Opinion | Columns

Seeing Columbia through a lens

On a sunny September day in 2007, I slipped past the officers guarding the Journalism School building and climbed to the top floor. I opened the window and leaned out, carefully fixing my camera settings as I aimed my telephoto lens at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s black SUV. With my finger halfway on the shutter, a woman burst into the room with terror in her voice. “Sniper weapons are being pointed at you,” she informed me, pulling me away from the window. “You must clear the area.” I decided this was not a point I was going to argue and walked away. At least to my knowledge, I’d never had a gun aimed at me before, and I’ve never since. As I walked away, I ruminated on the fact that I could have been killed, but also wondered: how did I develop this gravitas to rival Colbert’s?

I came to Spectator’s open house on a whim during my sophomore year. I didn’t really care about the paper itself, but just tagged along with my roommate of now four years. I’d had enough of writing from class, so I decided to join the photo department as a novice photographer.

The longer I worked for Spec, the more I observed through the lens of my camera. I developed an enhanced sense of both myself and of human nature. My camera created a distance between the subject and myself that gave me the freedom to get “the shot.” I had to be willing to put myself on the line and get into the action in a way I never had before. Whether it was almost getting sniped or heading over to Harlem at 3 a.m. to snap photos of an infamous felon leaving the precinct, I learned to capture a moment that effectively communicates an occurrence without saying a single word. I chose photography and, in the end, realized why it came to define me—just as photography captures a moment, I live for experiencing the moment.

Photography is, in its essence, living in the moment. I often find it hard to express my feelings with words. Because of that, I used to have a tendency to close myself off from others. But, as a friend of mine recently told me, sometimes language fails. Although language generally does us well, there are those times when what is seen or felt cannot truly be described. It is in these cases that artistic expressions such as photography can say everything that needs to be said. Through photography, I had found my voice. As this self and my photographer self became fused, this became less and less of a problem. I was no longer scared to put myself out there and instead welcomed every opportunity and experience that came my way. It became my mission to live my life free from ridiculous stressors, like the opinions of those around me. I realized that, in reality, these worries are just our own insecurities projected onto other people. No one really cares about what others do or say and if they do, it’s fleeting and something they’ll forget about after a while—so why waste our time thinking about it and letting it affect what we do? Life is all about experiences and everything is worth trying once, as long as it doesn’t kill you.

When I became photo editor, I began devoting more and more hours to Spectator. I don’t regret all those hours in the office and all the sacrifices I had to make because I had an experience I will never forget. I definitely appreciate the opportunities I’ve had at this university, but school is not everything. During my time here, I’ve tried to expand the interactions I’ve had and get in as many experiences as possible. Spectator gave me a sense of freedom as a photographer that I eventually transferred to the way I live my life. All of the people I met there, no matter how insignificant our interactions were, definitely shaped who I am, even if they just helped me pinpoint certain elements that I avoid in my own personality. I also believe that we should make an effort to value others and never simply disregard them because every interaction is worth something. In the past four years, I have learned that there is an infinite number of routes that will take you to the path that is right for you, so why not try a few until you reach your destination?

The author is a Barnard College senior majoring in economics. She is a senior staff photographer for Spectator Photo. She was a photo associate and photo news deputy for the 131st Managing Board. She was the photo editor for the 132nd Managing Board.

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