Visual language

As the medium of our times, the photograph and related lens generated images are the most common and often the least understood images in usage. 

Our curriculum is based on critical inquiry and investigation into the medium, exploring the image as a delivery system for content, ideas, and the associated cultural implications. 

You will be exposed to all modes of contemporary fine art photography, photographic theory, and practice, including expanded photographic works such as installations, performance, and emerging relationships between the still and the moving image. The elective program is developed in conjunction with core curriculum instruction to provide a variety of methods for you to develop your personal aesthetic in the use of photography and related skills. 

As a member of the photography program, you will explore the aesthetic and conceptual perspectives of photography with students who are working in diverse areas of personal image-making. The program is active in both traditional materials and digital production and provides a strong grounding in professional camera controls, lighting, and fine-tuning your digital workflow and fine printing skills. These methods are intertwined throughout the curriculum reinforcing the interrogation of the syntax and production of the image. 

Technical instruction covers the understanding of black and white and color films, the negative, the darkroom printing process, the use of small, medium, and large format cameras, digital cameras, lighting, color workflow, supporting software, fine printing, and presentation techniques. 

Advanced workshops focus on conceptual development and expanding technical skills with an emphasis on the individual student’s vision through the advancement of self-driven production projects and research mentored 142 by faculty in concept development, individualized technical workshops, and professional management skills. These workshops emphasize producing a personal body of work that demonstrates strong conceptual and technical underpinnings while broadening professional practice skills that include a required professional internship, self-promotion, distribution, grant writing, formulating budgets, public speaking, residency, and exhibition applications. The senior year is dedicated to the development of a year-long thesis project that culminates into an off-campus exhibition and artist talk. 

Nearby museums such as the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which houses the Hallmark Photography Collection (one of the largest and highest quality photographic collections in the country), make it possible for students to see examples of important historical and contemporary collections and exhibitions, meet with curators and attend gallery talks. 

Each student is required to enroll in an internship or practicum during their junior year or senior year.


Full-time Faculty

Diana Heise

Professor and Chair

Diana Heise’s practice engages filmmaking, photography, writing, performance and social practice to consider cultural practices that we, as humans, engage in, conundrums that result from our activities and methods to resist, heal and thrive from such conflicts. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and festivals internationally, including the Brooklyn Museum, the Film Anthology Archives, Oriel Myrddin Gallery, Cantor Art Center, Institut Français de Maurice, and Drain, among others. She is a recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship in the Creative and Performing Arts, a Performance Art Fund Grant from the Franklin Furnace Inc. as well as a Presidential Fellowship at the American University in Cairo. She has spoken about her work at venues such as the Parsons School of Art and Design, Stanford University and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Her scholarly writing has been published in anthologies through Ohio University Press and Cambridge Scholars Printing. She holds a MFA in Photography, Video and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts in New York, NY and a BA in Art History from Vassar College.


Tom Lewis

Associate Professor

Tom Lewis is the former Chair of the Department of Converging Media including Photography and Filmmaking. He taught photography and new media at KCAI in 2001 through 2003 and joined the Foundation faculty in 2005, becoming Director of the School of the Foundation Year in 2012-2013 before moving to the Chairs position in the Department of Converging Media in 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. Tom is interested in the intersection of early lens based drawing and the materiality of photography. He works in both photography and large-scale graphite drawings. His work has been exhibited at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, among others and is represented in a number of private collections. Contact:

Dwight Frizzell


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. Frizzell has produced 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.


Trey Hock

Assistant Professor

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.


Spandita Malik

Visiting Assistant Professor

Spandita Malik is a visual artist from India. Her work is concerned with the current global socio-political state of affairs with an emphasis on women’s rights and gendered violence. Malik specializes in process based work in photography, recently with photographic surface embroideries and collaborations with women in India. Malik’s work in expanded documentary and social-practice consciously emanates from the idea of decolonising the eye and aesthetic surrounding documentary photography of India.

Malik received her MFA in Photography from Parsons School of Design, where she was awarded the Dean’s Merit Scholarship, Photography Programmatic Scholarship and Graduate Travel Grant Award. She was recently awarded the Firecracker Photographic Grant (2020); South Asian Arts Resiliency Grant (2020) and En Foco Photography Fellowship (2021). Malik was nominated for the Foam Paul Huf Award 2020 and was selected as a finalist for the Aperture Portfolio Prize 2021. She was chosen for Studio Vortex Artist Residency by Antoine d’Agata in Arles, France (2018) ; Baxter St Workspace Residency in New York (2020); Feminist Incubator Residency by Project for Empty Spaces in New Jersey (2020); The Center for Photography at Woodstock Artist in Residency Program, Woodstock, NY (2021) and Bemis Center of Contemporary Arts (2021). She was also selected for The New York Times Portfolio Review and NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program for Visual & Multidisciplinary Artists. Malik’s work has been featured in Artsy, Art Spiel, Musée Magazine, Harper’s Magazine and Elephant Magazine, she was named ‘Ones to Watch 2020’ by British Journal of Photography. ‘Spandita Malik: Threads of Identity,’ Malik’s solo show opened at the Visual Art Centre of New Jersey in 2021. Her work has been featured internationally in China, France, Germany, India, Italy, New York and New Zealand.

Cyan Meeks

Associate Professor

Cyan Meeks is a cross-disciplinary artist who integrates filmmaking, photography, sound design, performance, social practice, curation and media study into her practice. Both her collaborative and solo works have been exhibited internationally, including at the Sundance Film Festival, New Directors/ New Films Festival at MoMA, Deuxieme Manifestation International Video et Art Electronique, Glasgow World of Film International Film Festival, Dumbo Film Festival and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. She has received first place awards from the American Film Institute, Amsterdam International Film Festival, and the New York Film Festival and received grants from the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, US Forest Service and the Creative Arts Industries Commission. Her commercial work within the music industry 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 (mentored by Kristine Diekman), studied for her M.F.A. degree at the California Institute of the Arts in 1997 (mentored by James Benning) and completed her M.F.A. degree in media studies at the State University of New York in 2003 (mentored by Tony Conrad & Sarah Elder).



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.

Photography Major Requirements

Double Major Art History and Photography Requirements

Double Major Creative Writing and Photography Requirements

Student Work




Professional Practice

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.

Visiting Artists

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 Museum).