Laurence butet-roch: "mold the teachings to your desires"
Acting on little more than a hunch, Laurence Butet-Roch spontaneously applied to the SPAO diploma program back in 2008. She was at an education crossroads back then but now realizes that she certainly chose her best path.
“I was living in Montreal at the time, quickly put together a portfolio and rushed to Ottawa to apply in person,” recalls Butet-Roch, who was contemplating a Masters degree program in politics or journalism versus studying photography.
“I knew little about SPAO or Ottawa, but the warm welcome and overall laid-back atmosphere made me immediately feel like I belonged there,” she adds.
Butet-Roch quickly discovered that SPAO is much more than a school: “It’s a community, a home,” but also a place where performance is top priority.
“I wasn’t being taught, I was being coached,” explains Butet-Roch. “When I was happy with my work, I was being pushed—sometimes to the point of tears and screams—to do better. And if I felt discouraged, there was always someone to cheer me up.”
Butet-Roch also appreciated the individualized approach to learning.
“The great thing about SPAO is that you could mold the teachings to fit your desires,” she says. “I aspired to be a photojournalist, so I was given the freedom to take off for days at a time to go work on my project, which was hours away.”
Much of what she learned at SPAO helped Butet-Roch land her first job after graduation at Polka, a magazine and gallery based in Paris, France.
“At first, I was an intern at the gallery, where my knowledge of framing and hanging—acquired through the number of shows we put on at SPAO—served me well. Yet I think it was my knowledge of the history of photography and of the techniques—old and new—that helped me make the move to a more permanent position as a journalist and photo editor for the magazine.”
Her time at SPAO also taught Butet-Roch the value of collaboration, something that she draws upon as part of the Boreal Collective, a group of ten emerging North American photographers: “Knowing how to constructively critique one another’s work as well as how to organize such a diverse group is what makes such a collective endeavor beneficial,” says Butet-Roch.
Most recently, Butet-Roch has drawn upon her language skills and photography acumen to build a successful freelance journalism practice, contributing photography articles in both English and French to highly respected publications including, TIME Lightbox, the Lens blog of the New York Times, and the British Journal of Photography.