Sarah VanTassel

Sarah VanTassel is a 2011 Photography graduate of Point Park University. Since graduating Sarah has continued to work on personal projects in which she finds way to invoke several emotions from not only her subjects, but the viewers who see her work. Feel free to check out Sarah’s work here (www.sarahvantassel.com)

FF: Were you inspired by a certain photographer? While looking at your work I got this sense of dark/haunting feelings, but there is also some great storytelling going on here with each image. How would you describe what you’re seeing through your view finder?

SVT: My biggest influence has been my experiences starting with my childhood. I also am drawn to a very particular type of lighting and once I see /find that light I will place my subjects within it.

FF: Your work feels very personal. How do you add a little bit of yourself into your images?

SVT: A lot of my portraits of others tend to be almost self portraits in a way. I direct my models to hold themselves in a way that reflects how I am feeling. Often times when making the photographs of my younger brothers and sisters, I see my own childhood and my own experiences growing up in an isolated & restricted world. Those are the photographs that are the most personal to me. It is my own way of making portraits of my own childhood. Also, the light that I tend to use is one that creates a mood within me.

FF: You have a lot of quiet moments in your photography, but they speak volumes. Are you attracted to quiet/isolated moments?

SVT: Absolutely. When I am making photographs it is usually during moments like that…I love the calm. Most of my photographs are made in my home or somewhere surrounded by nature. My best work happens when I feel at peace and have no distraction.

FF: You graduated from Point Park back in 2011. How do you feel your work as evolved since leaving school?

SVT: I definitely have seen my work grow and change since graduating. It took me a few years to find my “style” and I know that it will be constantly growing and evolving as long as I continue to make photographs. I guess the biggest change has been my shift to 100 percent analog for my personal work. Even though I was shooting 35mm while at Point Park, it wasn’t as important to me as it is now.

FF: What did you learn while in school and what have you learned since leaving?

SVT: At Point Park I learned the basics of exposure and printing. I was exposed to mediums like large format, non-silver printing, and experimental camera.  As well as the process of putting together specific and cohesive bodies of work. Since leaving, I have become much more aware of light and how to use what I learned about exposure to capture exactly what I see. Shooting analog has definitely helped with that because if I only have 24 or 36 exposures I know that I have to get it right the first time. I definitely don’t waste as much film now as I did when I was a student!

FF: I’m really interested in these images. Can you tell me a little bit more about them?

SVT: The first photograph was actually shot for my thesis. My thesis was about my family’s life on a farm and how every time I go back there I get no feeling of nostalgia because nothing has changed. It is more like I am seeing my childhood happening rather than remembering.

SVT: The second and third photographs I made with very similar thoughts. I wanted to express the idea that even though there can be something very overwhelming and sometimes even haunting about nature, we are also a part of it. The color one was taken in the South Side and the black and white ones were taken in the Redwood Forest of California.

SVT: The last one was taken on my family farm in Missouri. It is a portrait of my youngest brother. There is something very ominous about the back woods of the midwest but that is where he has grown and where he thrives. I just wanted to capture a little bit of that.

FF: Where do you plan on going from here as a photographer? Any new projects you’re working on?

SVT: I am currently wrapping up a project that will be showing at the Tiny Harris Gallery at the end of April. It deals with the contrast of finding inspiration from within vs. the world around us. I also have a couple portrait projects that I will be working in this spring/summer.

FF: What advice do you have for a student that is struggling to find their style or their own voice in photography?

SVT: Make photographs as often as you can and with every type of light. Try different mediums as well even if it is something that may be out of your comfort zone. When I started my view camera class I felt quite overwhelmed at first, but I quickly fell in love. Most importantly, don’t give up if at first the end result is not what you envisioned. You’ll get there.

Lindsay Dill and Aldona Bird

On Wednesday, March 12th Point Park graduates Lindsay Dill and Aldona Bird will be showcasing their work in the Lawrence Hall Gallery. Their work comes from separate journeys that they took following their time at Point Park. The open reception starts at 4:00 pm.

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FF: Was this your first time traveling to India/Europe? Why did you make this journey and what were you hoping to encounter or learn from this trip?

