10 Questions for our alumni

Molly Labeff-Cabello, BA, Photography, 2016

Molly Labeff-Cabello, BA, Photography, 2016

1 - Why did you choose to attend Grand Valley?

I was initially drawn to Grand Rapids as a city, which helped me narrow down which schools to apply to. When I found out Grand Valley has a reputable photography program with a focus on analog photography, I decided it would be a good fit. I actually only applied to GVSU.


2 - How or why did you choose your major or main emphasis area?

I had always been interested in photography as a career and wanted to pair it with another major. I started out as a double-major in Photography and Ad/PR, and stayed on that track until my senior year. It was then that I felt a divide in the subjects between the two majors. I was studying Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer – it was a very jarring experience and caused a lot of cognitive dissonance for me. I decided I had to drop Ad/PR to a minor and really focus on my work as a photographer. I think pairing the two together really helped me navigate what kind of work I wanted to make.


3 - What advice do you have for future students thinking about colleges?

Honestly, it's not for everyone–some artists and photographers, designers or web developers, etc. are self-taught, and that works for them. I think knowing yourself well enough to know what kind of learning style you need is huge. For me, I wouldn't have ever learned the skills I have or gotten the same opportunities if not for school. I loved school–I had no self consciousness about sitting in the front of the class, or being the only one who did all the required reading, or showing up in my professors' office hours every week. Not everyone who wants to go to college can afford to go, or has the grades to get in. So ideally, every single person in your classes should really want to be there, and be excited about the opportunity.


4 - What advice do you have for current students thinking about careers?

From my experience, it's ok to go into school not entirely sure what you want to do with your life and career. Some people grow up knowing they're meant to be a nurse, and they go into medical school and graduate, and stay on that path their whole life. For me, being unsure and being open to discovering that path along the way was integral.


5 - What did you do after graduating?

I applied for my dream job (as far as Grand Rapids), and I didn't get it. I thought about grad school, but I think that would have just been settling for what felt comfortable to me. Instead I got a job doing photography, videography and other digital media at Amway for about a year.


6 - What are you doing now?

I applied for the dream job again and got it. So now I'm the Digital Media Coordinator at the Grand Rapids Art Museum and I do all of our photography and videography, as well as social media and web.


7 - How have you used the skills you developed in your field of study in your life and/or career after GVSU?

I really got a lot out of mastering analog photography in the program at GVSU. The way the courses were set up to deeply understand composition, highlights, shadows, time, lighting with film before moving onto digital was helpful for me. Now, I use digital mediums professionally and still have a love for analog photography personally. This also helps me to keep making work while I'm not working, instead of taking photos all week and then never picking up a camera in my free time.


8 - What is the best advice you got from an instructor at Grand Valley?

I'd say it was actually two recommended books from professors. Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes and Ways of Seeing by John Berger. I really enjoyed the conceptual and social role that art and photography can play.


9 - What is your favorite memory of being a student at Grand Valley?

One of the subjects I found most intriguing in school was History of Photography. Studying the artists who pioneered the path to contemporary art, thinking of art in the social context of the time period, and how the technological advancements of photography led the way to other inventions (like the airplane)– was all very fascinating, and inspired me in my own work.


10 - Anything else you would like to share with our Visual and Media Arts Community?

Seriously, don't be afraid to be really engaged and involved in coursework and class discussions. This field is all about experimentation, exploration and curiosity, and it's ok to be vulnerable while deciding what kind of work you want to make, professionally or otherwise.


Image credit by Jess Weal. You can see Molly's work at mollylabeff.com and follow Molly on Instagram at instagram.com/mollylbc.

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Page last modified December 18, 2018