If you’ve kept up with Ouachita lately, you’ve likely glimpsed at different Ouachita photos taken by graduates Tyler Rosenthal (’15), Andy Henderson (’18) and Alex Blankenship (’19). Among the three, they have captured 15 years of life at Ouachita.
During their time at Ouachita, these guys not only juggled their classes and the role of Photo Editor for the Ouachitonian yearbook and The Signal student newspaper, they also worked their freelance photography businesses on the side, traveling nearly every weekend for weddings or other photo shoots. And they all became friends, despite the fact that they didn’t always overlap in their Ouachita experiences. Rather than competing, Tyler, Andy and Alex began talking about their photography, as well as life, and have since worked together at Ouachita and in their freelance projects.
This spring, I had the chance to sit down with them together for an interview. Tyler serves as digital media coordinator for Ouachita’s Office of Communications & Marketing; Andy has been doing freelance work in the area; and Alex just completed his senior year. While they are each incredibly talented, self-taught photographers, they credit much of their personal growth – including in their photography – to Ouachita.
They are fun, grounded in who they are, grounded in their faith and just downright humble.
I want to start at the beginning. How did you get into photography?
Andy: I took a weeklong class our high school offered during my junior year. We went to Dallas for a day, took photos with film and learned about processing and developing film in a darkroom. We even met with a photography professor and sat in on a studio lighting class. … It just opened up the world of photography for me that I didn’t really know existed. I really liked some of the photos I had taken during the class, and later my teacher and future mentor gifted me his old camera.
Tyler: I didn’t have a nice camera, so I bought a used one off eBay with some [high school] graduation money. I just thought it would be cool to have one since I was going into communications, and I started taking pictures of my friends to teach myself. Freshman year [at Ouachita] I got into taking portraits of people. I bought some sort of light off Amazon and took pictures in my dorm room that were supposed to look like studio shots. … I got better and bought more equipment, and everything I got paid for I invested it back into gear … I was never like, “I’m going to be a photographer.” I just thought this was fun, and I could make money doing it.
Alex: I actually started with video, which was a real interest to me because I wanted to be YouTube famous. My friends and I admired the humor of it; we made hundreds of videos. (You will never see them.) I also got the chance to shadow on a commercial video production set in high school. I thought I was working for free … I realized later when I got the check that I could get paid to do something I really loved: be on a set, collaborate on something that was fun and influential. That’s when my fascination with production and imagery started; I got really into Instagram and photography, and I already had the camera equipment from all of my video pursuits, so that overflowed into taking photos for my yearbook in high school.
And at what point did you first get paid for your work?
Andy: Someone saw my pictures on Facebook and asked me to take some for their prom.
Tyler: Freshman year [at Ouachita] when I started taking headshots of theatre majors.
Alex: Somebody asked me if I could take photos of their bathroom. It’s good to have a humble beginning like that because it really is a lot of factors and people like that who have put me in this position.
Each of you has held the position of photo editor at Ouachita. What stands out to you about your experience?
Andy: Getting to be a part of so many different things really helped me personally in my photography career … I shot sports way more than I ever had. I got to shoot in great lighting and terrible lighting. I shot a lot in classrooms and events off campus – all types of things. It really pushed me to learn about these different types of photography and how to master each one.
Alex: I had 18 staffers this year, so I think one of my favorite aspects and what Photo Lab has taught me is the managerial aspect. I learned a lot about how to delegate responsibilities, communicate with a team and accomplish an ultimate goal. That has helped foster some dreams for me for the future, like coming alongside an agency or starting my own business to help accomplish bigger projects and run a team.
Tyler: I was doing a lot of portraiture on my own, so Photo Lab covered that other side of photography – event coverage – for me to grow my technical photo skills. The two styles are different in a lot of ways; in event coverage you are shooting what is naturally happening, but other types of photography you are in charge and orchestrate things to happen. Ouachita helped me combine the two styles, which led to me shooting weddings where I have to do both.
To top that off, all of you worked your photography on the side while you were Ouachita students?! What was that like?
Alex: The tension between work and school … you just have to learn how to navigate it.
Tyler: All three of us apologize to our professors because we were so busy!
How did you get to the point where you felt confident in your style and distinguished yourself as a photographer?
Andy: I’m still figuring that out. I think it’s always a process. At this point, I’m still in that phase where I’m trying to figure out what I like, as opposed to what my clients would like or people on Instagram like. I want my work to be sought after, I want it to be desirable to people who want to hire me, but I also want it to be my own. So I’m still trying to find that balance.
Alex: I think maybe my style more-so leans toward a natural kind of look and feel. I do appreciate old film looks; they provide a sense of nostalgia, so I subtly try to incorporate that. I have a great fear of being experimental, so I think my work reflects that. Personally, I feel like nothing is original to me, because I think it all stems from something else.
Tyler: I went through a major identity crisis in my editing. It’s really interesting because when you step away from photojournalism and into wedding world, you can go multiple ways with editing, and that defines your style. For me it was really difficult; I wanted to follow trends that were happening in the wedding world and dreamed of looking like, but I didn’t know how to do that. I started at ground zero again to learn how, and I eventually had to take a step back after a while. I had to ask, “What is my style?” “How do I do that?” Now I’m to a point where I have found a pretty consistent way that I edit.
And, of course, I can’t leave out this question: what inspires you?
Alex: The arts. I think different periods of time and mimicking the perspectives there, like the incredibly detailed Renaissance photos, or chiaroscuro lighting like from Rembrandt … heavy shadows, with just one light source.
Tyler: I think there’s a lot of benefit that can come from looking at other people in your market, especially if you’re young and hoping to be there one day. … At this point, I’m just doing weddings, so I follow both internationally-known wedding photographers and photographers in the Little Rock market. I like to get inspiration for how to make my clients’ weddings look their best, capture them in a way that’s natural and highlight their beauty.
Andy: A lot of times when I’m looking for inspiration, I look at film. Those people are just incredible at what they do at the top level. Wes Anderson has some incredible shots if you take stills from his films. … I like to look at the shot and the lighting they used and think, “How would this look if it were a photo?”
By Rachel Moreno, a 2016 Ouachita graduate who serves as editorial coordinator for Ouachita’s Department of Communications & Marketing // Photos by Andy Henderson. Pictured (from left) are Henderson, Alex Blankenship and Tyler Rosenthal.
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