LD: I traveled to India for a friend’s wedding, and I went early because I wanted to see more of the country, and at a slower pace. I’d taken Dr. Fessler’s course on India in the Global Cultural Studies program, and still nothing could have prepared me for the assault of India that was to come. I’d hoped to learn more about the role of spirituality in India, and get an idea of what it’s like to live there.

AB: When I went to Europe for 14 months, it was my first time leaving the States. I bought a one-way ticket to Vilnius, Lithuania, after I graduated from Point Park because I wanted to travel.

FF: How do you prepare to make a journey like this? Did you learn something from your time in school or from speaking to other photographers?

LD: Rolf Potts’ book Vagabonding taught me a lot about how to enjoy traveling with few belongings and on a few pennies— which is all I had. I also learned a lot about my own traveling style, how much money to save, and what to pack during my first trip abroad to Costa Rica. As far as photo equipment goes, I pack one body, two lenses, three batteries, a flash, lens cleaning gear, loads of memory cards, and a charger with an adapter for that country.

For this trip, I prepared by taking on a job as a delivery cyclist, and by completing the bulk of my university assignments and projects before I left in the middle of my last college semester. Foolishly, however, I didn’t prepare myself with cultural research. As I mentioned, I took a course on India, and there’s only so much even Dr. Fessler can translate into a lesson, and being there is an entirely different thing.

So, I packed one backpack with too much clothing, the usual camera gear, a Life Saver filtered water bottle, and way less than enough money. I cried within the first couple hours of arriving, and at the very least once every day after that. I was a child again, and I didn’t know how to communicate or be a person.

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Photo by: Lindsay Dill

AB: To be honest, I didn’t prepare much at all for this trip. I basically just packed my camera, clothes, and hopped on a plane. At the time my sister was in Europe, so I had someone to meet me at the airport and a place to crash. Certainly looking at works by travel photographers helped inspire me to travel. My photography and photojournalism classes gave me the tools to be a travel photographer and columnist.

I prepared a little more for the trips I took to the 19 other countries I visited, but the preparation was mostly just to learn the best means of local travel, and to find CouchSurfing hosts/WWOOF farms/hostels.

FF: I always ask photographers if they felt welcomed in the country they were photographing? I heard photographer Matt Kollasch speak and he said that while photographing in Eastern Slovakia a man told him “I feel like an animal in a zoo when you point a camera in my face.” Did you find that the subjects you met were approachable or ok with you photographing them?

LD: I was not very concerned with people feeling like zoo animals, because I usually talk to people I photograph. I did raise my camera less often than I would at home, though, and I think it was more to do with fear of offending the religious and fear of being heckled for money (which I had to heckle my travel partner boyfriend for once I ran out of money.) I became more encouraged to photograph as people would ask to see my photos and to photograph me, because I was a strange blond white American.

My discomfort didn’t stop me from photographing, but rather it slowed me down. This meant that I missed some great shots, surely, but it also meant that I was being more deliberate in shooting. It’s actually how I was able to slow down and see what themes I was capturing.

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Photo by: Lindsay Dill

AB: I think photography is a universal language. It often helped me learn about people and make connections even when there was a language barrier. People’s reactions always vary, no matter what country you’re in. Photographing people brings out their personalities.

While working on the first farm I visited in Italy, I asked the farmers if it was ok if I took pictures while we all worked. They were flattered, and agreed. The two women (Maddy and Graciella) living there spoke only a word or two of English, and I spoke even less Italian. Despite this, Maddy was very warm and friendly, and always tried to communicate with my sister and me. Graciella was friendly but kept her distance a little more. When I brought out my camera Maddy got shy, and even asked me to stop photographing her once. Graciella however became more friendly, and always smiled and got excited when I’d take her picture. Using my camera helped me get to know individuals and their personalities, but it took a more journalistic approach to learn about the different cultures.

When photographing in countries where I didn’t speak enough of the language to actually approach people and ask if I could photograph them, I’d make eye contact with my subject, smile, and hold up my camera questioningly. This basic method always worked for me.

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Photo by: Aldona Bird

FF: Another part to that question, how can students learn to better approach people to photograph them in a different country?

LD: I think the best way to approach any subject is to imagine you are them— under the same laws, family structures, social trends, etc. Get out of your own head and imagine that you’re in theirs whether you’re trying to come up with a story, improve on your current story’s perspective, or gauge how you should approach subjects.

