A love letter to photography

A student shares how he has grown as a person through his photography.

Listen to the author read their essay.

While studying at Cheltenham High School, I began a photography project called “Humans of Cheltenham,” inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York.

One of the people I photographed was my friend Sherleena Hoque, who grew up with an East Asian culture in her home, struggled with fitting in and wanting to participate in her school community.

She opened up to me about how she felt sheltered growing up, how her family would not let her attend school dances and other activities, and how her experiences made her more outspoken and comfortable with who she was over time. 

When taking photographs of her, I wanted to visualize the emotions about her struggles and her perseverance, and capture her character.

Capturing her story, along with 24 others during the project, developed my love for photography and led me to pursue a career in photojournalism, the art of storytelling through photographs.

Using the project as a platform, I grew an appreciation for hearing people’s stories and learning about their diverse perspectives. I did photo shoots with students and alumni, and then recorded interviews with them, transcribing quotes about their experiences, advice and their emotions.

Being able to connect with people through my work filled me with a sense of accomplishment and excitement that I continue to feel to this today.

Photography, as an art form and as a career, became my passion, and in the past three years, it’s allowed me to grow as a person more than I ever thought possible.

I first started taking photos during a trip to my home country of the Philippines in the summer of 2016. I began documenting my travels through Instagram, taking pictures with my phone and telling stories in my posts.

When I returned back to the United States, I used money I saved up and bought myself my first camera: a Nikon D3300. I remember the moment I first opened the box and snapped that first photo, in the mirror of my bedroom. 

How I could capture a moment in a photograph and visualize an idea, an emotion, a story — it fascinated me.

When I became a senior in 2018, I began looking at colleges to apply to, where I could study photojournalism. I decided to look into Temple, as it was close enough to home, and many of my friends went there.

At one of their fall open houses, I learned about the photojournalism programs and opportunities they offered in the form of a journalism major track, and the student-run newspaper, The Temple News.

I got accepted, and shortly after officially committed to Temple’s class of 2022. 

When I began my freshman year last fall, I joined The Temple News as a freelance photographer, picking up stories to photograph. 

I had never worked for a publication before, so I felt nervous about taking photos at first, but as I gained experience, I became more confident in my skills.

As a passion project, I began “Owls of Temple,” an Instagram page similar to “Humans of Cheltenham,” where I photographed and interviewed students, faculty and community members. This project became popular around campus, and it was featured in an article in the paper and a segment on TV. 

Every time I connected with someone, heard their story and photographed them, I felt empowered and entered a state of flow – a state of heightened focus and blissful immersion experienced when engaging in an activity that you enjoy.

Because of this project, I formed new connections with the people I photographed, forging friendships and even a romantic relationship between two students who met through reading each other’s posts -— not only was I able to make my own connections, but through my photography, I created a platform for people to connect with each other.

I felt like I had a stronger purpose in my work, knowing that I could make an impact in the lives of the people who shared their stories with me and let me take their photographs.

After spending my spring semester consistently freelancing for The Temple News and taking a work-intensive photojournalism class, I applied to be the assistant photo editor on the staff for the 2019-20 school year, and I earned the position.

I began taking photos nearly every day, working relentlessly on assignments, on top of balancing classes. 

I learned the importance of time management, holding myself responsible for my priorities and taking the time to rest and take care of my health, as it became rigorous and often stressful to manage. 

Photography helped me develop the ability to connect with others through my work. It empowered me and fulfilled me while I was branching out of my comfort zone. 

In capturing stories of others through photography and portraying their most truthful nature, I found myself and what I was meant to do with my life.

Listen to how the author was inspired to write this essay.

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