What this is all about

Based on the WMRA show "The Spark", hosted by Martha Woodroof, this project looks at the creative passions of college students in the Shenandoah Valley area.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

James Souder, the Photographer

          Among his group of friends, James Souder is the one who always has a camera. He uses photography to capture moments, but even without a camera he says that being a photographer has changed the way he sees the world.
          “My friends like that about me,” he jokes. “I like to capture interactions between people, but I think the act of just noticing lets me appreciate what's happening, and see more.”
          James is a senior Environmental and Social Sustainability major at Eastern Mennonite University. He used to be a Photography major, but switched it to a minor after realizing how much he enjoyed the variety of classes offered in his new major. Even though photography may not take center stage on his diploma, it remains a huge part of his life.
          James was in high school when he picked up a camera lying around his family’s house and started taking photos. He began taking classes and entering his work in competitions, winning several awards in high school. I asked him about the first photograph that really stuck out in his memory, and James smiled as he recalled it.
          “The first photo I am really proud of,” he muses. “There was a bird's nest I saw, and I just reached up the camera and snapped a photo. The baby birds thought I was their mother, and there were a couple of blue eggs, and it was just really framed well.”
One of James's photos from an early morning plane ride
over the Shenandoah Valley
          At EMU he continued to take classes in photography, but explored some of his other interests as well. His very extensive interests. James has four minors: Photography, Biology, Economics, and International Development. Along with a heavily loaded class schedule, he is also part of the Earth Keepers club, Sustainable Food Initiative Club, is senior class co-president, and plays saxophone in a jazz band. I have absolutely no idea how he managed to come and speak with me, let alone have the time to work on his photography. When we spoke he was preparing for his first job the following day as a wedding photographer. He had done engagement photos, and had been asked to do weddings, but this is the first time he's been confident that he has the ability (and the equipment) to take on such a responsibility.
          James spent one summer working for the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at EMU, where he was a community assistant. He was not hired as the photographer, but he was one anyway, taking the class photos and taking pictures of the various events. No matter what he ends up doing, it seems that James always find time for photography. He interned with an urban farm in Philadelphia last summer, where he worked on social media and was the main photographer.
          The term “urban farm” caught my ear, and James was kind enough to explain it to me.
          “It was a really cool internship,” he says. “They took a vacant lot in the city, a place where an old warehouse had burned down. They cleared it out, brought in topsoil, and were able to have a really productive garden. It involved community members in the process of planting, and they now have a farm
At the urban farm in Philadelphia
stand right there on site. Their mission is to take places that were unattractive or provided places for crime, and make a beautiful places for people to gather and use the land productively. They’ve definitely noticed a huge improvement in the community, just the way people
interact and respect their neighborhood.”
          James is a senior, so his time at EMU is almost up, but he has big plans for the future. For the next year he will be in Pittsburgh, as an intern in a program called PULSE (Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience). It is a way to transition from college to jobs, as he and several other recent graduates will live in a house together and be able to explore the city. Although his internship will be environmentally focused, James hopes to be able to use photography in it.
          James has already begun looking past the PULSE internship, and planning beyond it. He is in the process of applying for the Peace Corps, to see more of the world and apply his skills in places that might need him. Graduate school is another option. He hasn't been planning to make photography the focus of his career, but his studies have affected the way he approaches photography, as well as his view of the world.
          “The process is really important to me-- how you go about gaining the image. Like if you’re in someone's face, rather than like getting to know the person and appreciating them as more than an object to be photographed. Just respecting what is around you. . . it has helped me appreciate things.”
           James is on a mission. He is truly passionate about the environment and helping those around him, and is going on to great things. He may not make the camera the focus of his career, but he will keep it in hand to document his adventures.

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