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10 minute read

Getting to know our Students of Storytelling Winners Part 6

Our Students of Storytelling program is in full swing, and our winners are actively creating some compelling content. See below to learn a bit more about our student winners!

Harlen Cruz

College/University – Ramapo College of New Jersey
Age – 21

1 – How did you first get interested in photography?

I became interested in photography during high school. After track and cross country meets, my friends and I would always check the galleries for our pictures. I was taken away by the work of several sports photographers, however, there were times where a photographer was not present during some meets. When I got my first DSLR, I decided to give sports photography a try and it eventually led to me wanting to learn other types of photography.

2 – What’s your favorite type of photography to shoot? (street, landscape, portrait, etc.) Why?

I enjoy shooting concert photography, there is so much energy around you and it is great when you can capture that. Even though the lighting during some shows can be a bit challenging to work with, the environment is awesome and a lot of fun.

3 – What do you find most challenging about photography?

I sometimes get caught up in the technical parts of photography and it certainly is fascinating, but there is so much beyond the equipment you use and how you use it that can make a huge impact on the photographs that you end up with. Every project is different and establishing a balance on what to pay most attention to can be challenging.

4 – What’s your favorite image you’ve shot, and why?

I had not done any portrait photography for several months, one of my friends was interested in having his picture taken, I was not too sure on what to expect but I got my camera and set up a strobe in my college dorm. When it came time to review the images, I knew that this was the picture that I would share with friends. I received a lot of positive feedback on that picture. When I look back at this picture, I am reminded to try and do new things, and to try to collaborate as much as I can with other creatives.

5 – What are you hoping to take away from Students of Storytelling?

I look forward to expanding my skills as a photographer as well as sharing images that can spark conversations and evoke emotion. I also look forward to learning new skills and different creative approaches from the other storytellers.

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Maria Victoria Polanco

College/University – Syracuse University
Age – 20

1 – How did you first get interested in photography?

My introduction to photography came when my father brought home a small, silver point and shoot camera, for our annual Christmas visit to the Dominican Republic. I pretty much took charge of the camera during that trip and would often switch between recording and taking photos of my family during our festivities. I remember how much joy it would bring us to snap a photo and then take a look at it immediately after. Something about that click, flash, and immediate viewing, became such an exciting thing for me. In those moments I was too young to realize, but that is when the seed and love for the camera was planted.

2 – What’s your favorite type of photography to shoot? (street, landscape, portrait, etc.) Why?

I have always gravitated towards photographing people. A big influence in that has been the blog Humans of New York, which I became a huge fan of in high school. I love that by photographing someone, there is so much to be said. So many stories can be told by the way we carry ourselves, and how we choose to physically show up in the world. Being able to capture that in an image is what makes this artform so powerful to me. More recently, I have been exploring portraits through film photography and I have had a blast learning how to shoot film and dealing with not being able to see the image until it has been developed.

3 – What do you find most challenging about photography?

I have not been doing photography for a long time, and I also haven’t had any school training in it, which means I am now just learning certain things about the craft that would more than likely be taught in a beginners’ course. Sometimes I find myself a bit overwhelmed by the “rules” and technical aspects. But, it’s all part of the learning process so I embrace the challenge and take notes.

4 – What’s your favorite image you’ve shot, and why?

My favorite image is a portrait I took of my grandfather in the Dominican Republic during our Christmas Eve day celebration. Everyone from the community gets together during the day at an event filled with bustling energy and great vibes. This photo happens to be a simple center shot of my grandfather, but I love that I was able to catch members of the community in the back, as well as a power fist on the left side of the photo. It was unintentional but, perfect timing and it really helps illustrate who my grandfather is; a strong, powerful, personable man.

5 – What are you hoping to take away from Students of Storytelling?

In addition to sharing my exploration of freedom within the lens of 2020, I am hoping to gain more trust in myself as a photographer during this process. As well as connect with other artists whom I otherwise would not have the chance to connect with. At the end of Students of Storytelling I want to feel like I have a good grasp on the components of how to tell a story through photographs, and how to successfully share that with your audience.

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Dominick Sokotoff

College/University – University of Michigan
Age – 19

1 – How did you first get interested in photography?

In middle school, one of my friends introduced me to photography, and I decided to buy my first camera to experiment. I would bring it with me when I watched sunsets and went hiking, and I was hooked. I really didn’t begin to spend a lot of time developing my skills until my first summer in college, when I interned in the U.S. Senate Press Photographers’ Gallery. While there, I had the opportunity to interact with some of the nation’s top photojournalists on a daily basis. I became truly inspired by these photojournalists’ ability to produce unique images that fit the narrative of the news each day while operating within the same surroundings and photographing the same subjects. The experience really motivated me to spend more time developing my photography skills.

2 – What’s your favorite type of photography to shoot? (street, landscape, portrait, etc.) Why?

One of my favorite types of photography is documentary, because the final product consists of photos that are frequently rich with emotion and meaning, and storytelling is a great way to effect change. On the other hand, if I’m considering the ambient experience, I’d have to say I’m especially drawn to political, protest, and sports photography, because the energy of those events makes them feel larger than life.

3 – What do you find most challenging about photography?

The most challenging, yet one of the most enjoyable, parts of photography for me is determining how to best use photography to convey information. As a photographer for my university’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily, I constantly think about how I can best distill multiple characteristics of an event or experience into one photo. As I embark on this storytelling project, I will be telling even more intricate stories, and I will definitely face challenges as to how I can best take photos to illustrate the complexity of the message I am trying to convey.

4 – What’s your favorite image you’ve shot, and why?

One of my favorite photos I’ve taken is of an alley in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan during a snowstorm. I was wandering around town in the middle of the night with my camera, and the combination of colors and textures in the alley really caught my attention. Alleys are compelling because they’re somewhat forbidden spaces. Most people only enter them because they have a purpose like making a delivery, entering back doors, or discarding refuse. Many won’t cross the threshold of an alley, even to take a shortcut, because there’s a conception that they are dangerous or grimy. This alley had warm lighting and the snowfall was melting away on the ground, making it feel almost like a place of refuge from the storm. I especially like this photo because of the irony in an alley feeling inviting when they typically turn people away.

5 – What are you hoping to take away from Students of Storytelling?

Fujifilm’s mentoring and training has not only helped me grow as a photographer, but as a storyteller. I’ve had to think critically about how I could adapt my style to this project and how I can most effectively build a story while facing challenges such as the ongoing pandemic. Furthermore, getting to interact with 29 other amazing photographers while they also tell stories will expose me to a variety of perspectives, strategies, and experiences. Perhaps most importantly, the additional resources and support from Fujifilm provide me the ability to work on a long-term, in-depth project that will allow me to better get to know and understand the members of my community.

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