As a tour guide, I hear countless questions—some amusing, some poignant, some frankly ridiculous—about Columbia and the admissions process, most of which need no repeating since we were all inquisitive juniors in high school many moons ago. Perhaps the most common question asked of me is to describe my time at Columbia. In attempting to respond, I frequently find myself reflecting upon my four years in Morningside Heights as if I were looking through the lens of my camera.
Photography is an enormous part of who I am and how I express myself. It is what brought me to Spectator in my freshman year. I quickly snatched up assignments, and somehow became an associate photo editor my first week at Columbia. I met people, familiarized myself with the newspaper, and learned about campus life. I even found myself staring into the muzzle of a sniper rifle as I leaned out of a Carman window hoping to photograph Ahmadinejad’s exit from Lerner Hall. Despite fascinating assignments and admittedly gut-wrenching moments, the work grew slightly monotonous. Sleepless Sunday nights blurred together. Finding awkward wrestling pictures for Sports Monday lost its entertainment value. And lastly, there are only so many photos of Manhattanville one can edit before losing one’s sanity. So after two years, I quit Spectator, an action many Speccies—past and present—know all too well.
In reality, however, Spectator and I were only on a break. Over a few pints of shamefully horrendous cider in Scotland, a dear friend and last year’s publisher convinced me to run for Alumni Director, a position that I honestly didn’t know existed. But I found a new home in this role, and it gave me the opportunity to serve on two managing boards. Through this reinvigorated spirit for Spectator, I felt a greater sense of pride in my work, even if I was just schmoozing and bringing in cash from our esteemed alumni.
Despite my changing gears at Spectator, photography remained a significant part of my life in the weeks and years to follow. More and more, I found myself walking onto campus with my Nikon SLR, photographing snow piled on Alma’s crown, the blossoms along College Walk, or the green copper roofs as seen from the top of Mudd. I took solace in looking through my lens and observing the beauty and potential of what lay before me. The ability to capture reality while simultaneously choosing what to show in each composition is an almost magical experience, and I feel fortunate that I have a mechanical eye to notice what oftentimes goes unobserved.
In essence, photography allows me to create memories to which I will be able to return long after I exit the gates of Columbia in a few short weeks. Many of these moments are related to Spec, but the snapshots I have of my time at the newspaper are not exhaustive of my academic and social endeavors in college. In fact, Spectator is just one of many things that has defined my Columbia experience. I have many fond recollections of Spec—some I remember well, others I know only through hearsay, and a few more that are not appropriate to recount in this setting. But life exists beyond the comforting walls of 2875 Broadway. Both inside and outside Spectator, photography has helped me witness facets of Columbia I otherwise would not have noticed.
So when prospective students ask me, ever so vaguely, what Columbia is like, I tell them just to take some time and walk around campus. Sit on the steps of Low Library and watch the school community pass by you. Grab a cup of joe in any campus café and take note of student interactions and table conversations. I wish I could tell them without sounding like a crazy photographer, to view Columbia as if they were looking through the lens of a camera, documenting different scenes of campus life that they will be able to view when they are not here.
I hope that this column escapes the confines of esotericism to which many senior columns for Spectator are held prisoner. The art of visually capturing moments of reality with the click of a button and the snap of a flash is something that extends beyond the daily folds of the newspaper. In my opinion, it resonates, frequently on a personal level, with a much wider audience. We all love looking at pictures, and most of us would agree that an image really is worth a thousand words. So, with some parting advice for any interested readers, keep calm and photograph on.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in political science. He was associate photography editor on the 131st, 132nd, and 133rd associate boards, alumni director on the 133rd and 134th managing boards, and is currently a visuals staffer for The Eye.