Every person has a lens through which he or she perceives the world. This lens is unique and defines an individual. For me, photography has been an outlet for me to share my lens, the way I see the world, what I’ve seen, and the experiences I’ve had. The summer before my senior year, I bought myself my first DSLR, a present to myself, after living on PB&J’s for three weeks. It was my brand new toy. Shiny. Mesmerizing. Expensive. I had absolutely no clue how to use it.
Those first pictures were just awful.
Of course, I eventually figured out how to use it. My senior year, I enrolled in a few photography courses that changed my life. I studied under the great Tony Ward, who mentored me through my early development as a photographer. The first day of class I walked in not realizing that it was a film class. I looked like a grade-A fool. The next class I opened the back of the film case to check if the camera worked. For those who don’t know about film photography, that means I basically ruined all of the pictures I took. My family continues to still make fun of me for that one. “Ivy league education and he still can’t work a camera…”
With a little bit of training, and a lot of support, my lens came into focus and the world opened in ways I never noticed. Capturing a single moment in my life was powerful, poetic, and gave me the sensation of owning a piece of time and space. With my trusty Canon T2i in hand, and a set of lenses purchased with money I earned TAing for FNCE101, I set out to capture my world, a world I wanted to share with those around me.
I have to thank M&T for giving me the opportunity to see all sorts of new businesses and new technologies. The summer before my fifth year, I did work for a startup called Nelum Sciences that developed a superhydrophobic coating for safety glasses. The technology allows the coating to repel water before it has a real chance to adhere to the surface. The picture above left shows the coating at work on a CD. The coating’s properties cause the water droplets to bead up on the CD.
A nice synergy was having a photogenic girlfriend, who loved it when I brought our camera to our dates. One day, I showed her the secret to finding four-leaf clovers (another of my random hobbies). This was her first four-leaf clover and it was amazing that I had the opportunity to catch that lucky moment. By the way, a very awkward moment is photoshopping your girlfriend’s face when she’s right next to you. The secret is to show her how pretty she looks afterwards.
Photography has a magical effect of compelling you to explore. For my 21st birthday, I went to White Sands, New Mexico, where I saw the most beautiful desert landscape in the world. It was like snow, but only the desert heat could remind you where you were. It was like something out of a Star Wars movie. It was fun sledding down the 30 ft dunes and jumping off of them to land and sink slowly at the bottom.
I even grew a nice appreciation for art and culture. One weekend, I went to the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, the largest collection of post-impressionist art in the world. It was one of the most aesthetic places I have ever seen. The sad thing was that despite, the collection of Matisse, Roussau, Van Gogh, and Monet, I was sitting out with my camera, appreciating the building as the greatest work of art.
Photography has been an amazing hobby that I will continue for the rest of my life. The world has become a more familiar place, but at the same time daunts me with all the wonders it has to offer. Tucked away like an oasis in the desert was this lake in New Mexico. Just when I thought I had seen everything my home had to offer, surprises still lurked around the corner. I stood humbled by beautiful landscape in front of me and I couldn’t help but just take it all in.
Bennett is a current M&T senior in the Class of 2013. He studies Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics within Penn Engineering and Management in the Wharton School. Bennett is considered an M&T “Super Senior” – currently in his fifth and final year at Penn, he will also graduate with a Master’s degree from Penn Engineering.