Hope Grunert

College student Hope Grunert is already a way into her image making journey, and tentative steps have become bold strides. She joins Karen Hutton in Zion, to spread her wings and soar

Hope, 19, is a junior at State University of New York at New Paltz for photojournalism. Growing up in Buffalo with two creatives as parents and three dogs as photo subjects, Hope fell in love with image-making at 8 years old. She took her first summer program at CEPA four years later and the program changed her life, opening her up to seeing the world through a new lens. She loves both nature and people, and has been focusing on black-and-white street photography for the past year, with a heavy emphasis on everyday moments in the city. This year, her goal is to push herself outside the cliché and her comfort zone, and distinguish her work through her creative voice. She is beginning to work on her thesis project, which will incorporate her own story of struggling with anxiety and the fear of messing up. She recently participated in CEPA’s Photography Works program, where she won a solo exhibition, currently being prepared for this October.

Photo 2022 © Hope Grunert | FUJIFILM X-T5 and FUJINON XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR, 1/1250 sec at F7.1, ISO 400

On the Creative Path

Who can say, in this life, which passions will grasp us and when? Some wait decades before a fortuitous seed is planted. Others find it germinating from birth, with the fervent pursuit of mastery underway when life has barely begun.

Hope Grunert is one such artist, whose dreams have been fostered from a young age by the Center for Exploratory and Perceptual Arts (CEPA) Gallery. With no photographic opportunities through school, this aspect of her education was undertaken during summers with the Buffalo, NY-based non-profit – and any time that could be made in-between. Over time, talents flourished. Today, Hope is at college, beginning to forge her own path.

“One week I’d be learning the basics of a DSLR, the next I’d be in the darkroom,” she recalls, looking back to years gone by. “I got my first camera when I graduated eighth grade, which CEPA helped me learn how to use. I really owe them a lot – especially Lauren.

“This past summer, she emailed and said, ‘There’s an opportunity I can’t tell you anything about, but just know it’s once in a lifetime. Let me know if you’re interested.’ When you hear that, you can’t say no,” Hope continues. “All I knew was that it was a mentorship. I thought I’d stay right here in New York City.”

Photo 2022 © Hope Grunert | FUJIFILM X-T5 and FUJINON XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR, 1/1250 sec at F7.1, ISO 400

Photo 2022 © Hope Grunert | FUJIFILM X-T5 and FUJINON XF30mmF2.8 R LM WR Macro, 1/500 sec at F5, ISO 400

Photo 2022 © Hope Grunert | FUJIFILM X-T5 and FUJINON XF30mmF2.8 R LM WR Macro, 1/500 sec at F5, ISO 400

Little did Hope know, she was 2000 miles off the mark. As details were revealed, it became clear she would travel to Zion, Utah, to be a solitary mentee of Karen Hutton, FUJIFILM X-Photographer and nature photographer extraordinaire. A far cry from her life in the city – and typically metropolitan photographic interests – the trip would soon become life-changing.

“When I was paired with Karen to learn about landscapes, I was surprised, but knew it would all make sense. Then I met her, and it clicked – we’re very similar creatives,” she notes. “We think the same and share a set of values. I also realized that, in a sense, my street photographs are urban landscapes – considering my interest isn’t only the human subject, but their environment. Thankfully, it wasn’t a super difficult jump. There was a lot for me to learn, but Karen was there to give me helpful tips, and I’m willing to embrace that kind of change right now because I want to grow as a photographer.”

Photo 2022 © Hope Grunert | FUJIFILM X-T5 and FUJINON XF30mmF2.8 R LM WR Macro, 1/60 sec at F2.8, ISO 800

True to Karen’s own approach, the lessons she imparted upon Hope were based around traditional landscape techniques less so than a considered mental approach. While the ability to balance an exposure or focus stack for added depth-of-field can be taken onboard in a single lesson, the capacity for strong storytelling and true intention may take a lifetime to discover alone.

“We talked a lot about the importance of feeling awe as you make an image, and Zion is a perfect place for that. Everywhere you look, it’s breathtaking. Photographically, you constantly have things you can work with,” Hope explains.

“It’s so massive, but Karen taught me that, when you look at a landscape, you have to break it down. Take it in as a whole scene first, then find the stories within the wider frame. Everything is like a giant play. You just need to find the characters and their narratives. That was hard, because usually there’s a human element in my stories. But when you’re in a place that’s just nature, you have to think differently, and I started to envision these scenes in my head.

