This was the personal statement I wrote for a film school application. However, I ended up changing my approach and submitting something else. This is my original letter.
Almost every Monday of my college week is been spent in a particular room in Guilford College Founders Hall. This is where the Guilfordian newspaper staff meets. My first week of school, I became a part of the videography team, and spent our evening meetings with my ears pricked for interesting events. I had never been part of a community with so many resources before.
One evening, during weekly announcements, a young man in a colorful collared shirt raised his hand.
“Gabe, with something to add, as usual,” noted Jeff Jeske, our faculty advisor.
“There’s a punk show at Empire Books this week, if anyone wants to cover it with me,” said the guy, naming a bunch of bands I’d never heard of. Meeting adjourned, I immediately crossed the room to Gabe and offered to join him, camera and tripod in tow.
One cold February night, four bands blared noise into a sparsely populated bookstore. In between sets, the mood was relaxed. Attendees’ conversations were absorbed by the shelves of novels and old records for sale. Best of all was having to keep my tripod from being toppled by the only non-North Carolina band, Designer, as they demolished their own equipment during the screams of their last song.
I was hooked. Gabe and I became frequent collaborators and co-created the NC music blog Carolina Soundcheck. Concocting creative ways to cover music became a monthly puzzle: should we script sketches to announce upcoming shows? (Yes.) Should we work with the Guilford radio station to cover festivals? (Yes.) Should we send each other music-related postcards over the summer and post them on our blog? (Yes, although this didn’t last long after postcard number two got lost in the mail.)
I learned good collaboration. We figured out how to communicate, listen, and compromise so we both did things we wanted and accomplished each other’s goals to boot. Plus, keeping positive in the face of frustration, whether it was one of us frustrating the other through miscommunication or something gone wrong in our plans (because something always goes wrong, you just have to learn to expect that).
David Wheaton performing at our Carolina Soundcheck launch party in 2014.
I got to do one of my favorite things: discover art no one else knows about and share it with a wider audience. What are the stories and points of view that nobody else knows about? What are the bands that, if I don’t take out my camera, will probably stay unheard? What, if expressed in an artistic format, will people be able to engage with more easily? This is what I am always trying to share. Sometimes it’s for fun, and sometimes, it’s through an obligation, like knowing that not many people will get to hear Reggie Watts and Janelle Monae talking about race, music, and history at Moogfest. So I whip out my camera and my notebook and start documenting. Start writing down their stories, which are so important, so I can express them to other people.
Through my work, I got better at handling a camera and expressing information in a way that is brief, entertaining, and informative. I learned good visual language, how to use my equipment as well as others’, and how to solve problems should they arise (tip: do not leave a tripod-affixed camera within arm’s length of a drunk audience, unless you want a series of blurry selfies on your memory card).
My writing became stronger, and with Gabe, a fellow English major and sharp journalist, editing my work, I learned how dynamic language can effectively describe an auditory experience.
My editing and revision of articles, both for the Guilfordian and the blog, helped me understand how to edit content in a video interview as well. I managed to edit a 20-minute band interview to one-fifth the length, including only the best and most informative quotes, and put it out on YouTube just in time to promote their album release party.
The success of our work covering local music inspired me to do something I’d had in mind for a long time: start a blog about Japanese music. As a double major in East Asian Studies and English, I was frequently discovering art that no one around me knew about, and to share that with a wider audience? There could be nothing better.
The first time I studied in Japan with the Montserrat College of Art, I was prepared for what to do when I learned that the restaurant we were staying above, the Longboard, was holding a punk festival. From the first all-too-grainy photography when I started taking concert photos, I now knew the best place to stand, the best aperture to set, and what I could and couldn’t fix on my Mac later. A successful photo album was created and uploaded for Smashfest 2015, featuring three different bands based in Japan. It was a small accomplishment that meant a lot.
Toshiyuki Homma of Night of the Vampire performing at Smashfest.
My experiences in college, and these two blogs, have taught me how to successfully, creatively express information through words and visuals. I consider this to be one of my strengths. I discovered that not only is it something I want to do, it’s something I do, day after day. Video keeps following me around and I realized that my camera is a powerful tool. As my photography professor Maia Dery once put it, paraphrasing C. A. Bowers, through a camera we can participating in “making special”: the ordinary becomes extraordinary through how we angle our lens, and we create new meaning through the photos we take. It means something to make something. So I will keep pressing the shutter at every opportunity.