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10 minute read

Getting to know our Students of Storytelling Winners Part 7

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!

Will Mordell

College/University – The University of Georgia
Age – 22

1 – How did you first get interested in photography?

I first became interested in photography sometime around the end of high school. I remember taking a photo on a hand me down iPhone, something simple of a thistle in front of a pond covered in snow, and editing. It wasn’t much, but as I looked at this simple photo, the depth of field, the colors, I was hooked. I asked my dad for his old DSLR, only to find out he had just given it to a family member, so I continued trying to take more creative things on my phone until I bought myself my first DSLR during my sophomore year of college.

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

Portrait is far and away my favorite to shoot. Like many beginners I started off shooting landscapes while hiking but quickly grew bored. Upon trying portraiture for the first time there were just so many things to love. The opportunity to work with other creative people to achieve something you both are proud of, the ability to manipulate the scene, posing, lighting, everything to get what you want, I just can’t think of a better creative outlet.

3 – What do you find most challenging about photography?

I find many challenges in photography, but I think the root of them largely stems from a lack of confidence in your own work. Social media is a great thing for inspiration, but can be terrible as well if you start comparing yourself too heavily to what others are doing. Comparison leads to doubt, doubt leads to creative blocks, and those just eat away at the worth you assign to your work. Everyone always has room to improve, but it’s ok to feel that your work is great as it is sometimes.

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

Not a portrait, but a relatively simple street shot from Washington, DC. I managed to see almost all of the city over the course of two days, running around the city with a camera on my shoulder. I grabbed this photo on the stairs out of the metro just as a woman ahead of me reached the top, trench coat flaring as she stepped out into a cold grey day. The settings on my camera are absolutely wacky (800 ISO, 1/8000 shutter? Why!?) but luckily I got the photo, looked at the back, and have been enamored since then. It’s hung on my wall ever since.

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

I’m really trying to push myself through Students of Storytelling. The logistics of the project I’m taking on are complex, far bigger, more involved, and more time consuming than anything I’ve tried before. There are layers of planning and consideration that are getting done before my finger has even brushed the shutter, and I know I will be better for it going forward. I’m hoping to finish this project a better, more creative photographer than when I started.

Bonus Question – Is there anything else you’d like Fujifilm fans to know about you or your photography?

I’ve never taken a single class on photography, or really had any instruction outside of videos online and advice from friends. I love that photography is just something you can pick up one day and never put down, a skill that will grow as much as you are willing to put into it. It’s a party you can never be too late to, and I frequently try to encourage people with any interest, no matter the age or experience, to give it a shot.

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Priscilla Kang

College/University – Syracuse University
Age – 20

1 – How did you first get interested in photography?

I started out as a writer, then moved to video, then landed in photography. As a minority female growing up, I never felt that my story was listened to. I decided to take charge of my voice and publish a poetry book expressing my struggles with adolescence and identity and shifted into creating vlog-style video essays in my early teens. I then came to appreciate the delicacy of conveying a story in a single, wordless frame and came to love photography for its simple yet complex control over storytelling.

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

I love to take portraits—especially self-portraits. I like to express human emotions in a single moment, and portraits of people serve as snapshot memoirs of a moment in time people will never return to. Through photographing people over time, I like to see the evolution of people—their triumphs and tribulations, their maturity into wisdom. Remembering who we are makes us human, and I think photography is a vivid way of helping us remember who we were.

3 – What do you find most challenging about photography?

I think the translation from intent to interpretation is the most challenging. Because photography speaks wordlessly, the intent must be crafted painstakingly and precisely, considering the backgrounds of its audience to ensure that the message is not lost between the photographer and the viewer.

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

My favorite image is a self-portrait I crafted as my final assignment for my photography class this spring. I feel like it accurately represents the pain I felt as COVID-19 unfolded, as I was separated from my family who was in South Korea at the time. With no real reason to return home to California and no safe way of uniting with my parents in South Korea, I chose to stay at my apartment near my University. I think this image truly shows how life spiraled out of control, conveying the hopelessness I felt then that I gladly do not feel any more.

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

I want to become a stronger storyteller. I want to become a better listener, someone who can listen delicately and channel others’ emotions more accurately. When someone sees their story told through my lens, I want them to say “You have helped me express this perfectly.”

Bonus Question – Is there anything else you’d like Fujifilm fans to know about you or your photography?

I love multimedia storytelling through animation, motion graphics, illustration, and all other digital avenues of media. Although I will be focusing more heavily on photography for this collaboration with Fujifilm, I will be updating my Instagram feed @priscillaykang and my website www.priscillakang.com with all mediums of work!

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Kai Lepley

College/University – University of Arizona
Age – 29

1 – How did you first get interested in photography?

I grew up with unusual black and white photographs hung alongside family snapshots in the hallway and bathroom of our home. One photo stands clear in my memory. It was a street shot of a man in a crowd with a monkey on his shoulder and slight motion blur around the edges from the quick nature of the shot. This was just one photograph shot and developed by my uncle. He was a therapist by trade with a deep love and appreciation for photography, and I have to credit his images for subconsciously inspiring my own love for film. Once I got my hands on a disposable camera as a child, I immediately found passion in freezing moments and capturing the vivid colors of the world.

