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View From the Top: Photographer reflects on becoming AJRphotography

By Andrew Rauner

Section: Features

September 16, 2011

Dearest Brandeis Community,

I’ve been asked to write a column reflecting on my time spent here, and I’d like to start off by being thankful that it’s not yet over. I’m not gone yet and I intend to savor my last year here. That being said, in the last three years I think I’ve seen a lot, photographed a lot, and really taken in all that this wonderful community has to offer.

Coming in as a first-year, I really had no idea what to expect. I remember my mother being angry that I had decided to bring my camera, thinking I would misplace it or have it stolen, and my father asking me after a few weeks what I wanted to do with my life. Let me clarify now, though I’m rarely found without a camera, photography is not what I intend to do as a career, but rather a professional hobby. My first semester I quickly acclimated to the Economics and Computer Science departments as those were my academic interests (and now my majors). Regardless, back then we had required USEM (now called the optional FYS) classes and my second semester I took “Thinking About Infinity” with renowned professor William Flesch (ENG). To this day, I still consider that class to be one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life and it inspired me to pick up a Philosophy minor, which seems counter-intuitive to my highly quantitative majors. First-years: Do NOT give up the opportunity to take a small class with a highly regarded professor, it’s well worth the experience and there’s more to life than finishing your major(s) before you can legally drink (though that isn’t a bad idea either).

Though my camera rarely left my side my first year—I spent some time getting used to school before photographing every second of my life here. I checked out the photography team at both of our illustrious school publications, and took photos from time to time for professors or friends who knew that photography was “my thing.”

Sophomore year is really when things hit.

I started AJRphotography back in high school as a means of going to concerts for free. Essentially, band managers gave photo passes and tickets to young photographers willing to work for just that. To this day I still shoot as many local shows as I can. As a sophomore at Brandeis, I decided to try and build a photo-blog that would really capture the life here: from the events to the parties, from the athletics to the student body. The AJRphotography Facebook fan page has been live since the spring of my sophomore year. The first event I posted there was the off-campus fraternity, Zeta Beta Tau’s, spring semi-formal event. I posted it simply as a means of making sure every member was able to view and comment on the photos. Soon after, I brought my camera to Pachanga (the recently deceased rave that the International Club used to host). All hell broke loose.

I should take this opportunity to apologize to the Brandeis community—my initial policy on posting to Facebook was that of no censorship for anyone. I see that this may have caused some people some stress, given that some of the photos I took were quite racy. This was not my intention. My intention was and still is to show the real life of the Brandeis student (when it comes to photographing Brandeis events).

Regardless, instantly people were talking about my photos. Under the pseudonym AJR, I was able to maintain some sort of separation between myself and my work. To this day, I still meet people who go, “Oh that’s YOU?!” and I have more “fans” from Brandeis than I do friends at Brandeis. I took the hype as an opportunity to hit the ground running and start taking photos as often as I could. I went to concerts, formal events, Brandeis charity events and of course parties.

Since those early days, I’ve definitely started to clean up my act. I’ve tried to capture the life here without putting anyone’s social life, career or political future at risk. I’ve also expanded into the more public eye, going out to shoot nightlife in Boston as well as having my concert work published (as my Facebook page is way more popular than my actual website).

My junior year I did a studio-style shoot with a student’s up-an-coming music business. Setting up a studio in the Shapiro Atrium and spending the afternoon taking photos with everyone walking by was quite a rewarding experience. Since then, the DJ in the shoot runs his own nightlife company in the Boston area (Flavor Media), the student who arranged it is now a professional talent manager (at eMuze) and that talent is our very own sophomore-rap-star-wonder, Aziz. It’s really amazing how diverse and successful the Brandeis student body is. You can’t study talent management or event planning in a classroom and yet these students are currently out there pursuing their dreams with a Brandeis degree to stand on.

Later in the year, I was honored to host a photo shoot that provided the cover of this past year’s Archon, the Brandeis yearbook. That one was unique as it was all silhouette style, the students remaining anonymous. At every shoot I do, I get to meet new people, whether it’s for Adagio, various Greek organizations, Liquid Latex, the Student Union, The Girl Effect, Student Events or Kaos Kids. It’s fun seeing how truly diverse this campus really is.

Whether the Brandeis community has realized it or not, they’ve really been the reason that AJRphotography has become a mild success. During the school year, I can boast almost 40,000 monthly impressions on my fan page, and a large portion of that comes from this campus. This past summer some of my concert work was recognized and run by some major online publications and I was given many opportunities to shoot because of the popularity of my page. Thank you!

If I were to sum up my experiences here, it would boil down to a few pieces of advice (I’m looking at you, first-years). First, don’t underestimate that interesting-sounding class that has nothing to do with the major you came into college expecting to pursue. Take it; it’s worth it. Second, follow your passions. Aside from academic excellence, Brandeis is a great community in which to hone your skills and interests outside the classroom. Third, meet as many people as possible. This school is truly diverse and the relationships you make here will be important and interesting regardless of what job or life your friends and acquaintances pursue. Finally, realize that you can succeed at anything in this environment. Brandeis is a place small enough for one student to make an impact on the student body and yet an active enough campus to make that localized impact important on a huge scale. I never realized that walking into the library to see 40 computers all checking my page the day after a party would lead to really amazing photography opportunities outside of Brandeis.

Soak it up—and smile next time you look at a camera, it could be mine!

This column is the first in “View From the Top,” a series of pieces by Brandeis seniors reflecting on their experiences here. Seniors interested in contributing may e-mail features@thebrandeishoot.com.

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