AB: The only advice I can offer students is to be a confident and kind photographer. Don’t piss people off, because getting yelled at in a foreign language is no fun. Also don’t annoy German bus drivers, as I did a couple of times.

FF: Lindsay, in your artist statement you spoke about seeing India from two different perspectives. One from a poor traveling side and the other a rich more western civilized side. Could you elaborate more on what it was like to get to experience these two contrasting views?

LD: “Real India” lies in the villages according to most Indians you ask. I didn’t go there. My memory of India is made up of my experiences while couchsurfing with middle class, likely upper caste, college aged Indian men. Most of them lived in neighborhoods that were featured large, marble homes, shanties, and half-built brick structures. Everything was in flux. There was constantly the stench of fire, either from cooking or burning trash— sometimes both. The food-cart-laden streets were often unpaved, dusty, and were always a mess of people, rickshaws, bikes, shanty shops, and honking (which is used to make your presence known rather than to display your anger).

While all of this was new, it was the gut-wrenching poverty that is seared into my memory as one of the hardest parts of India’s social stratification. I’ve never experienced poverty, and I’d certainly never experienced or seen Third World poverty from such a close range. I was constantly approached by beggars of all ages, and this was one of many reasons why I’d cry every single day of my trip.

I’ve read the articles warning that mothers begging with babies are likely scammers, and children begging are simply pawns of a sort of pimp who takes all their collected money at the end each the day. Those facts may make some feel better sometimes, but it’s really hard to say no to an emaciated mother and crying baby tapping on your rickshaw window while your driver is urinating off to the side of the road. I gave sometimes and I refused sometimes, and eventually I ran out of money and had to refuse. The poverty just became a part of my consciousness while I was there.

Once I reached my friend’s home we were in a much wealthier Southern India neighborhood and we were much more sheltered from the extreme poverty while in his neighborhood. His family has two large homes across the street from each other, and they have two cars. Had I seen nothing but their lives, I could imagine that India was the unpaved, smokier America. It was almost a relief to be there and forget about my other experiences. Almost.

FF: What did you take away from this experience in the end? What did you know before going in and what changed for you as the trip continued?

AB: I learned so much on this trip, it is hard to even summarize it. Living in Lithuania, and traveling around Europe taught me a lot about other cultures, photography, myself, and much more. It was an incredible experience. Looking back, I feel that when I started I knew next to nothing. Now I at least know better how to learn.

FF: Where do you go from here as a photographer? What’s next for you?

LD: Photography will always be a part of who I am. I’m constantly drafting and working on personal projects, and I think that’s the major role it will play in my life for now.

AB: Now I plan to spend some time saving up again to continue traveling with my camera. The more places I visited, the more I wanted to visit. I am happy for this opportunity to showcase some of my work, and I hope to find or create other venues for the photographs I made while abroad.

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Photo by: Lindsay Dill

Rodger Obley

Rodger Obley is a Pittsburgh native and a senior at Point Park. He’s currently studying business administration with a marketing concentration. He’s also a wedding photographer.

Roger talked with the Full Framed blog about his documentary photo work he has been doing in Haiti while traveling with a non-profit group, Pittsburgh Kids Foundation

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How did you get invited on this trip to Haiti?

I’ve been traveling to Haiti since 2012 with a local non-profit called the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation (PKF). They partner with two orphanages in the city of Cap Haitien. This was my first medical trip. There was an extra spot, and I had enough cash to cover the cost.

I noticed that you decided to shoot with film instead of digital. I think that it gave your images some nice contrast and tones. What made you decide to go this route?

Thanks. I’m really bad at editing my personal work. If I shot digital, I wouldn’t have edited the images yet. I spend a lot of time making the weddings I shoot look like they were shot with film. So anytime I get to mess around with real film it’s a lot of fun.

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Was this your first time taking an international documentary trip? How does one go about preparing to take a trip like this?

In short, yes. The other two trips I’ve taken to Haiti were totally different. In the summer, I document a week long summer camp that PKF runs. Those pictures are quickly turned around and burned to a DVD to leave at the orphanages.

Prepare to sweat. In Haiti, men wear pants and boys wear shorts. I bought lightweight camping pants and a backpack style camera bag with a hydration system.

Did you have a shot list in mind of images you’d like to take? Or did you decide to document life as it unfolded in front of you?

