Mauricio Vallejo Winner of the 2014 – 2015 CUNY Photo Challenge

“Capital of the World” offers a classic view of the East River from a vantage point high above Manhattan’s Financial District. Mauricio Vallejo, then a Hunter College sophomore, shot it at 11 p.m. on Christmas night, 2014, from the 32nd floor apartment of a friend’s friend on Water Street.

May ’15 – Winner #9

Holi Ka Rang, May 2015 Student Photo Challenge winner
Kuhokee Das, Student Photo Challenge winner May 2015

Holi Ka Rang,” or “The Colors of Holi,” was more than the traditional spring festival of renewal and love as celebrated this year at Queens College. Marking the ancient Hindu Festival of Colors, Queens students raised more than $1,400 to help people affected by the devastating earthquakes in Nepal. “Our participation in Holi reflects QC’s diversity and unique culture,” says photographer Kuhokee Das. Holi is celebrated near the vernal equinox and is said to signify the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring and the end of winter. Celebrants play and chase each other with dry powder and colored water, spreading color over friends and strangers alike, sometimes to music, often with singing and dancing. It’s a day to meet, play, laugh and forgive.

Kuhokee Das, a rising junior at Queens College, says, “I took the photo purely because I wanted to capture the joyous moment. What I find most compelling is the uniform expression of excitement and happiness, as everyone throws powdered color into the air.” After seeing the photo, a friend suggested that she enter it in the CUNY Photo Challenge. A pre-med student, Das majors in art history and biology and minors in business and liberal arts. She intends to become a physician and medical researcher focused on patient care. In her free time, she is an Indian classical dancer, teacher and choreographer, and enjoys sketching and painting.

April ’15 – Winner #8

Singing Student, Nancy Zhu April 2015 Student Photo Challenge winner
Nancy Zhu, Student Photo Challenge winner April 2015

“Singing Student”is a moody shot of Baruch’s Got Talent!, an annual student show that’s hosted by the Undergraduate Student Government. Contestants vie for a $500 prize and a coveted Bernie Award. Charlemagne Tha God from Power 105.1 kept things moving through a dozen contestants who were selected after auditions; their performances ranged from singing to dancing to magic to stand-up comedy. “I took this photo because it showed the audience a glimpse of what it would feel like performing before a panel of judges,” says Nancy Zhu. She had been looking for a photograph to enter in the CUNY Photo Challenge and knew she had it when she covered this event for the college yearbook, Lexicon.”

Nancy Zhu a junior at Macaulay Honors College at Baruch College, majors in advertising and marketing communications and minors in graphic communications. “I enjoy photography as a hobby.” She and her photographer friends sometimes “go out just to take photos of places in the city we’ve never been before. I love trying new things and learning about new cultures. Growing up in New York, and especially as a student at such a diverse school like Baruch College, I’ve gotten to experience so many cultures. Last week, we celebrated Holi [a Hindu religious festival] on the Baruch Plaza; this week, we celebrated the closing ceremony for APAHM [Asian-Pacific American Heritage month], and the opening ceremony for Caribbean Week.” Zhu calls herself “a foodie and a traveler,” who this year visited China and last year saw South Korea. “I hope to be traveling to more places this summer, to experience more cultures and trying exotic foods.” Her portrait was taken for Encounters Magazine, Baruch’s arts and literary magazine.

March’15 – Winner #7

Sleeping with One Eye Open, March 2015 Student Photo Challenge winner
Elizabeth Jaeger, Student Photo Challenge winner, March 2015

“Sleeping with One Eye Open”captures an olive baboon napping (or perhaps not) in Kibale National Park in Uganda. Elizabeth Jaeger, a Hunter College master’s student in animal behavior and conservation, shot the picture during winter session. She chanced upon the baboon during an elective field study course given by Jessica Rothman, a Hunter assistant professor of anthropology who specializes in primate sociology. “During the day we’d go out into the jungle in the mountains and do field work, learning about local plant life and biodiversity and ecology and primates. In the evenings, there were lectures from other researchers and government officials about government policy in trying to protect the environment and animals, as well as about tourism strategies. These were 12- and 14-hour days.”

Elizabeth Jaeger in the first year of a two-year master’s program, earned her undergraduate degree in TV broadcasting and film at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. She then worked for five years in Florida as a television news editor and occasional photographer before returning to her native New York State. “I missed New York desperately,” she says. She now works in the finance division of the New York City Economic Development Corp., which encourages economic development and neighborhood revitalization. After earning her degree, she hopes to blend her experiences in a career in government conservation policy. “I’d like to tell the story about what’s going on in so many parts of the world. We’re losing species and biodiversity. Conservation and government policy will have to play a very big role if we want to reverse some of the damage that has been done.”

