As I prepare to dive into my career, I find that the previously scattered, blurry picture of my dream job has come more clearly into focus. I want to work internationally as a photographer and journalist, covering issues of environmental conservation and social justice. My foremost passion and most-developed skill is photography, but I also love writing, so an ideal position would allow me to do both.
When I was younger—in middle school probably—I wrote in my journal that I wanted to be a photographer for National Geographic. Shocker, I know. Everybody and their son dreams of that job. But I stand by it today. It’s more than a wistful daydream, it’s a deep-seated appreciation for powerful storytelling. I’ve always adored the expedition-style, long-form pieces they publish, the devotion to their mission and their attention to detail. So whether or not I have a yellow rectangle on my business card, I will approach my work with the same passion and rigor that my middle-school dream employer built its reputation upon. I plan to work towards doing immersive, thorough coverage on issues that align with the mission I’ve developed for myself.
I was able to define that mission last fall, when I was reading about the history of photojournalism. I came across a quote from early documentary photographer Lewis Hine, whose work has always inspired me:
“There were two things I wanted to do.
I wanted to show the things that had to be corrected.
I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated.”
It gave me chills. In 30 eloquent words, Hine was able to perfectly articulate the two greatest hopes I have for my work as a photographer, an artist and a journalist.
First, I seek to show the things that must be corrected. Whether it’s environmental destruction or social injustice, it impacts life on this planet and the legacy my own generation leaves behind for those that follow. Photography and journalism can act as incredible tools for inciting progress. People can’t care about something if they don’t know about it. The first step to making a change is breaking the silence.
Next, I want to show the things that need to be appreciated.
Romans 1:20 says, "For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God."
Reflections of the character of God—his power, his mercy, his infinite artistry—can be found throughout his Creation. It's in the grandeur of the mountains and in the intricacy of caverns hidden below. It’s in the delicate ecosystem of a technicolored coral reef or the unlikely presence of proud cactus blossoms in the hellish desert heat. It’s wherever you look for it, really. I hope that if I show people the breathtaking beauty and complexity of this planet, they will begin to appreciate their place in it.
I believe that kind of appreciation is more important now than ever.
My generation was probably the last to experience childhood without an endless supply of ready-made entertainment just a few screen-taps away. As a kid, I spent most days running around with my brothers, climbing trees and catching fish and scraping our elbows falling off mountain bikes. The long, humid summer days instilled in me a reverence for the natural world. Today, I try to pack the blank spaces on my calendar with camping, hiking, climbing and biking. My life is filled with friendships built around lakeside bonfires and on red dirt trails, and I find my home in a saddle or on a mountaintop or in the soreness of my own muscles after climbing. I find it in that moment when fresh air—real fresh air—hits the deepest parts of my lungs for the first time in far too long and day-to-day cares suddenly seem so much smaller.
I want today’s children to explore and discover the world the way I did: with imagination, a persistent curiosity and a wardrobe full of grass stains. I want people to be unafraid to marvel at the geological and biological miracles of this planet. I hope when they lay in the cool, green grass, they would still feel incomprehensibly small and yet simultaneously significant. I wish they would understand the gravity of the impact their own lives can have on the future.
Journalists and artists are uniquely equipped to cultivate in others an appreciation for the natural world and the people who inhabit it, and I feel I can make a valuable contribution to that effort.
I work relentlessly hard and learn enthusiastically. Years of freelancing taught me discipline and self-motivation. My time as a yearbook photography editor taught me to approach even mundane assignments with creativity and curiosity. In my years at the Gaylord College of Journalism at the University of Oklahoma, I’ve refined my technical skills in photography and writing. But more than that, I’ve learned to strive for more, to innovate. I've learned to push for depth in my work and to challenge convention without compromising the journalistic traditions of quality and accuracy. Possibly most importantly, I’ve developed a profound appreciation for storytelling and its ability to ignite change.
I’ve been fortunate enough to receive the support, training and opportunity necessary to cultivate excellent skills in both journalism and photography. Now, I hope to devote those skills to promoting intentional global citizenship.
I recently applied for an editorial fellowship position at Outside magazine and am waiting to hear back. I think it could be an excellent first step on the career path I’m hoping for. Otherwise, I’ll continue to pursue opportunities at publications that cover environmental and social justice issues. Regardless of where I find a job after graduation, I’ll continue to work independently on projects that document the natural world and mankind’s relationship with the outdoors.
I do not plan to go to graduate school immediately after I finish my undergraduate program, but I would like to do so in the future. At this point, I don’t see myself getting a graduate degree in journalism, but rather in environmental sciences or another field that would help me to develop a specialized knowledge in the subject of my reporting.
It’s difficult to predict the specifics of my career in ten or twenty years. It would be naïve of me to assume that I could. But what I do know is that I will continue to pursue the things I am passionate about. I will always strive to help my fellow man. And I will never cease to be enamored with this wild, beautiful bit of rock we call home.