and sound. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and festivals internationally. She is currently a resident artist at Review Studios in Kansas City. After receiving a research grant from Vassar College, she published research on Slovene art collectives in Global and Local Art Histories. Her curatorial projects include exhibitions with several acclaimed artists. Heise holds an M.F.A. degree in photography, video and related media from the School of Visual Arts and a B.A. degree in art history from Vassar College.
Trey Hock explores the markers of narrative through short film, screenwriting, installation, photography, performance and web-based social media platforms. His work interrogates the assumed physical and social constructions that surround us. These include narrative storytelling, the photographic frame, public and private spaces, and personal identity. His short films have shown at Sundance and other international film festivals. He is currently working across platform through Instagram, printed photographic works, and installation to explore the power of the Selfie. Hock received his B.A. in English, Creative Writing from Kansas State University in 1997, and his M.F.A. in Writing and Directing for Film and Television from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2007.
Cyan Meeks is a digital artist with a trans-disciplinary approach, blending installation, performance, filmmaking, sonic design, curation and media study. Both her collaborative and solo works have been exhibited internationally. She received first place awards from the American Film Institute and the New York Film Festival, and received a grant from the National Park Service. Her commercial work in music has received accolades by NME and Spin magazines. Meeks received her B.F.A. degree in new media from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1995; studied for her M.F.A. degree at the California Institute of the Arts in 1997; and completed her M.F.A. in media studies at State University of New York in 2003.
Gary Sutton, professor of photography and digital filmmaking, joined KCAI in 1975. From 2001 to 2007, he was dean of faculty at the college. He has shown his work regionally and nationally. He received a Fulbright-Hayes Fellowship to photograph in Hungary and an MIAA/NEA Photography Fellowship and a Mellon Grant to support his photographic pursuits. His work is displayed prominently in many collections, including the Denver Art Museum, the Albrecht-Kemper Museum and the American Century collection.
Lilly McElroy grew up in Southern Arizona, surrounded by cliché representations of her own experiences. There were cowboys riding bulls, coyotes howling on moonlit nights, and beautiful sunsets. She’s translated those experiences into epic photographs and playfully antagonistic videos. Lilly performs for the camera, enacting gestures that reflect a desire for control over subjects as ungovernable as nature. Her work investigates our complex relationship with the American West and what means to be an American in a time of diminished expectations.
Lilly received her MFA in Studio Art from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her BFA in Photography from The University of Arizona. She was a participant at Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture and a Visual Arts Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her work has been shown at venues including Modern Art Oxford in the United Kingdom, Southern Exposure Gallery in San Francisco, and Rick Wester Fine Art in New York City.
Talbott L. (Tal) Wilson
For more than 25 years, Tal Wilson has owned and operated a commercial photography studio in the Crossroads Arts District in Kansas City. He has handled projects for many national clients and received the Outstanding Community Service Award for KCAI alumni. Wilson holds a B.F.A. degree in photography from KCAI. He helped to start a new Photography Certificate program offered through KCAI’s School for Continuing and Professional Studies.
Once you declare your major, photography students take the following core courses as they progress from sophomore to senior year. For additional electives and liberal arts courses download the complete course catalog.
- Intro to Photography
- Intermediate Photography
- Applied Photographic Imagery
- Photomontage & Collage
- Photography & Contemporary Art
- Junior Photography Workshop II
- Professional Practice I & II
- Advanced Photography
- Photography Workshop II
- Photography Senior Thesis
- Professional Practice
View Samples of Our Work
Like What You See?
For additional examples of student-produced work that displays a wider range of styles, technique and subject matter, browse our expanded photo gallery.
Professional practice is a compulsory component of the KCAI program in which students benefit enormously from insights provided by world-renowned visiting artists, scholars and professionals.
Jobs + Internships
Photography graduates work as professors, educators, and artists across the country. Recent graduates also have become professional photographers and have started galleries such as the Trapp Gallery and the Red Lady in Kansas City.
KCAI photography majors have worked or interned for the following studios and companies: The Guggenheim, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Columbia College of Art in Chicago and IsArt in New York.
Many artists visit the photography and filmmaking studios each year to share their knowledge and inspiration with KCAI students. Here are a few that have recently stopped by:
Jerry Spagnoli (in partnership with NAMA), Adam Long, Ross Sawyers, Priya Kambli, Mathew Higgs, Frederic Brenner ( in partnership with the Jewish Community Center), Patty Carroll, Kelly Richardson, David Shannon-Lier, Elijah Gowin, and Steve Rowell (in partnership with the Spencer Art Musuem).