Olivia Koziel ’23 in a class by herself at Notre Dame MFA program

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Friday, August 18th, 2023

Just months after wrapping up her career as a PCA&D Photography & Video major, and graduating in May, Olivia Koziel finds herself back in the classroom again.

But this time, she’s truly in a class by herself. 

Koziel is starting her journey to an MFA in Studio Art at Notre Dame— a program that accepts just one student a year per studio art focus. This year, Koziel is the sole photography student chosen.

“I was already applying to master’s programs, so when (Photography & Video Chair Eric Weeks) sent an email about the program at Notre Dame I immediately jumped on the opportunity to apply,” Koziel said in an email from Indiana, where she’s settling into her new routine and her new studio on campus. “When researching the program, I looked into the staff members’ work and found that I could relate to the work that they were making. 

“The program is also an academic one. Students are required to take a certain amount of art history classes, and after getting my art history minor at PCA&D, I was excited to continue that part of my education.”

Koziel, said Weeks in his recommendation letter to Notre Dame, is “engaged,” “refreshingly inquisitive,” and “mature’: in short, an ideal graduate school candidate. 

“Olivia (was) one of the most insightful participants during both class and department critiques,” Weeks wrote, “always bringing pertinent contemporary and historical references to the conversation.”

Baroque style still life of trio of models against dark background.

Senior show thesis photo by Olivia Koziel.

Small and mighty: “Coming from a small high school (in Holland Township, New Jersey), the idea of coming to an even smaller college was comforting. PCA&D also supports an independent environment; I liked the idea of living in my own apartment outside of student housing.”

It’s always been Photography: “For me, there was no choice (of a different major). I came into PCA&D knowing that I was going into photography and video. I took photography classes in high school that really solidified that this was what I wanted to do for a living.”

Favorite PCA&D memory: “I have a lot of fond PCA&D memories, but I would have to say that the Halloween party from Foundation year was something that I also look back on. It was my first large PCA&D event outside of orientation and it was really fun.”

Image by Olivia Koziel.

Truth… or a lie? What is it that about photography that speaks to Koziel more than any other medium? “I enjoy that photography can be taken as truth but can also be a complete lie. The duality is something that I find interesting.”

Style strength: Is the work Koziel is pursuing now similar to the Baroque-style work she featured in her senior thesis? “My current work is definitely still in that style and I plan to continue the concepts behind my thesis in my new work, focusing on and further strengthening them.”

Getting personal: “Sometimes things get too personal when you are making conceptual work. It’s easy to put every emotion you have into certain projects, and that was definitely something I did. But I was fortunately pushed in a better direction by my professors and peers.”

Getting inspired, Part 1: Listing faculty at PCA&D whom she found especially inspiration or helpful “could be a very long answer, a lot of faculty is great at PCA&D,” Koziel says. “I could go on and list every professor in the photography department, they have each helped me to strengthen my work and push me to do better. I will however say that Troy Holleman was one of the professors in the department that helped me with my work but as well with making sure that, as a student with accommodations, I always had what I needed to succeed and keep up with the rest of the class.”

Let there be light: “I have always been super into creating new lighting techniques and letting the lighting speak for the image.”

Getting inspired, Part 2: “…My work focuses on the Baroque era mainly taking influences from Caravaggio and Rembrandt. However, there are plenty of contemporary artists (who inspire me) like Jingna Zhang and Paulette Tavormina.”