I am a transfer student from Beijing, China. Because I had already settled on a major, there was not a lot of freedom in my college plans. Finding out I could enrich my experience by tacking on a minor brought me so much surprise. Two years ago, when I came to America, I had no clear idea of what photography really was or how people could be inspired and motivated by photographs. Making photography my minor turned out to be one of the most important decisions of my life.
I am an English major. Like all other people studying English, I have endless essays to write and many materials to read and analyze every week, which is definitely not easy for someone who learned English as a second language. English classes are about expressing, sharing, and achieving one’s goals. These are qualities that Photography and English share. Whether I am writing articles or taking photos. I have to consider how to bring my audience to the same level as what I am thinking about.
English and Photography seem so far away from each other, but after starting my minor, I was amazed by how closely these different disciplines link to each other and how meaningful it could be to explore the common points shared between. One year ago, when I was taking a rhetoric class, there was a discussion about what is it like to adjust your writing choice based on your purpose and client. During this discussion, I found myself thinking of a similar thesis that I read in a photography book. It argued that in order to bring out different features of the same subject, the settings, compositions, and depth of field need to be different, which will lead the audience to various results. I shared this theory with my classmates because I felt that is a perfect example to visualize how to compose articles to give a better and clearer idea to readers--just like taking photos. The experiences that I had in my photo classes helped me practice adapting my work for my clients accordingly. And that’s also something I need to know as an English major student— writing depends on requirements and rhetorical needs.
Studying abroad means exploring a new world, physically, culturally, and spiritually. I had access to texts in America that were different from what I studied in China, which required me to adapt my own cultural background to a new way of thinking. Learning Photography also took me out of my comfort zone. I had to go outside to explore this new town physically. One day, I was completing my photography assignments around town. I witnessed an older couple sitting under a flower tree with their beloved dog. They were having a casual conversation, and everything else seemed unimportant to them. This scene looked very peaceful. I asked them if I could take a photo of them for my assignment, and they generously agreed. So, I was lucky to get the photo below.
2017 Spring By Xuexin Zheng
Since it was one of the photos in my first portfolio, it may not have been composed perfectly, but it gave me a chance to understand how friendly the people are here and how relaxed life can be in a small town, which is very different from the place I come from.
Combined with the books that I read for my English class, I gained a new way to see. In one of my British literature classes, I got the chance to read and analyze Julian Barnes’s novel The History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, where I looked up a lot of his unique ideas especially in Chapter Parenthesis. In that chapter, Barnes claims, “There always appear to be two explanations of everything. That is why we have been given free will, in order that we may choose the correct one. ” And one of the peer reviewed articles about the book argued that history seemingly cannot help revealing certain repetitive aspects of human nature. But if we jump out of our human perspective to judge ourselves as merely one species in nature, the understanding of what is correct and what is catastrophic could be very different from what we see. We need a non-human perspective to see what’s really going on and what we should do in the future as a part of the space and time. Those ideas inspired me a to rethink interpersonal relationships and the link between human beings and nature.
Once, when I took pictures in the country park here after a snowy day, I wandered around and enjoyed the silence of the purely white world. There I was standing in the middle of a huge valley, which made me feel so small. I tried to leave the snow and plants just the way they were, as if I had never been there. I took the pictures that I wanted and then left. I had been given the freedom to appreciate the valley and to exclude myself from that environment. That experience brought me peace I could never have anywhere else.
2018 Winter By Xuexin Zheng
Without discovering my passion for creating new images, I wouldn’t have had the chance to feel that special sense of peace on a chilly day. It was as if I had received a gift for all my hard work in all of my classes. That’s something priceless that all of my classes have given me, and I’m happy for the choices that I made.