Photo 2022 © Hope Grunert | FUJIFILM X-T5 and FUJINON XF30mmF2.8 R LM WR Macro, 1/60 sec at F2.8, ISO 800

Photo 2022 © Hope Grunert | FUJIFILM X-T5 and FUJINON XF30mmF2.8 R LM WR Macro, 1/200 sec at F11, ISO 160

Photo 2022 © Hope Grunert | FUJIFILM X-T5 and FUJINON XF30mmF2.8 R LM WR Macro, 1/200 sec at F11, ISO 160

“There were definitely a few pictures I made where I distinctly felt ‘there’s more to this’. One image with dozens of footsteps in the orange dust, to me, shows the touch of humans on nature, and tells a story of all the unknown people who have passed through this place. I’m starting to get there, but you’ve got to practice.”

Much to Hope’s enjoyment, with the right set of tools, technical necessities are less distracting than ever. In just one of many exciting aspects of the adventure, the young mentee was offered the opportunity to create with FUJIFILM X-T5.

“It’s such a beautiful camera,” Hope enthuses. “The way it renders images is incredible. Throughout the trip, I kept thinking about how it makes photography easier for me – and probably a little more enjoyable. It feels like more of a companion than other systems I’ve used.

“Usually, you make an image and it doesn’t quite look the same as what your eyes see, though you wish it would. With X-T5, I found the opposite, and genuinely wished I could see the way the camera does. Between the sensor and Film Simulation modes, it’s so pretty.”

Photo 2022 © Justin Stailey | FUJIFILM X-T5 and FUJINON XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR, 1/1000 sec at F4, ISO 125

Photo 2022 © Justin Stailey | FUJIFILM X-T5 and FUJINON XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR, 1/500 sec at F4, ISO 125

Photo 2022 © Justin Stailey | FUJIFILM X-T5 and FUJINON XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR, 1/125 sec at F4, ISO 1600

Photo 2022 © Hope Grunert | FUJIFILM X-T5 and FUJINON XF30mmF2.8 R LM WR Macro, 1/250 sec at F5, ISO 800

Unwavering as her dedication has been, the pursuit of photography is not without its challenges for Hope. Karen herself notes a common thread, binding all mediums: those sensitive enough to create beautiful art cannot escape the weight of broader emotion. Awe is not the only feeling.

“Over the summer, I was in a big rut,” Hope shares. “I didn’t want to pick up a camera. I thought nothing I made would be good, and I’m still dealing with some of those thoughts. I’m always asking myself, ‘What makes this special, compared to somebody else’s work?’ It’s hard being a college student with other photographers, because you’re constantly and directly comparing yourself to them.

“The trip itself, and the fact that I was chosen because Fujifilm thought I had something to say, did a lot for me. Knowing people are interested in my perspective was a reminder that I’m doing the right thing. I’m on the right path. I learned so much about photography, but also about life.”

Photo 2022 © Hope Grunert | FUJIFILM X-T5 and FUJINON XF30mmF2.8 R LM WR Macro, 1/250 sec at F5, ISO 800

Photo 2022 © Hope Grunert | FUJIFILM X-T5 and FUJINON XF30mmF2.8 R LM WR Macro, 1/800 sec at F5, ISO 800

Photo 2022 © Hope Grunert | FUJIFILM X-T5 and FUJINON XF30mmF2.8 R LM WR Macro, 1/800 sec at F5, ISO 800

After so many lessons – on photography, the artist’s path, and life beyond – there’s no singular resonant moment for Hope. Rather, it’s a collective experience she will continue to live by. Undoubtedly, memories of the trip will echo through her work.

“The opportunity and people are things I continue to think about, as much as the photography advice,” she concludes. “I’m a very nostalgic person. I believe I’m good at recognizing happy moments as they happen. Throughout the whole trip, I felt so content with everything. The moments of awe Karen and I talked about are not hard to find while you’re in a place like Zion, but it’s more challenging to find them when you come back to your own world. Being there was a moment of awe, but so is the realization that I was part of this special project. The opportunity, the people, and the chance to see others doing what I want to do, are all things I carry with me still.”

Karen Hutton

Karen is a FUJIFILM X-Photographer, landscape and travel professional, artist, speaker, author, educator, and voice. Through stunning imagery, humor, thought-provoking ideas, and a genuinely positive outlook, she inspires people to discover their artistic voice. Karen’s photography has been featured internationally. She speaks all over the country about image making, creativity and inspiration, and leads photography retreats in the US and Europe.

See more from Karen's work at the link below