Photography isn’t just a hobby for senior Nikki Klepper. After discovering her dad’s old Pentax K1000-a 35mm SLR the summer before sophomore year, Nikki began taking photo classes at school where she was inspired. Equipped with four cameras —a Canon DSLR, a Pentax K1000, Polaroid 300 and a simple Canon SD1200—and looking into buying more lenses to enhance her pictures, Nikki decided to spend her time photographing in New York City, through the School of Creative and Performing Arts (SOCAPA) over the summer.
“Photography definitely is a big part of my life, I take my camera almost everywhere because you never know what cool sights you’ll see,” Nikki said. “Photography is just a way for me to let my emotions spill on a medium that everyone can relate to, it’s kind of like an unspoken conversation I hope evokes emotions out of everyone when they look at my photos.”
In the summer of 2011, after taking photo classes at the school, Nikki traveled to Paris on a photography foreign exchange program that she found online and decided that she wanted to continue to travel outside of California and take pictures during the summer. After discovering SOCAPA, she decided it was a perfect way to learn more about photography in a new environment. It offered a campus in East Village and Manhattan, with classes in both advanced film and digital photography, classes that Nikki had previously taken at school.
“[The application process] was quite a bit more time consuming than any of the other courses because you had to prove you were advanced enough for the class through portfolios and essays you had to submit,” Nikki said.
Nikki arrived in the Big Apple on July 2. Every Monday through Friday, she had two sessions—a lecture in the morning ranging from the history of photography to how to use Photoshop, and an afternoon session that allowed her to go on a photo safari in random locations in New York City, use the dark room if needed, or work in the digital photography lab. After class, Nikki was allowed to explore New York City with friends or work on editing and critiquing on her photos.
“We weren’t assigned anything in particular except for a self-portraiture project which we had about a week to brainstorm and shoot in the studio,” Nikki said. “I got to experiment a lot in lightroom applications with my photos and create an online portfolio to share with my friends and family, so overall it was a great program for me. Not only did I get to work with some pretty big name NY photographers such as Andrew Katzowitz and Tom Legoff, but I met amazing kids from all over the world there as well.”
Apart from photographing in an iconic place that Nikki hadn’t been to since she was a little girl, SOCAPA allowed her to experiment with her photos to make sure they appeal to her audience.
“I feel like I found my photographer’s voice and expressed it in all my photos,” Nikki said. “Being in charge of what fills that viewfinder makes me able to do what I want. You know that shot is your own and no one can tell you otherwise.”
Whether it was becoming more confident with taking photos in manual mode on her DSLR, or being critiqued by her professors, the new techniques she learned in three weeks helped enhance the quality and appeal of her photos, and even changed her perspective on photography in general.
“Although most of my pictures are digital photos, I did edit them to be black and white because I feel more emotion from black and white photographs, personally,” Nikki said. “One of my favorites is of a couple I took rowing at a pond in Central Park. It has a timeless look because of the black and white and it just seemed to capture the raw emotions of joy on their faces.”
After attending SOCAPA, Nikki feels that she has also become a more confident photographer, not being afraid of asking people to pose for her photos and not being afraid of taking photos that may seem hard to take.
“Before I was intimidated by all that the world had to offer and all the mysterious people in it,” Nikki said. “I’ve gained the confidence to shoot anything. I want people to look at my photos and realize that it’s more than art, its documentation of the world.”
For Nikki just being out taking photos in iconic places and meeting people who shared the same passion made her experience at SOCAPA truly amazing, and has created a stronger bond between her and photography, which is something she plans on continuing throughout her life. For Nikki, her camera is her best buddy and is someone that will help her document her life.
“Photography for me is definitely going to be a lifelong thing,” Nikki said. “It was fun to see other people’s work but more rewarding to hear the different reactions to my work to truly reinstate that this isn’t just an ordinary hobby for me, it’s a lifelong passion. If I could, when I’m older, I would love to travel the world and take photos. every new place i travel to gives me that much more inspiration to want to travel more and take photos to document my life and the people, places and landmarks i see in it. I’m not sure where I’ll end up in life but as long as I have my camera with me I’ll be ready for any situation.”