Things I Learned at Art School: Yvonne Todd

Things I Learned at Art School: Yvonne Todd

Interview by Megan Dunn for The Spinoff, 04 September, 2019

In the third instalment of Things I Learned At Art School, Megan Dunn talks to Yvonne Todd, the 2019 Arts Foundation Laureate who has received the Theresa Gattung Award for Female Arts Practitioners. Todd discusses fashion, Madonna’s aging process and what photography students never need to photograph again.


What did you learn in art school?

After high school, I had to come to terms with the uncomfortable reality that I hadn’t achieved my potential. I had somehow ended up as an admin assistant at the Wattle Park Industrial Estate in Beach Haven. It took a couple of years to scrabble together a sense of purpose. I enrolled at Whitecliffe, which at the time was the easiest art school to get into – “write a short essay about yourself”, where I majored in photography. I learned to use a manual SLR camera, to develop film and make darkroom prints. Being able to control the focus and exposure and depth of field was a revelation.

My best work at Whitecliffe became a portfolio of images that I used to gain acceptance into the more rigorous programme at Unitec from 1994-1995. Where, with excellent teachers Allan McDonald and Dorina Jotti, I became increasingly ambitious for my work and started using medium and large format cameras and shooting with studio lighting. I learned the value of production, the care required to achieve certain results. By the second half of the first year I was orchestrating these lavish shoots, with carefully planned costumes, props, and locations. After Unitec, the plan was to show my ‘book of stills’ to a few magazine art directors and get lots of exciting paid work shooting editorials. But it didn’t play out like that.

Elam had a certain cachet that I thought would look good on my CV, so I applied for higher entry and started in third year. By this level, students were no longer cosseted and pretty much left to work things out for themselves. This suited me. I had worked autonomously for a few years. I avoided crit sessions and spent my time tootling around, getting Mike Disfarmer and Tretchikoff books out of the library, dutifully attending studio class but really just doing my own thing.

Read the full interview on The Spinoff