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Bringing Her Career Into Focus: Rachel Orlang, BFA '19

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Rachel Orlang

Gaining real-world experience is integral to an education at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University. Rachel Orlang pursued this goal with vigor.

Orlang had a photography internship at a nonprofit art gallery in Washington, D.C., after her first year at SMFA and another at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston following her sophomore year. Since September 2018, she has interned as a product photographer at custom menswear designer Blank Label, where she plans to stay through August.

As Orlang approached graduation, she was certain that SMFA at Tufts had positioned her to flourish professionally. "Both the classes and internships have made me feel much more confident in my skills and in my ability to go out and perform as I need to do," she said.

Getting Hooked

Orlang fondly recalled receiving a Canon AE-1 35mm film camera as a Christmas gift from her father in eighth grade. Learning how to process black-and-white film in the dark room during high school fed her growing passion for photography and inspired her to explore going to art school for college.

In a bid to escape the heat of her native Florida, Orlang Googled "art schools in the Northeast" and came across SMFA at Tufts. She toured the campus in April of her senior year and fell in love.

"I really liked the atmosphere — everything is compact, and there's a tight community," she said. "The fact that there are no defined majors was also appealing. That allowed me to explore literally whatever I wanted in addition to photography, like screen printing, graphic arts, and video."

Fitting a Brand Identity

Orlang's internships have provided valuable insights on how to apply her photography skills in professional settings. Dana-Farber has a large communications department that handles all of the institute's print and digital media. Orlang served as lead or assistant photographer on a variety of assignments, shooting everything from doctors treating young patients to a joyous ice cream fundraiser at Boston City Hall Plaza.

"Interning at Dana-Farber taught me a lot about how to fit a brand identity," she said. "I tried to do my photos in a way that would fit the overarching Dana-Farber brand, which is a useful skill for a photographer working for any company. It was mostly about how I edited the photos — ensuring people's faces are bright, making the colors stand out, and showing people as living through challenges rather than succumbing to them."

Orlang said her experience at Dana-Farber gave her more confidence in her photography skills and, through frequent interactions with photography subjects, her interpersonal skills.

Her current internship at Blank Label has offered exposure to the men's fashion world. Orlang is responsible for all product photography for new shirts, pants, ties, outerwear, and more.

"I photograph, edit, and upload the photos to the corporate website for ecommerce," she said. "I also take many of the creative product shots that they use for emails, social media, and their website. Those are a bit more fun, not mannequin shots."

Looking to the Future

A Filipino-American and Asian-American, Orlang focuses on racial and ethnic identity in her personal art practice. In 2017, for example, she began an ongoing project taking a series of striking photographic portraits of Asian-Americans in her community. That and other projects were informed by sociology classes on the Asian-American experience and photography classes on techniques such as large-format portraiture.

Orlang said her internships have strengthened certain skills, particularly in editing, that now enhance her personal work. The greatest benefit of an SMFA education, however, ties back to the freedom inherent in the 100% elective curriculum.

"Being able to touch so many different mediums — graphic arts, graphic design, video, and more — really opened up my opportunities," she said. "At SMFA, you learn so many things through classes in different disciplines, so you have all these skills you bring to the table. I'm not afraid to try something I haven't done before so that I can learn more about it."

Following the completion of her Blank Label internship, Orlang plans to return to Florida to decide on her next steps. She will likely pursue an entry-level photography job, with the hope of starting her career in Boston, New York, or another city.

Her advice to students entering SMFA this fall? "Be persistent. Don't get discouraged. Try your hardest."