I kind of just shot as the day unfolded. I’d plan which rolls of film I wanted to use for different locations the night before. Haiti throws a lot of curve balls though. You’re constantly changing your plans.

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As I was going through your work this image stood out to me. Could you give me some background info on it? Who is this woman? Did you speak with her?

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This is one of my favorites. It was taken outside of the St. Anthony Clinic, as my friends were seeing patients. I have the vocabulary of a caveman when it comes to the native language of Creole. I think I actually pointed to the child in her arms (really embarrassing) and said “Bèl” which means “beautiful.” She smiled, said “Mèsi” and then looked away.

While documenting people in a foreign land it can be difficult to be the outsider with a camera trying to gain the trust of your subjects. Did you have any difficult time capturing these images? Or were people open to being photographed?

Most people are pretty open to being photographed. There are enough photos of Haiti’s poverty. I never want to focus on that. When people realize that you’re not there to photograph the poverty they open up. They laugh at me because my Creole is really bad too. Haitian men in general do not grow beards either. So having a long beard makes you somewhat of a spectacle. One older woman called me over and actually felt my beard.

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How did you grow as a photographer during this journey?

This trip was my first larger personal project in awhile. Personal projects are important because you’re shooting for yourself. You have total freedom to take it wherever you want.

How did this trip affect you? What were your feelings before you arrived and how did you feel upon leaving? Where do you go from here as a photographer? What’s next for you?

I know that I will continue shooting in Haiti. I haven’t decided the next step though. A lot of the orphans are set to graduate from the school onsite. I’ve also kicked around the idea of a “Help Portrait Haiti” project. Two of the older orphans are engaged, and I’m currently saving money to shoot their wedding.

View more of Rodger’s work at his site (http://rodgerobley.com) and you can follow him Twitter 

Shelby Horne

Shelby Horne is a freshman studying Photojournalism at Point Park University. This was her first time covering a major news event in the city of Pittsburgh.

On February 7th, a memorial service was held for Rocco, a K-9 police dog. Rocco suffered a fatal wound while on duty trying to subdue a suspect. Over 1,200 people showed up for the memorial at Saints & Sailors Memorial Hall located in Oakland. Shelby Horne covered the event for Christopher Rolinson’s photography class.

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Since this was my first time covering a big news event, I did not know what to think. Along with excitement, I was also very nervous. I had no expectations of how it would work. Once I arrived there, the nervousness dissolved leaving me with all the overbearing excitement. Even though the mood of the event wasn’t pleasant, the energy that surrounded me was rather comforting. Once I soaked in my environment, I started shooting. When I have my camera in my hand I zone out, nothing else matters. It was very intimating because here I was, just a girl with a camera, next to all these official news medias with their cameras. I felt out of place, but I didn’t let that stop me. It was very fun getting to meet new people and to shoot such an important, meaningful event. There were points that I did not know if I was in the way or if I was even allowed to be in that specific spot to shoot, but I took the risk. Overall this was a great learning experience that I will certainly not forget. I really look forward to covering more news events.

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Bob Myers, 64, of Franklin Pennsylvania  holds a American flag outside of Soilders and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland, Pittsburgh before the procession of Rocco the fallen police dog’s funeral.

John West

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                 Portrait of Josh Hairston, Forward, Duke Basketball

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        A photograph of a man walking down the street in Remedios, Cuba

It’s been awhile since we’ve talked. What kind of photography adventures have you gotten yourself into since leaving Point Park?

It has been a while since we last spoke. My adventures in photography have taken me around the world working for different clients and has given me the opportunity to tell stories and meet people who I otherwise would have never known. Growing as a person and growing through photography I’ve found myself in such countries as Cuba, Argentina, Austria, Mexico, Panama, Ireland and all throughout the United States. Connecting with people who believe in the power of the photograph as much as I do.

When we were in school together you were always chasing freelance work or looking for a way to sell prints. I’m a firm believer in the idea that “You can’t teach hustle.” Where do you get this drive to pitch ideas and create images?

I guess I get my drive from wanting to be business minded and successful, not only in my craft, but financially also. I’ve always been stubborn in the way that if I really wanted something I didn’t take “No” for an answer…polite persistence. So, when I “Hustled” for jobs it was because I like the money that I was getting, the recognition for my work and the simple fact that I can be out every day doing what I love. Photography! Seriously! They’re only a few things in life that are better than that. Meeting people, making deadlines and photographing…it drives me.

