Aglinting sunrise over Copenhagen, a woman playing the harp in a nook of ancient Jerusalem limestone, a crowd of plastic Maneki-Neko cats saluting in unison outside of a Tokyo temple, a pensive man at his magazine stand in Florence. Vassar students truly have sharp eyes for distinct details of the world.
For the last 14 years, the Office of International Services and the Vassar International Student Association have held the International Photo Contest. According to the Vassar website, “[The exhibition displays] our campus community’s cross-cultural perceptions and perspectives” (Vassar College, “International Photo Contest.”). This year’s collection, held in the Old College Bookstore, has been on display since early November.
Assistant Dean of the College for Campus Life and Director of International Services Andrew Meade said in regards to the impetus behind the project, “The photo contest was part of an effort to create programming that gives students and alumnae/i the opportunity to share with one another their experiences of their own and other cultures and geographic spaces.” It was open not only to international students, but also to any Vassar student who wanted to share a moment captured on their world travels. Still, while the exhibit featured many photos from all around the world, some contestants offered photos of American locations.
Created in 2005, the photo contest was one of the first initiatives undertaken by the Office of International Services. Meade commented, “We wanted to do something which would embrace the international experience, both from that of international students and also of any student who traveled.” After consulting the successful international programming of other colleges and the Vassar International Student Association, Meade, the students and other faculty were able to bring the idea to fruition. In 2006, it became part of a week of international education shared with Kaleidoscope, an event that brings countries across the world together through food and dance in a night of cross-cultural festivities and learning.
The contest this year brought over 200 entries, with some students submitting multiple photos. The Old College Bookstore makes for an inviting exhibition space. The photos, pinned to the wall by tacks, fill the white spaces of the Bookstore with brilliant and rich colors. Vassar students captured moments of tranquility, nature and culture that brought life to the room. Gaven Eier ’19 captures the glimmering symmetry of the Palace of Peter the Great in St. Petersburg. Towering trees form sheer cliffs of green that empty into a reflecting pool hundreds of feet below. Golden statues frame the massive orange and baby blue palace. A photograph by Anja Zhou ’19 titled “Dusk” is placeless. The image freezes the ocean after dark and recalls a Rothko painting in its bold and horizontally alternating pinks and blues. Akansha Goel ’20 captured a photo of a canal in Venice. The sun peeks curiously around a sloping corner, refracting on the turquoise blue water, turning it gold. Tiana Chung ’19 snapped a moment of gleeful spontaneity in her photo “Pleased Piggy!” Eyes shut, ears pinned back and snout up, the pig named “Gem” hoists itself over the top of its green pen in pure, perfectly timed exuberance.
During a relaxing leg of her trip to Norway, Sophia Kapur ’22 captured the sleepy village of Svovlaer. Embalmed in fog, the town is dwarfed by looming mountains rising up hundreds of feet in the background. Asked what made that photo stand out, Kapur said, “I loved the way the clouds suffocated the village, and it had this small fishing town feel I wanted to capture.” Kapur also commented on what she liked about the photo contest as whole, stating, “it’s a fun way for people not taking art to have their work on display and to celebrate the enriching experiences we’ve had abroad.” Sophia’s sentiment falls in line with Meade’s vision for the project. He emphasized his pride in the 14th iteration of the internal photo contest: “Many of the photos are absolutely stunning, and collectively they really do encourage, to quote from Vassar’s original mission statement, ‘the individual imagination to see into the lives of others.’”
The winning photos will be chosen by judges and students. International Studies Program Director Tim Koechlin and Ekin Gulen ’21 will determine the strongest selections. According to the Vassar website, “Photos will be judged by a panel of experts based on technical merit, representation of international experience, and creativity” (Vassar College, “International Photo Contest”). Winners will be selected from two categories: “People” and “Culture and Landscape.” In addition to expert judges, students will have a vote in the contest and a third winner will be named People’s Choice. Results will be announced by Monday, Dec. 3, and the winning photos will be displayed on the bulletin board across from the Office of Residential Life. Regardless of winners, in the end, each and every photo highlighted distinct perspectives and experiences that cannot be recreated.