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Jessica Tifase, an MFA student in photography and film at VCU, said she does not want her work to be easily digestible. “I want you to feel some type of way, whether it leaves you questioning things or it leaves you angry,” she said. (Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Meet-a-Ram: VCUarts graduate student Jessica Tifase gets a taste of L.A.

Film and photography student uses distinguished internship program to delve into commercial production.

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The second time was the charm for Jessica Tifase, a VCUarts graduate student in film and photography.

In her second application, Tifase was selected for the Bob Bennett Future Leaders initiative, which supports select students from the Television Academy Foundation’s summer internship program. Named for a member of the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame, the initiative provides professional development and leadership training, as well as additional support for intern housing and transportation.

As an undergraduate at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Tifase studied digital storytelling with an emphasis in video production. Now in her final year in the Master of Fine Arts program in photography and film at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts, she dove further into commercial production during her two-month summer experience in Los Angeles, where she spent time with an advertising agency, a post-production editorial house and a production company.

Tifase spoke with VCU News about her creative journey.

What attracts you to photography, film and advertising?

I’ve always been really interested in storytelling. In high school, I took a journalism class and was obsessed with photography and journalism. At the University of Missouri, I realized I didn’t want to be this objective character, telling a news story. I wanted to be someone who was disruptive and changing culture with how I told my stories. I found digital storytelling and got really obsessed.

What do you mean by changing culture?

I don’t want people to just see my work and feel like they can take it all in with one go. I don’t want my work to be so easily digestible. I want you to feel some type of way, whether it leaves you questioning things or it leaves you angry. I think that’s the job of an artist, to disrupt culture, and it’s to give us new ways of seeing things and experiencing life.

I do my best work when I’m not staying within the traditional realms of photography or filmmaking. I had this installation where I used images from the NBA archives and layered different aspects of Blackness. It was disruptive in the realm of, I was playing around with accessibility and what that means – exploring what it looks like when you layer black on top of black on top of black. My work explores this idea and feeling of being in between binaries and blurring the lines between flying and falling.

Tell us about your experience being a Television Academy foundation intern.

It was really cool because I had the opportunity to work at three host companies. I was at Media Arts Lab, an advertising agency, and then I went on to a post-production editorial house, and then I went on to work for a production company. And so I got to see all forms of commercial production from ideation and strategic components at an agency all the way down to being on a set for a really big commercial production.

I learned that I’m very passionate about commercial production. I think advertising can be very powerful. It is a different form of storytelling and can be used to disrupt culture if it’s used well and right. One of the highlights was meeting an editor who worked on an incredible Nike spot that I studied for two years straight when I was at another internship with the Houston Rockets.

I feel like I gained a better perspective on how I want to make work in my last year of the graduate program. The core of what I want to do in the future is use this year to create work that says something or says what I want to say.

Why did you choose VCUarts for graduate school?

I wanted to be in an environment where I could build strong relationships with the students and faculty around me. I wanted to be in a space where I felt safe to make the work that I wanted to make. It was a good opportunity to be in an unfamiliar space and challenge myself to create work that was important to me. And I felt like I would have resources and opportunities – and it not being like I have to sacrifice things to get those opportunities. And I think Virginia is really great because there’s so much happening in the state itself, but you’re also super close to New York, Philly and D.C.

What’s your favorite spot on campus?

The roof of the Pollak Building. It’s my go-to if I need to cool my mind or if I just want to talk to some people. It’s my spot. I like being elevated physically.

What motivates you?

I don’t want to live a mediocre life. And by mediocre, I mean having access to the things that I have access to and the privilege of being in grad school and not taking advantage of that, not using my resources. That’s living a mediocre life, because a lot of people I know don’t have the ability to come to school or be in a post-high school kind of environment. I think I’m very privileged, and I understand my luxury in being in a space like this.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

One of my professors when I was an undergrad told me to stay true and confident to myself and my voice and the things that I’m saying in my work. I screen-shotted the email, too, because I like to look back on it because he has a lot of faith and trust in me – and it gives me trust in myself, especially in the thick of grad school.

Editor’s note: Meet-a-Ram is an occasional VCU News series about the students, faculty, staff and alumni who make Virginia Commonwealth University such a dynamic place to live, work and study.