Students’ photos illustrate the depth of the off-campus study experience
“When I was exploring a Beijing hutong (traditional neighborhood), I stumbled upon a group of migrant construction workers who were incredibly intrigued by my presence,” wrote Colorado College student Anais Gude. “They were even more surprised to hear me speak Chinese. When I asked this boy if I could take a picture of him, he nodded silently, took a long drag from his cigarette and blew it towards the camera.”
The photo that Gude took – titled “Working on Manhood” and described as capturing “two culturally different people of the same age coming face to face and experiencing mutual curiosity” – has been awarded the Grand Prize in the 2009-10 ACM Off-Campus Study Photo Contest.
Along with the Grand Prize, awards were given for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place photos in the contest’s three categories: People, Stories, and Artistry. An additional ten photos received Honorable Mention recognition. All of these photos will be in a traveling exhibit to be hosted by 11 ACM colleges in early 2010.
The students’ photos chronicle encounters with people, cultures, history, and the physical environment from locations around the world, and illuminate insights the photographers gained during their travels.
For Beloit College exchange student Antje Dorothea Grebing, an airport waiting room – the nemesis of many a traveler – revealed an interconnectedness of journeys taken by a group of strangers haphazardly placed together.
“You can see a great aged couple waiting for their plane to arrive, as well as random passengers in the background,” Grebing wrote of her photo. “What you don’t see is me, as I am taking the photograph during my own journey. In a higher sense, the photograph also portrays the journey of life.”
Other prize-winning photos captured moments and places as varied as the facial expression of a Thai girl “presented as a doll on display” for tourists, a view of an “old hippie village” in Holland with its working windmills, and a spot in Buenos Aires where a homemade memorial of slightly burnt shoes strung up over phone lines gives silent, enduring testimony of the heartache caused by a nightclub fire that took the lives of 194 people.
The photo contest is open to students at ACM colleges who have participated in off-campus study programs. The contest and traveling exhibit were first held last year to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of ACM and to recognize the consortium’s leading role in off-campus study during those five decades. An enthusiastic response from the campuses led to a repeat performance in the 2009-10 academic year.
The panel of judges for the contest included Chicago Arts Program Director Dave Amrein, ACM Director of Publications Scott Lewis, ACM Program Associate Heather Everst, and Chicago Arts Program participant Sarah Jones, who is an art major from Lake Forest College.
The judges looked for photos that went beyond the typical tourist snapshot to illustrate cross-cultural learning and the interdisciplinary nature of liberal arts education. The students wrote descriptions to provide context for the photos, and their images and words clearly reflected the impact they felt from their experiences around the world.
Nathan Lane, from Lawrence University, spun a tale of how he parlayed his talents on the trombone – the fruit of “more than a decade of playing ancient exercises and mind-numbing scale patterns and living out an embarrassing band geek lifestyle” – into a steady gig with a reggae band in Buenos Aires. It proved to be Lane’s entrée into aspects of Argentine life that he probably would never have seen otherwise.
Lane’s summation of his stint with the band and its colorful members provides a fitting coda to the photos and the students’ off-campus study experiences: “This is the photo of the life to which I hope to return after I graduate. Before going, I was not sure what I planned to do with my study of music, and how it fit in with the rest of my liberal arts education. But in the chaotic streets of Buenos Aires, I learned that music was something that would open doors for me wherever I went. In Buenos Aires, behind those doors were new experiences, playing opportunities and lifelong friendships. I can’t wait to get back.”