Where did you grow up?
“I grew up here. I did Penn State/State College things my whole life. It was cool when you were younger, but not so much when I got older. I’ve been going to [Penn State] games since I was 10 or 11. I’m probably a different case because being in Blue Band, the games kind of lost their luster or the appeal of all that magic and all the energy.
When I first started college, especially switching to photo, I realized the market here is super sparse. When I first graduated, I don’t even know how many emails I sent out. People are either too busy or they don’t care or they can’t really do anything to help you.
We have like two galleries in town and they’re no bigger than a big bathroom. I remember going to visit Pittsburgh one year and they have six or seven on one street.”
What made you switch from music education to photography?
“I started music ed with the whole point of having a job outside of college. Music ed would help get me recruited somewhere. I switched to performance and played the clarinet; piano on the side.
I ended up having jaw surgery when I was a sophomore. It helped fix a lot of problems I had with my jaw and it went really well but some nerves were nicked or something and I lost feeling in part of my lower lip.
What happened was it messed up my endurance so I couldn’t practice [clarinet] for two hours on end anymore – which I needed to if I wanted to do that career path.
So, it was a huge bummer since that was literally what I was doing since I was in fourth grade. After my surgery, I basically had to relearn how to play.
It was really demoralizing. I went from being this high tier all the way down to middle school level.
My grandma actually got me into photography when I was in high school. She got me an old Nikon D100. I would just go around my house, take pictures, take it around outside. I don’t remember what clicked in my head to do more of that, so I think I took some more classes that were outside the music realm.”
What do you like most about photography that you feel you can’t express yourself through other art forms?
“Music can be interpreted in several different ways, but the thing that always bothered me about it was that certain lines are traditionally played a certain way.
Tempo, for example, Beethoven’s 5th symphony, is slow. Certain movements need to be there. The nuances need to be there because that’s how they’re supposed to be played.
In photo or painting, you can do whatever you want. It doesn’t necessarily have to be correct or the way everyone else does it. What matters is the way that you did it. I’ve always been more drawn to that.
With photo, I’ve always been more interested that there’s no context. When you look at the picture, that’s it. What you see is what you see.
Now, if I told you something happened before or after or the significance of the time or place, that could give you a whole other story. But, from the picture you’re given, that’s all you know.
Because of that, people usually relate to it in different ways. Maybe it reminds them of what they do. Maybe there’s a really tall building in the picture and they remember this one time they had a job in a really tall building and they had a really bad day at work. Something about that memory was created because they looked at this picture with no context.
I like to go on these photo walks as my own form of meditating. Using these photo walks as practice basically, noticing things – patterns, lights – just using that as an opportunity to practice. A lot of the pictures are really bad and I would never show anyone but what they did is they helped me identify the things that maybe I should do.”
Was there a specific photo walk that stood out for you?
“The ones I’ve enjoyed the most are the ones where it snows a lot that night. What I always like to do is go up to parking garages because they close off the roof. So, it’s just this pristine sheet of white and it’s totally unbroken. You’re the first person there.
One of my graduation projects was using shadows to paint on a canvas. There’s just something about being up there with no other evidence of people, no footprints. You feel like you’re by yourself but you’re not. You’re free by yourself.”
How do you feel moving to Pittsburgh is going to shape your life?
“Pittsburgh is the closest big place to us. There used to be a venue called the Alter Bar that my favorite band, Bayside, would always play at. It was so close and I wouldn’t have to stay over or anything. I just remember driving down that way and being used to it.
Recently, I had a friend living down there who I would go hang out with. She was into our background [the arts]. Making puppets is actually her thing. She would introduce me to all the galleries and all the opportunities available so I kind of just romanticized that city. The idea of like, ‘That’s it. That’s the next step.’
It still kind of feels like I can be here [home] if I need to be. You know, I’m not totally by myself. It’s far enough away that I will feel like I’m on my own, but in a good way. What I hope to get out it, beyond making more connections and starting a career down there is just meeting new people and just living as an adult.”
What is it that you get the most out of working at Starbucks?
“The thing I hope to get out it more down there [Pittsburgh], aside from having a reliable income, is meeting new people by chance. Maybe getting work out of it. Also just talking with new people and making connections.
Coming out of it, beyond just, learning how to tolerate things, learning to work with others. Learning that everyone comes from a different background as you. Learning that everyone is going through things. Even if they don’t say that they are, they are. Just realizing to not take people at face value because everyone has a story.
One of the other partners here showed me a personality test. Upon taking it, it didn’t surprise me at all, it said that, ‘You like to learn more about people than what they tell you.’
I don’t really like small talk. I get bored with it. People I talk to in that way, it’s just not very memorable. If I were to ask people the questions you’re asking me, like these are the kind of things I want to know.
I want to know about them and I want to know what do you want to do with your life? I just want to know a little more about everybody’s story. I feel like it’s just really nice to open up to people but it’s really hard to. When I’ve done it, it’s helped me, so maybe it will help other people.”