You’ve got some really strong portrait work on your site. What attracts you to photograph certain subjects? It looks like a lot of them are just street portraits, are you starting a conversation with them? Trying to find out a better idea of what kind of life they are living?

Well thank you for the kind words. One thing I really like to do is to get lost in a city. I mean really get lost. Most of the countries I visit it’s fun to do, but some countries it’s down right deadly. It’s all about meeting people, getting out of your comfort zone, establishing connections. Always make the connection with your eyes, your voice, your body language, but never just take the picture. Photographs are never taken; they’re given (Anonymous). I try not and talk so much with words; I just try and establish a connection to get that one moment in time with the camera. A moment when the eyes look into the lens and reveals who a person is.

I always thought you were a great conversationalist when it came to telling stories. Do you think this has helped define your style?

I have the gift of gab that’s for sure! Its help out a lot and at the same time it has made for some awkward moments. I like to talk, bust jokes and tell stories. It kind of goes along with my style; I am a photojournalist at heart…no doubt about that. Everything I know about pictures is laid out in stories, both in my mind, the way I execute and how I want it to flow. Isn’t everything a story? Just like the way I like to tell stories verbally, with a lot of description, I want my photographs, multimedia pieces and documentaries to be the same. Descriptive, creative and hopefully informational or at least something you can take away and think about.

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A young boy protesting abortion in Charlotte at the 2012 Democratic National Convention

Some photographers go to school to learn, others skip school and assist or go to workshops. Why did you choose to go to a university and how has it helped you?

I chose to go to school and learn from people who came before me. I had the skills as a photographer, but I had no background in photojournalism. What the university taught me was to define and tighten my skills with professional guidance, at the same time giving me an ethical foundation in my core course of study; photojournalism. You can go at it by yourself, especially if you’re a photographer, but as a photojournalist I highly recommend school. I’ve seen too many untrained “photojournalist”, mainly freelance, make big, unethical mistakes and not even have a clue as to what they are doing wrong. Going to school at a university level teaches you this. You make the mistakes before you enter the professional world. Once a professional, or at that level, there are no excuse. You read about these stories almost on a daily basis in the photojournalism world, mostly about freelance wire photographers relying to heavily on Photoshop.

Lately I’ve noticed you begin to move into the world of video. How has the transition to another media gone for you? What have you learned?

I have been moving into the world of video and now in my new position at the Triangle Business Journal it is almost a full requirement. If you are in the world of photojournalism and aren’t using video you have just dated yourself and most likely pink slipped yourself. The whole, “I’m a photographer not a videographer,” argument is as old as Coke vs. Pepsi or East Coast/West Coast (East Coast by the way) rants. Using video is giving your craft a whole new layer, a new dimension a new perspective. I will never fore go the still image…let me rephrase that…NEVER! I will, however, continuously add tools to my toolbox to up the game of my storytelling outlet. I’ve learned a lot by using video, both in capture, ingest and the whole post-­‐process technique. I’ve learned by making mistakes and making a thousand more. I’ve learned by getting out and getting content. Make it happen. Images are never taken, but given. You can’t obtain good quality content if you are not willing to go after it and give what it takes to make it happen.

Candlelight Vigil to honor women who suffer or have lost their lives to domestic violence

Let’s say I’m a student in school right now, a senior photo major to be more precise. What advice do you have for me before I jump into the giant ocean known as the photo industry and try to swim.

The biggest advice I have to give to all soon-­‐to-­‐be graduates getting ready to jump into the over saturated rip current known as the “Professional Photo World”. Be business savvy, know your audience and don’t try to be everything to everyone. My first point is important. If you are going to run a business, run a business! You’re the CEO, Player/President! You better know how to file as a business, how to incorporate, how to negotiate. It isn’t a glamorous world of people knocking down your door and flying you to exotic locations, it’s a world of showing your worth, both in yourself, your company and your craft. Negotiation is key. What is your day rate, hourly, weekly, equipment insurance, studio (if you require one) lawyers fee to get through all the hoopla, etc…There’s a lot to consider when running as business. How much do you pay yourself? Or are you working for free? Or even worse! Are you paying your client to work for them?