February’15 – Winner #6

Two Mapuche Pueblos in Temuco, February 2015 Student Photo Challenge winner
William Murray, Student Photo Contest winner February 2015

“Two Mapuche Pueblos in Temuco”shows a selfie taken in Chile during a winter session encounter between Lehman student William Murray, foreground, and indigenous Mapuche people. After studying “Human Rights and Transitional Justice” at Bolivarian University of Chile in Santiago, he met Mauches during anthropological research outside the capital city. “There, we learned how much of the indigenous people in Chile share a cosmovisión – or worldview – that orients them toward ritualized use of ancestral land,” he says. “The Mapuche are committed to land recovery fundamentally aimed at restricting environmental abuse and achieving justice in relation to cultural use of traditional lands.” He used a GoPro HERO3+ video and still camera, which has an ultrawide-angle lens that often is attached to the photographer’s body or equipment for dramatic, personal-viewpoint skiing, surfing and other sports photography. “I love the spirit of hospitality that this photo captures, as well as the colorful regalia and silver breastplates worn by the women.”

William Murray expects to graduate from Lehman College in 2015 with a major in philosophy, a minor in political science and a concentration in ethics and public policy. He belongs to Phi Sigma Tau, the international honor society in philosophy. He previously studied abroad following a global civics course at Bronx Community College, where he earned an associate degree in 2013. That Bronx course “brought forth one of my most edifying life experiences to date: travelling to Austria’s Salzburg Global Seminar.” Since 1947, the seminar at the 18th century Schloss Leopoldskron palace challenges present and future leaders to solve issues of global concern. Murray intends to work either for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a peace officer ensuring compliance with environmental regulations and statutes or as a National Park Service ranger promoting stewardship of natural areas and resources. He enjoys taking pictures, writing songs, exercising, blogging poetry, going to concerts, hiking and other outdoor pursuits. Follow his photography on Instagram @wilmur82.

January’15 – Winner #5

Photo Challenge Winner January 2015
Mauricio Vallejo, Student Photo Contest winner January 2015

“Capital of the World”is a classic view of the East River from a vantage point high above Manhattan’s Financial District. Mauricio Vallejo, a Hunter College sophomore, shot it at 11 p.m. on Christmas night, 2014, from the 32nd floor apartment of a friend’s friend on Water Street. Using his Canon Rebel digital SLR camera and an 18-55mm lens set at 18mm, he rested the camera on a ledge for stability and used auto-exposure for a perfect shot. “The most interesting aspect of the photo to me is its vantage point,” he says. “I would have never gotten into photography if it wasn’t for a picture I saw on Instagram boasting over 5,000 likes of a fellow Instagrammer on the edge of a building. I remember staring at it for a few minutes puzzled, trying to figure out how it was done and how someone could possibly bring themselves to do that. But the aerial view was absolutely captivating, and that’s what I set out to do: capture NYC from above.”

Mauricio Vallejo a pre-med student majoring in behavioral neurobiology, expects to graduate in 2017, head to medical school and become a surgeon. He says the image encapsulates what makes New York City exciting. “I could never imagine myself attending college elsewhere,” he says. “The thing about New York City is that nothing is ever far from grasp. If you want to get somewhere, you can. If you want to do something, you can. A New York minute is more time than you’ll ever need.” In his spare time, he mixes urban exploration with photography. “Whether it’s underneath, at ground level or up above the urban jungle, I like to capture every minute. I like to joke that I’ve been on more rooftops than Santa Claus.” You can see more of his photos on Instagram @_transcend.

December’14 – Winner #4

December 2014 Student Photo Challenge winner
Shawn Zayas, Student Photo Challenge winner December 2014

“#1” shows the view of a movie from the other side of the camera: the director making notes, an actor awaiting the call of “action,” lights, set, and the camera, itself. This classroom shot was taken this fall at Brooklyn College’s West End Building (commonly called “The WEB” or “The Barn”), the Film Department’s home. The students had spent hours rigging lighting, building the set and improvising in order to recreate a scene from Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 thriller, “Jackie Brown.”

