Meet Omar Hassan, Photography student at the University of Melbourne

Omar Hassan, BFA (Visual Art). By Giulia McGauran
Omar Hassan, BFA (Visual Art). By Giulia McGauran.

Omar Hassan enrolled in the VCA Art (Photography) degree straight out of high school and is determined to take each day as it comes.

Hi Omar. Can you tell us what you’re doing currently in your studies?

I was so bored during the long summer break before starting my degree. I spent most days and nights in bed on my phone, not doing much. I remember checking the "my activity" tab on Instagram and seeing that I spent an average of five hours daily on the app. By the end of the break, I was excited to come back to the Victorian College of the Arts and see people. My Instagram activity has gone down to an average of three hours – I spent six hours and 33 minutes on Instagram last Thursday though. I recently made a video where I just filmed myself scrolling through Instagram for an hour. My work is very literal. I think being simple and straightforward is a good thing.

Why did you choose to study Photography at the VCA?

Teachers in high school made it sound like getting into the VCA was impossible – so there already was this expectation that the VCA was very selective. I applied anyway, paid the application fee, and went to a folio interview where I was interviewed by two of my now current teachers.

I think it was just a week after finishing my Year 12 exams. I was very nervous. It was beginning to rain and I remember sprinting from Flinders Street Station carrying a bag that barely fit my visual diaries and folio. I had been practising photography for a few years – so I knew that I had an interest in it and that I wanted to pursue it. I then had to make a decision between whether I wanted to do a commercial or a Fine Art photography course.

After seeing that the VCA Fine Art course was very open in terms of what you could practice, it was a clear choice. I thought that if I was to do an undergrad course for three years, I would want to enjoy it and have the freedom of trying out other mediums. I got to do that. I chose casting and drawing electives in first year and learnt some new things; it was fun. I have the freedom to do whatever I want, and my teachers and peers are here to help. It is a great time to try new things and see where it takes you with your practice.

How has your time at the VCA matched or differed from your expectations?

Oh my! The VCA was so different to my expectations. I came straight out of high school. I got here not knowing anyone. I was scared of everyone. I thought I was not good enough to be here. I remember in one of my first classes we had to introduce ourselves and our work. I showed something from my Year 12 folio and a teacher asked me to speak a little louder. My face just went red – I felt it go red; I was so shy and embarrassed.

The teacher who told me to speak up is so cool and not scary at all; they have taught me so much. I found that the college can embrace anything. You just have to really believe in what you’re making and commit to it, and everyone is here to help you learn and grow. My peers and teachers are very encouraging, and I trust their opinions. It is exciting to hear their responses and then to build on them and come back to show your new iterations.

What advice would you give someone at the start of their journey studying at the VCA?

I wish someone told me to just be fearless and have a little confidence. My advice to someone fresh to the VCA is to not be afraid of trying out new things. It's a three-year course – take risks, use the time to try out something new and listen carefully to the feedback you get. Sometimes just a sentence or a few words from a conversation can set your work off into a totally new direction. Being in this environment where you get to have about three or four crits a semester is so great for your practice; it really does help you and your work to develop.

What are your goals after you graduate?

I hate getting asked what I want to do after I graduate because I have been taking each day as it comes. Thinking about the future stresses me out; I do it a lot. This degree does not guarantee you a nine-to-five job – they told us that on our very first day. I see this degree more as something that teaches you a way of working for your practice. One of my teachers once compared it to a philosophy degree. My current goal is to exhibit my work and get it out there. Who knows where that will lead me to. Someone told me to relax, that I am still young, and that I will figure it out. I will be about three months away from turning 21 when I graduate.

Who is your hero and why?

Most of my heroes come from music and the internet. I started to really get into Nicki Minaj last year, since then I think she’s all I listen to. She just makes me feel so bossed up and fearless. She’s a talented rapper. I think I am the happiest when I am under my duvet on my phone watching Trisha Paytas YouTube videos or on Instagram laughing at things. There isn’t much to smile or laugh about outside.

Find out more about Photography at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne.