Who would have thought the day would come when a photographer would write an editor’s note?
Within The Chronicle, the photo department is known for our overwhelming lack of pens and pencils, the absurd number of Oreo boxes that lay throughout the hall and the ridiculous pictures that decorate our walls and ceilings. Some of these photographs depict our most memorable moments at Duke, which, as you can imagine, are 98% of the time sports-related. What you might not have predicted is our most popular photographs are not artsy portraits, concerts or even important speakers. I wish I were joking, but the truth is, we have more lemur pictures than we do any of any single being, with the exception of Coach K. Needless to say we should potentially re-evaluate what we consider “cute.” The Chapel comes in second, with pictures from every conceivable angle, boasting the true Duke Dream. Last, but certainly not least, are photos of our staff as we slowly lose sanity, either during production or at social functions, making for awkward stares and questionable looks as freshmen stroll by toward other departments. Some photos are more embarrassing—or compromising—than others, but they bring a smile to my face. And then there’s the photographs we publish, the everyday artwork that might be overlooked, that is nevertheless art, my art, the material I’ve learned to love.
When I started at Duke freshman year, I had a dozen clubs in mind that I was adamant about joining, more than I could name. Coming from an educational system where I had class for eleven hours a day, the freedom and opportunities that university presented were overwhelming. However, when I finally took the time to analyze how I wanted to spend my four years at college, I realized that what I was most interested in was not necessarily to join the ski club, or to be part of the debate team. These were passions that I had pursued in high school and in my free time, but I wanted something that would benefit and inform my fellow students. Art was a field that I had never actually dabbled in, mainly because I had no platform to use, and little to no artistic talent to showcase. Yet as the idea of art took hold in my mind, I felt compelled to engage with it, even though I thought I had nothing to offer. Call it an existential crisis if you will, though temporary and short-lived. This was when photography caught my fancy. If I could not dazzle the world with my literary prowess, or impress it with my less-than-melodic voice, perhaps I could grab students’ attention through the photographs they see in the newspaper every day.
Unlike other forms of art, which give the artist the opportunity to imagine something outside the world, photography give me the opportunity to immortalize a moment and show it to others from my perspective. There’s also the added advantage of press passes that allow me to attend amazing events such as basketball games, concerts and sold-out talks with famous speakers. But if I could choose to cover only one type of event for the rest of my life, it would be sports. While spectators struggle to keep up with the fast pace of players, with a camera, I have the power to slow time down. Though writers often focus on the sequence of events, photographers must take the time to analyze the people they shoot. We notice little things that others may not, even if we can’t explain those things in words. There is a silent bond between photographer and subject. These people trust us to portray them kindly. In the least cliché way possible, a photograph allows me to convey much more than I ever could in words.
One year later, my roommate jokes that she lives in a relatively big single, since I spend most of my waking hours outside class in the Chronicle office. Though she grossly overestimates the size of our miniscule Edens room, she is right about one thing: The Chronicle does take up most of my time. Spending countless hours in an enclosed space and dealing with impromptu changes and the frustration that often ensues only creates stronger camaraderie between us. By the end of the night, or the beginning of the morning, my fellow photographers have seen me at my best and worst, accepted my sometimes-bizarre music taste, eaten my Oreos and embraced my singing, however off-key. Most times, I choose to stay in the office, not only because I have the opportunity to work with extremely talented photographers but also because I have found an environment that I am comfortable in.
When I look at my time at Duke thus far, I doubt that I would’ve done anything differently. Perhaps I should have taken the time to discover Durham while living on East, and not taken biology freshman year; other than that, I could not imagine myself spending this much time in any other office, room or eatery. It’s still my priority to go to law school, but I am relieved to have a space outside of the academic sphere that I can use both as a refuge and as a platform to transmit my personal form of art. Despite my occasional complaints and sarcastic remarks, the photography department and Recess have allowed me to discover parts of myself and of the university that I did not even know existed, and otherwise may never have stumbled upon.
I am trying to convey a simple notion: art is what you make it. You don’t need to be an “artist” in the traditional sense of the term to appreciate or even produce art. Anything can be artistic and enjoyable, if you put your mind to it. Anything but berry Oreos. Take it from someone who knows.