Shawn Zayas, a film production major (class of 2016), made this shot with a fisheye lens, which accounts for the warping. “I can’t picture my future without a camera being involved. Pun intended,” he says. “Anything related to photography and videography/filmmaking is what makes me happy and therefore it’s what I hope to continue to be doing in the future,” with a lot of travel thrown in. On the night when his class was channeling Tarantino, “I knew I wanted to capture the memory of our production by taking pictures and video. I take my camera almost everywhere, hoping to never miss a memorable moment. The thought did occur to me that I should enter the CUNY Photo Challenge after I looked through the shots I captured that night.” In his spare time, Zayas enjoys watching movies, reading, and writing poems and short stories. “Oh, and eating.”

November’14 – Winner #3

Welcome, President Matos Rodríguez, November 2014 Student Photo Challenge winner
Bridget Gleason, Student Photo Challenge Winner November 2014

“Welcome, President Matos Rodríguez” captures the moment at the confetti-filled end of a speech that Queens College’s new president, Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, gave to the campus community at the start of the school year. “This was a day for our new school president to meet the students and for the students to meet him, as well,” says photographer Bridget Gleason, whom the Student Association hired to cover the event. “The photo shows President Matos Rodríguez looking ahead with a smile and the excitement of the new year.” She particularly likes the way the three elements in the photo – the president, the students and the confetti – go together. “Without one of the subjects, the photo would not be the same.”

Bridget Gleason, a junior majoring in media studies and film, says she “can’t predict the future, but I came to New York City to achieve the dreams I’ve had since I was younger. My goal is to establish myself in New York City after college in order pursue a career in television and photography.” When she’s not in class, studying or playing with the college soccer team, “I enjoy wandering the city with my camera, capturing NYC through my lens. I post my photography to my website, bridgegleason.com, and sell my photos as well. I also enjoy going to the city to attend lectures that people in the entertainment industry give, or I go to the morning and/or late night shows to study the set and talk to the people working there in order to learn more about the business.” She values her CUNY experience. “Queens College has excellent professors and has given me a great education in the field I wish to pursue after college. Being in New York City, surrounded by those who are in the entertainment industry, gives me more of a drive to go out there and make my dreams a reality, like I see the people I have looked up to do.”

October ’14 – Winner #2

The Light Train, October 2014 Student Photo Challenge winner
Khalil Quick, Student Photo Contest winner October 2014

“The Light Train” conjures a futuristic noir version of New York City, in which laser lights and glowing golden bars punctuate the darkness above a mysterious field of glistening golden hemispheres. To say this is a shot of an elevated subway platform on a rainy night diminishes its aura, but speaks well of the photographer’s vision. “I like the fact that it takes something as mundane as a train station, something that as a New Yorker I experience every day, and presents it in a completely different light,” says photographer Khalil Quick, who took the photo with the CUNY Photo Challenge in mind. “I had wanted to take that shot for a long time and, just a couple days before the end of the October photo challenge, I finally felt like I had the perfect opportunity.”

Khalil Quick is a communications technology major who intends to graduate from York College in 2016. He shot this image during his regular commute home on the J train. “I decided to take this shot after watching a documentary about human technological progress, and how technology’s evolution is taking on a life of its own,” he explains. “Now more than ever, it has been growing in wild, unpredictable patterns. The rate of technological growth grows exponentially with every new idea and invention. Many generations have been absolutely in love with the idea of being able to go across the country in the blink of an eye or, for that matter, even time travel one day. Scientist say the only way even to dream of achieving that would be to figure out how to move beyond the speed of light. This is my peek into the maybe not so far future.” Quick likes to write and study martial arts in his spare time. He would like to become a write and film director.

September ’14 – Winner #1

Angled Reflection, September 2014 Student Photo Challenge winner
Emmeline Xiao, Student Photo Challenge winner September 2014

“Angled Reflection” captures a unique New York scene – exterior and interior; urban greenery and urban sparseness; an architectural display case at the Metropolitan Museum that opened in 1978 A.D. and the Temple of Dendur from 15 B.C. that was moved from Egypt. It is a scene of tranquility and mystery.

Emmeline Xiao (Brooklyn College, 2016) shot this photo while at the museum for an art history class. “I went to write about art pieces, and decided to make my entryway into the exhibits there,” in architect Kevin Roche’s setting of the Temple of Dendur, she says. What struck her most were the angles of the glass wall and their reflections. Angles, she says, are visually important. She moved around the space, making photos to see how the angles changed with varying perspectives. In a sense, she says, changing angles is a metaphor for college studies. “Lots of people today struggle to realize that situations are never one way. GPAs aren’t everything. Our majors do not determine what we will become. School does not eliminate our social life.” Majoring in film studies with a minor in sociology, Xiao hopes for a career in the film industry, perhaps as a writer or a documentarian, while also contemplating launching an event-planning and decoration business.