This is a new column featuring students and recent graduates who are working on interesting projects or doing cool things with photography. If you would like to recommend someone for this column, please email Maddie at madd...@gmail.com.

Jared Hamilton is senior photojournalism student at Western Kentucky University. He spent 2011 working on his project Reconnecting. It is about how technology has isolated humans from one another and how escaping into nature for a while can be therapeutic. That has now grown into a larger project called Finding Oasis.

What are your goals with photography?

Right now I just want to work on my book called Finding Oasis. I don’t want money or recognition. I just want my work to affect people. Finding Oasis is about making people think about the way we live. I hope that I can inspire people, that’s all that matters.

I have a lot of friends who are really motivated towards making it in the industry, but I don’t know if I want that. I just want a simple life and to hopefully use photography to make extra money. I find that when I am given an assignment it takes the fun out of shooting for me.

It has almost been two years since I’ve applied for a photography job. I still shoot nearly everyday, assignment or not. With the freedom from the restrictions of a client, I am able to make the photographs I want. Being able to do things my way is very important to me. For example, I spent last summer making pizza while I worked on my project. I am about to start another pizza job to save up for more travels this summer so I can get a little deeper into the project.

 

What do you want to do after college?

Wear suits and make good decisions. Nah, I’m just kidding. Right now, I am going to go with the flow of life. I plan to do some cheap traveling and continue working on Finding Oasis. The book is about the thought processes that lead to wanting to live a minimalist lifestyle. I don’t really have any detailed plans for the future at this point. I am just going with the flow and doing my thing. I have faith that if I put enough heart into my work, the necessities will come. All I really care about is making a badass photo book that makes people think. After traveling the country this summer I plan to find a farm where I can help with harvest, work on editing the book, and shoot photographs of that lifestyle. Hopefully after that I can send the book around and get some work taking pictures.

 

Who are your current inspirations?

I really love the work of William Eggleston, Constantine Manos, Alex Webb, and a lot of other more popular photographers, but for real my biggest inspirations are people that I know. I really dig on the work of Rush Jagoe, David Kasnic, Christian Hansen, and Austin Koester. It’s really interesting to know the personality of a photographer and see how that effects their work. Then you can break down a picture on a much deeper level and start to understand why the photographer shoots the way they do. Another recent influence has been the work of Peter Van Agtmael whom I met through Christian. Peter’s work is simple and beautiful even when the content of the picture is something as intense as war.

 

Are you working on any projects currently?

I have a couple of things going on. I am working on a project about working for a living and the flow of money. Later in the year I plan to photograph some organic farms and use the photos to compare the two lifestyles. This project will be included in my larger project Finding Oasis, which will include multiple projects or phases that show my thought processes. I started working on it when I returned to Kentucky from an internship in Michigan.

The first phase was called Reconnecting. It is about how technology and social media has isolated humans. As a counter point to that it is also about how getting away from everything and how being in nature gives us a chance to slow down and appreciate the beautiful world we live in. It has now grown into Finding Oasis, which will explore other ideas with a similar theme.

 

In what ways do you hope to grow as a photographer?

I hope to grow as photographer in the same ways I hope to grow as a human being. I just want to be humble and continue to grow. I’m not sure in what ways I am going to grow, but I believe that understanding photography is parallel with understanding life.

What mistakes have you made along the way?

The biggest mistake I made was my early view of why I should photograph someone. I would literally pick people that I thought were in bad situations because I knew those photos would receive praise in the college photojournalism world. I tried to justify it, but deep down I knew it was wrong. I think that a lot of students make this same mistake.

I am not saying that it is wrong to photograph bad situations, just that if you are going to do it you need to have good intentions. I think there is a thin line between activism and exploitation. I struggle with this constantly in my documentary work. When I choose a project it is always something I care about deeply. I try not to choose subjects for the wrong reasons. Bad situations make compelling photographs, but that isn’t a good enough reason to take the picture. It needs to be able to inspire change.

What was unique about the school you attended (or did not attend)?

WKU has been a great place for me to grow as a photographer and a person, but I don’t really know what is unique about it. It’s college. It was the sense of family that was built in the dark room because it forced students to be together and forge tight bonds. But the semester that I came in was the first semester that the Basic Photography class went all digital. Now some people work in the labs, but most people work at home alone or with a couple of friends. The family bond has changed. Luckily, I got to befriend a lot of the photographers that started out on film and see that tight-knit family unit that WKUPJ is supposed to be. There are still tight groups within the department, but it is not the same. This comes back to the issue of isolation through technology that I deal with in Reconnecting.
Who has had the most profound impact on you as a mentor?

I wouldn’t really say I have had much of a photography mentor outside of my teachers at school. The person who had the most profound impact on me recently was a friend from home named Dara. I had really been struggling with my personal ethics and the fine line between exploitation and activism. In 2011, I got first place in Hearst Journalism Championship in the Sports and News round. One of the photographs in my entry was a frame from the project I did on a young girl that uses medical marijuana to treat the symptoms that come with having brain cancer. When I was shooting the story I was viewing it as the most important thing that was going on at the time. When I got the award I felt guilty because I was gaining recognition and scholarship money because of her bad situation. This is something I have been struggling with for a while. Dara convinced me that documenting the bad parts of life is important if done with an empathic eye.

What advice do you have for young photographers who are struggling with similar issues / finding their voice / etc?

The only advice I really have for young photographers is be yourself. Be honest with yourself and trust your gut. Hundreds of people will tell you the “right” way to do things. Listen to everyone, but decide for yourself. In the end all that matter is that you are happy with who you are and the work you make.

To suggest a student or recent graduate for the Emerging Talent series, email Maddie at madd...@gmail.com.