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A Glimpse behind the Lens

A Glimpse from Behind the Lens

Jiuxing (June) Xie '11 photo by Andrew Cheng '12

Jiuxing (June) Xie '11 is an English literature major from Queens, N.Y. In addition to serving as a photographer for the Daily Gazette, she has been a key organizer of the College's annual Trash 2 Treasure sale, which benefits social service agencies in Chester, Pa. Write to her at

William Hopkins '11

William Hopkins '11 is an honors psychology major with a course major and honors minor in English literature from Newark, Del.

In this Q&A, intrepid campus photographer June Xie '11 describes her interests and techniques - and what would make the perfect photo.

William Hopkins '11: Why do you do photography?

June Xie '11: During my senior year of high school, my father encouraged me to take some photos of my school before graduation. At that time, I was against the idea of photography. The idea of keeping memories externally - of keeping, through photos, memories that your brain can't hold on its own - bothered me. (I hadn't thought of photography as an art form until more recently.) My father seemed determined to get me to record my life, so I took his point-and-shoot camera to school and snapped pictures of my classmates, my teachers, the hallways, and classrooms.

When I went to college, my father bought me my own point-and-shoot camera and told me to continue recording my life so that he could keep up-to-date with my college experiences. That was the initial objective behind my photography. Since then, my reasons have evolved. Now, I have a job as a campus photographer, for which I am very grateful. It gives me the opportunity - and the perfect excuse! - to attend many more events than I ordinarily would. I've also learned in the past year that many students really appreciate having their lives on campus documented, so photography has become a very fulfilling activity for me. There is so much to see — perhaps too much to see. I find that, sometimes, I don't perceive these things as individual items until I stop and put a frame around them. It becomes easier for me to truly focus on the elements captured in the picture.

WH: What would the perfect photo look like? Have you taken it yet?

JX: I have no idea what the perfect photo would look like. I have no idea what the perfect anything would look like. I can say that photos that convey a certain emotion — a certain atmosphere — carry the most weight and significance for me.

June says these six photos contain some of her favorite elements.

WH: Can you talk a bit about your work at Swarthmore?

JX: I work as a photographer for both the Communications Office and the Daily Gazette. Sometimes, I am assigned to photograph a specific event. Most times, I just voluntarily show up to campus events and document them. My favorite moments to capture often occur during performances and art specials, like dance or music concerts, and theatrical plays. I think what attracts me to these types of events is the variety of emotions performers display during the shows. The downside is that I am often very conscious of the annoying mechanic click sounds my camera makes every time I take a photo; I do my best to attend rehearsals instead of actual public performances in order to avoid disturbing the audience's enjoyment of being immersed in the wondrous art.

WH: Do you have any artistic or technical influences?

JX: Yes, I probably have many, because my photography and I are influenced by everything. But I can't name anything in particular because I'm not conscious of everything that's influenced me.

WH: What technique or theme excites you the most? Why?

JX: I like pictures of the accidental and the random moments in life. Sometimes, I enjoy just clicking the shutter button without really looking at what I'm taking a photo of until it's uploaded on to my computer. I also gravitate towards macro photography because I get to see the details of a magnified subject that are often too invisible to my eyes.

Some of June's favorite shots from campus include a series of macro images she took in the Crum Woods as part of her work for "Writing Nature" with Professor of English Literature Elizabeth Bolton.

WH: What is your favorite subject so far?

JX: Blurriness and wistful wonder.

WH: Do you prefer to photograph people or places? Or neither?

JX: I prefer to photograph life — things that seem to have breath in them, even if they happen to be technically inanimate. However, I try to remember that sometimes the best way to capture it all is with my eyes, and not with the lens.

WH: Is photography something you study academically?

JX: Up until this semester, I only 'studied' photography through amateur practice and happenstance. This semester, I'm enrolled in Visiting Instructor Ron Tarver's color photography course, and I am trying to pick up the fundamentals that I'd missed from the beginning. So far, I've found that even though I hadn't formally studied technique, I've learned certain things through experimentation in the last couple of years. It's certainly an interesting experience to go back and relearn the basics in a class setting. This course will be my first and last studio art class at Swarthmore.

Other favorites include performances of all kinds. "I love especially taking photos of dance performances, because I love capturing motion and emotion," June says. "I love the way the dancers' bodies are able to a story or express a mood through choreography, and in combination with the lighting sometimes, the shadow-play in those moments is really beautiful."

WH: How does photography relate to your academic work?

JX: I'll tell you right now that my thoughts to this question will be a bit scattered. It's been on my mind for a while now, but I haven't steadied myself with a conclusion yet. I think photography is a constant reminder to me that there are endless ways to approach a subject, issue, or story. Perspective is a very significant part of photography — where am I standing when I snap the picture? and how do I frame my subject? — but it is also a crucial idea to keep in mind when thinking about life in general.

Yet, although I believe that this perspectivism keeps my prejudices in check sometimes, it often causes some problems for me when I try to focus on following a certain thesis or point of view. When combined with my indecisive tendencies - I'm a Libra! - a perspectivist outlook traps me in lots of frustration every time I have to write a paper. And alas, I'm an English major!

Composing an essay is quite similar to composing a photograph, in that both need a certain framework, a set of limitations. I still have trouble with containing my subjects within a definite context; I tend to get too greedy and try to cover everything I see. It takes me a while to realize that it's not really possible to see everything, and therefore, much less possible to capture everything, whether it's in the camera, on paper, or in my mind.

Both photography and academic work continue to confuse and trouble me at times because there is so much I can do, I lose track of where I am and what I want to do. That's when I try to take comfort in the philosophy that, perhaps, the journey matters more than the destination.