Two years ago, I did not own a camera. Honestly, I didn’t even take particularly good pictures on my phone. In high school, my artistic side focused on singing in an a cappella group. I was a singer. Other kids worked at the literary magazine and went to poetry club meetings every Wednesday. They were the writers. The politicians were on student council and sat on the board of education as student representatives, and the humanitarians collected money for UNICEF. Similarly, the photographers worked in the photo section of the newspaper. By my insecure 15-year-old logic, I was not, and could never really be, a photographer.
It is still puzzling, sometimes, that only two years after graduating high school I think of myself, and hopefully am thought of, as a photographer — though my passion for singing has not changed.
My camera, a Nikon D5200, usually fitted with a zoom lens for convenience and a fixed 50 mm when I’m feeling snobby, is only 2 years old. Yet something about getting it for my birthday in late September of my freshman year makes being a photographer so deeply intermingled with my career at Georgetown that I can now only vaguely imagine what I would be doing if I weren’t.
If I were not a photographer, I would not be able to count on both hands the number of times I have almost spent the entire night in the Gelardin New Media Center editing room or the Walsh Building’s multimedia and dark rooms. If I were not a photographer, my Instagram posts and Facebook profile pictures would be stagnant at 15 likes each, if I was lucky. If I were not a photographer, I would probably be a much lonelier person.
Taking a picture to me is inescapably social. Making friends with people you never would have met if you weren’t taking their picture is hard to avoid if you’re a photographer on a campus full of people and student groups in constant need of headshots, class photos and campaign posters. I say that without complaint, as someone who was so nervous and antisocial that he did not say his first word at college until the second day of New Student Orientation.
I doubt that I am as knowledgeable as I should be about my craft. It’s true that I admire a handful of the legends and upcoming stars of this field and I get excited about exhibitions of their work in Chelsea or the Upper East Side of Manhattan, both 10 minutes from my house this summer. I have taken enough photography classes to feel comfortable with exposure techniques and editing with Photoshop.
What gives me this sense of doubt is that I am, for the most part, not in it to make a statement. I am not in this field to be profound or blaze a trail through an uncomfortable conversation, as much of today’s art can sometimes be spun into trying to do.
The most important question I ask myself in critique of my work is not whether it is strikingly meaningful or artistic enough, but simply whether I like the way it looks, whether I have done a good job of capturing the thing I set out to photograph, whether I, looking back on it a few years from now, will smile at the memory.
In all honesty, I am a photographer because of the Phantoms. I took my first picture with my 2-year-old camera in October of my freshman year, at a wedding I was singing at with the Phantoms. The excitement with which the group was hurriedly posing for pictures, laughing at some of the unfortunate candids and passing my camera off to others to pull me into the frame made it one of the best days of my life. Photography, this new, awkward thing I had picked up on a whim, was quickly throwing me into a new role of documenting backstage antics, formal performances and parties.
I do not plan on making a career in art out of taking pictures. Frankly, I’m not sure if I am good enough at it to make a living from it, but more importantly, I don’t see myself wanting to, either.
As a photographer, I have a few small, simple dreams. I hope to photograph my family at barbecues and birthday parties. I hope to photograph my kids on their first day of school. I hope to travel the world, meet people and take a few good pictures. It has become more of a hobby than anything else in my life, even though the amount of time I currently spend coordinating photo shoots and covering big, serious events may indicate otherwise.
A long time from now, I will probably come across an art project I’m currently working on, a set of 26 portraits featuring models with large, messy letters scrawled over their faces and bodies in face paint, and wonder what I was trying to get at.
I’m all but sure that I will also find the countless pictures I’ve taken of my friends and family at parties or out to dinner or spending the day outside, and consider them all the more entertaining and infinitely more valuable.
Jinwoo Chong is a junior in the College. Life In Art appears every Friday, written by different members of campus performing arts groups.
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