When I was around twelve years old, I found my dad had a Pentax K1000 film camera in the closet that he never used. I began taking it with me whenever I would go on walks whether city streets or out in nature. I started a business in middle school programming small video games and selling them online through obscure forums. By freshman year in high school I had saved up enough to finally buy a digital camera. I had it only four months when it was stolen, and I was crushed. I then found out that my dad had sold the Pentax on eBay to make a little extra money, and I was left without any way to shoot. Again, my uncle enters the scene by lending me a Canon AE-1. The film camera had to belonged to my uncle’s wife who had been killed just a year before on her way to Mexico when a truck smuggling cannabis across the border T-boned her car, killing her instantly. I respectfully accepted the camera though I couldn’t help feeling somehow haunted by it. As I developed roll after roll of film shot through that camera those weird feelings faded and I fell deeply in love with the art of street photography, nature photography and the joyful act of simply capturing the world on film. And, that’s where I’ll leave this story for now.

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

I’m always seeking sincerity, and the raw nature of street photography appeals to this quest. Let me say that if I could spend every day of my life walking to new and unique places with a camera in hand, I would never stop walking. I’ve had the exceptional opportunity to travel a bit in the recent years of my life, and wherever I go, I take every chance to spend time with a camera and explore the heart of wherever I might be at that moment. Nature tends to be one of the places I spend the most time with a camera, and I find endless and exceptional beauty in nature – a truly infinite canvas waiting to be explored. All this said, since the moment I’ve picked up my Fujifilm camera, I’ve been inspired to begin photographing people. I’ve already begun, and I look forward to exploring this new realm of the art.

3 – What do you find most challenging about photography?

As a lover of street photography and capturing raw moments, I find planned photography the most challenging. I definitely find joy in staged photography from food to abstract arrangements of people and objects, but it’s a challenge, and I often don’t come away with the vision I originally had in my head. I hope to dive into this more difficult area of photography and someday call it a strength.

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

I’ve chosen one photograph that stands out as my favorite from thousands that I’ve shot over the years. The choice was far from easy. In fact, I’ve chosen a new image at the last minute. I had been traveling alone around the southwestern U.S. for ten days trying to capture the elements of the summer Monsoon when I took this photo. The trip had taken a turning point due to the summer rains never arriving for the first time in my life – I was trying to capture something that was missing. After spending three days in the Grand Canyon’s unique North Rim with no sign of rain and failing to win the lottery to visit a one-of-a-kind wind-carved geologic formation, I took a coffee in what was left of southern Utah’s morning air. I remembered an exercise from the first art course I took in college. We were assigned to illustrate an object using charcoal pencil by only sketching the negative space around the object. I decided, if there was no Monsoon this year, I would just have to capture the space around it. The next day I found this lone Juniper tree somehow rooted on a crumbling precipice amid this endless landscape slowly eroding with the wind and scarce rain that falls here. I knew this place would look different if the rains had come, but I found beauty in this ancient tree refusing to give up life. And, seeing clouds for the first time in over a week was a small reminder that everything changes, and I had to keep pushing forward.

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

I’ve already gained more than I ever expected from the Students of Storytelling project. The wave of excitement that swept over me when I was announced a winner surprised even me as I danced around my house yipping in joy to the bewilderment of my son, chickens and dog. The truth is that I’ve wanted to pursue the project I proposed among many others for a shamefully long amount of time. Yet, I’ve always come up with reasons why I can’t just walk out the door and start creating. Winning this project feels like I was given a key to unlock the shackles that I’ve kept myself in all this time. The support, the encouragement, the community and the idea that the door is open feel quite literally life changing. I cannot thank everyone at Fujifilm who has made this genuine opportunity possible.

When I began studying at my local community college, I originally went for an art degree, and then switched to architecture, and then to engineering. Eventually, I sat down with myself and asked, “what do you want to be doing in ten years?” The answer was that I wanted to be a photojournalist for National Geographic. I thought, “it’s decided, I’ll study photojournalism.” But, when I went directly to the source, I learned that most National Geographic photojournalists did not study photojournalism and were in fact students of the various topics they were chasing with cameras. I went on to get a B.S. degree in ecology and an M.S. degree in natural resources management. As I begin my doctoral program this fall with plans for documentary film and a range of photography work, I hope that the Students of Storytelling project continues to inspire me to challenge the obstacles I put up in my own mind and guide me towards perfecting the craft of story.

Bonus Question – Is there anything else you’d like Fujifilm fans to know about you or your photography?

I’ve said quite a bit, but I’ll add that I’m a native to the Sonoran Desert, and I look forward to exploring the world as slowly as possible with a camera in hand. I’ll see you in the streets, on the trails, in the markets and wherever life is sincerely trying to flourish.

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