 

What’s the best place for me to get BBQ in North Carolina?

The best place in my neck of the woods of NC (Piedmonts) to get some good ‘Cue would be Backyard Barbecue off of Highway 55 in Durham, but lately I’ve found a place in Downtown Raleigh that has the best smoked brisket I have ever had, named Big Mike’s Barbecue. It’s part of the View Bar, but that’s another story. National Geographic named the Skylight Inn in Ayden, N.C. as the best barbecue in the country in 1978. I’ve been there a couple of time and it’s also really good! Done the old fashion way of chopping hog on the wood block after it’s smoked for 16 hours to get that chopped barbecue (some called it pulled pork, but that’s completely different).

(To view more work done by West visit his site at http://www.westdocumentaries.com)

Any questions for West? Feel free to contact him here west@westdocumentaries.com

Follow West on Twitter @westdocs

Sean McKeag

I began Point Park University in January, 2011 and all I had was an interest in photography. I really wanted to be a photographer for National Geographic, just like most people.  As I progressed through school, I realized that not only do I have an interest in photography but also absolutely love talking to people.  And those two things, I soon found out, really work together well.  I was taking pictures of anyone that I thought was interesting.

I love taking environmental portraits and I love to see how someone reacts to the space around them.  Recently, I started to take a multimedia approach to my work.  There is almost nothing that can stand up against the importance of a still image, but with the addition to other things, such as audio and video, the storytelling process only gets more interesting and the people now have a voice.

As I go through my last semester, I’m excited about my future.  The world’s a scary place, right? So why not document it.

Allison Duda

My name is Allison Duda and I am a freshman Photojournalism student. I chose to attend Point Park University because I heard very positive reviews about the education, and I thought it would be a good place to transition from living in a small town by Erie to hopefully an even larger city someday. 

These photos are part of a series I created called Pittsburgh’s Melting Pot. I have always been fascinated by the stories we all have to tell such as where we came from and what cultures we choose to live. With being new to the city, I found that there are a variety of people who are unique and seem to have interesting stories to tell. I approached the people in these photographs and struck up small conversations with them about where they came from. I felt that it was super important to document them in their raw element. I feel so passionate about this series and plan to continue this! 

As for my next project, I plan on doing a series of self portraits throughout my day called A Day in the Life. I really want to capture my life in the moment and have something to remember it by. I will be using a Polaroid camera that my Grandfather just recently passed down to me. As for after college, I aspire to move to California and create a life out of doing work for some magazines and doing my own freelance work as well!

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Kris Punturere

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Who are you and why did you decide to come to Point Park?

My name is Kristian Punturere, Kris for short. I am a freelance photographer from Los Angeles, California. I came here more for the experience of living far from home and not so much for the school itself, although this school has opened up my artistic world to various opportunities for which I am grateful. 

What kind of work are we looking at? 

We are looking at documentary style photographs I guess you could say. These are some select images from my “A Day in The Life” series I did with my best bud and ultra-talented skater Kevin Mayorga when I was back home in L.A for Thanksgiving break. 

Why did you create these images?

Well originally I was going to make a film about Kevin, but I decided a photo story would mean so much more to both him and I. This guy has been one of my closest friends for about a year now and he has taught me so much about myself and how far I can really stretch my work. Our days usually consist of what you see in these images, hanging out and finding skate spots for him to do what he loves which in turn always allows me to do what I love to do. Both of our passions work together perfectly, I will always enjoy photographing him and he always has said that he will never prefer anyones photographs of himself over mine. With this project I hoped to tell the story of our friendship.

Where are you looking to go from here?

I’m looking at many more personal projects this up and coming year. I am moving back to Los Angeles after 1st semester ends and I am hoping to collaborate with as many other artists as possible including my girlfriend Sara Pierce who is also a phenomenal photographer and all around visual artist. Aside from personal projects I have a possible job shooting promotional material for the famed shoe company PF Flyers. I also will be shooting a wedding this coming summer with Sara as well as a few events. Im also hoping to grow as a fashion, street, editorial, fine art and wedding photographer. This next year(I am hoping) will be a year of personal growth and hands-on experience as an artist and photographer. The possibilities are endless right now and I sure am thankful for what I have coming up this year to say the least.