Personal Statement: Coming into Focus

Tuesday, November 29, 2016 - 8:58pm

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Photo courtesy of Zoey Holmstrom

 

I never understood the hype, and I’m still not really sure if I do. The aura that surrounds sports at the University of Michigan is unique, and as a photojournalist for The Michigan Daily, I view it all from a unique perspective. It’s humbling to stand on a field surrounded by thousands of screaming fans that live and breathe Michigan sports while I, as a photojournalist, must remain neutral. I had never cared about Michigan or its sporting teams until I began photographing them.

I never understood why people became so emotionally distraught after a loss or called their rivals such awful names. As a photojournalist, my job is to take experiences that I see through my viewfinder and present them to our readers in an unbiased fashion. Through my experience, I’ve captured the raw emotions and passions that people have for this school and its teams. The genuine passion, heartbreak and cheers from fans, along with players’ intricate athleticism, have allowed me to understand in a small sense the immense pride that these Michigan fans display. It’s even made me reflect on one of my own passions as well: the practice of photography.

I began to seriously consider photography in high school when I took AP Studio Art my senior year. My teacher was the first person that really believed in my passions for the craft, and I’ll forever be thankful for the confidence he instilled in me. Through his guidance and encouragement, I decided to attend Ohio University to study photojournalism, a major that seemed to combine two of my passions in high school: writing and photography.

At Ohio University, I enrolled in my first college-level photography class and was shocked about everything I didn’t know. My high school classes never spoke about things like F-stops or ISO numbers, and I felt incredibly lost. One of my first photo assignments at OU required us to shoot a sporting event. I hadn’t photographed any sort of sport prior to college, and I chose to attend a field hockey game. I entered the field with some other classmates, and after reviewing my photos I felt a sense of confidence arise. However, my photos were torn to shreds the next day, quickly erasing my positive thoughts and sending me into a spiral of self-doubt in my photography.

Pulitzer-winning professors and kids with years of high school photography experience and classes under their belts surrounded me; I was attending one of the best schools for photojournalism in the country. It seemed as though my dreams would come true and I would someday land that dream job at National Geographic every photographer wants at some point in their journey. But I was completely lost. They all knew how to capture the perfect photos in comparison to the images I was producing, and really knew how to connect with their subjects on a deep, personal level. One of the most important aspects to photography is building a connection with subjects to create a more natural feel in photographs, something that I wasn’t achieving at all. The passion that I let lead me to OU seemed to be quickly depleting, and I wanted out of that corner of southeast Ohio as quickly as possible. The medium that had once given me confidence and purpose had proven to be a fluke, or so it seemed.

I was too overwhelmed with the stress I felt at OU, and I knew the photojournalism lifestyle wasn’t for me. I saw how it affected my peers: biting their nails until they were raw after class critiques, many tears and the feeling of worthlessness. I decided that photography was something I no longer had a passion for because of all the emotional stress it brought upon me. This led to my decision to look elsewhere for school, and I ended up at the University of Michigan. When I was accepted to Michigan, I never thought I’d pick up a camera again for a publication. I was ecstatic to leave Ohio in my past and travel back to my home state to attend college. When I loaded the car to depart for Ann Arbor going into sophomore year, I remember almost forgetting to bring my camera. On a whim, I threw it into the trunk, and it traveled with me.

Though my time at Ohio University wasn’t ideal, I wouldn’t trade this experience for an extra year at Michigan. The experience and photography knowledge I gained are invaluable, and it truly helped widen my perspective. I recognize, now, that I needed to be torn apart to build upon my practice and I could never achieve great photos if I was never criticized for my subpar work that I was producing at OU.

My first sport assignment for the Daily was a women’s basketball game. I walked into the Crisler Center, and I know I must’ve had a dumbfounded face because a member of the event staff immediately asked if it was my first time in the building. I made my way to the sideline under the basket and took a seat on the blue-stained hardwood and let the feeling sink in. Though there were hardly any fans in attendance and the team hadn’t exited the locker room yet, I was hit with a feeling of pride — a virtue I hardly ever allow myself to feel at all, let alone in great depth. This feeling was a sort of validation that I needed with my photography: despite the fact that I was no longer studying it professionally, I was beginning to pick up events that held greater importance than anything I photographed in Ohio.

When I left Ohio, I never expected that, within the following two years, I would see president-elect Donald Trump passionately explain his platform to his supporters in Novi, Twenty One Pilots from two feet away, football coach Jim Harbaugh at the unveiling of Michigan’s new Jumpman football jerseys and Iowa football fans swept up in a crowd celebrating a win against Michigan. During these experiences, I’ve had these small moments of pride, and I’ve allowed them to drive my ambition in all of the events that I cover.

This past October, I walked onto the plush turf of the Big House and was greeted with cheers and whistles. Sure, these cheers weren’t directed at me, but I immediately felt a sense of pride and accomplishment. Just like in Crisler, I paused outside the tunnel (probably blocking someone’s way) and allowed myself to stop and soak in the feeling that swirls around the stadium on Saturdays. Standing on the field was one of the most surreal feelings that I’ve ever felt, and it has lingered with me even a month after the game.

Through photography, I have found a voice through which I feel that I can truly speak. Though I don’t specialize in posed portraits, I am able to capture the essence of everyday life and moments that aren’t always seen. I feel as though I have a true calling to capture a small essence of life’s candid moments. This ideology has definitely manifested itself when I cover sports for the Daily. Often, my favorite photos aren’t of the game itself, but of intimate moments that occur on the sidelines or in between plays.

My contraption of metal and glass has given me a comfort through my trials of self-doubt, a comfort that despite the feeling of drowning, I can find hope in my subjects. I’ve not only allowed it to become a sense of comfort, but also a method to push myself further through all that I do.

Though I still may not understand the undying love for something like sports, I am forever grateful that it has allowed me to find my own passions behind the lens.