Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
“What can you see?” the lady in the white coat asked me.
“E,” I said, staring at the biggest letter on the top of the eye chart.
“Anything else?” she inquired.
“Umm…No,” I shook my head. Everything below the first line was a blur.
Thus, at the age of five, I was officially diagnosed with severe myopia.
The optometrist then shoved a monstrous gadget in my face, repeatedly asking me to read the eye chart while she changed the lenses. Finally, a clear line of letters emerged before me and the world beyond arm’s reach suddenly became clear for the first time. I then received a pair of glasses. Although it was thick and unsightly, it represented a freedom I previously did not have. A whole new horizon opened up in front of my eyes.
My vision further expanded when my dad introduced me to photography. Equipped with a point-and-shoot camera, I started taking random pictures – the sky, a frog, a mountain range. For a kindergartener, being able to see the world through a different lens was a fresh and exhilarating experience.
As I grew older, my photography evolved in complexity and meaning. In high school, I worked and saved enough money to buy a DSLR, a Canon Rebel, with which my art began to take on a more abstract direction, incorporating variables such as focus, lighting, and perspective. In one of my first projects, I put together several pieces of bent paper to form a structure, which took on the appearance of a grand palace when light shone on it at a certain angle. In another, I juxtaposed a seashell and a potato chip, illuminating commonalities shared by vastly different objects. My vision of the world grew as my photography transformed from the mere recording of photons to an art form.
I began to enter and win photography competitions, and one of my works was published in a book, one featured at the University of San Diego gallery, and another at the Calabasas Teen Arts festival. The highlight of my “career” was the day the mayor of Calabasas handed me the award for best photograph, emphatically stating “Great work. It’s so real I could almost touch it!”
Stationary photographs transformed into moving images when I took up cinematography. One of my earliest films was an educational video about macromolecules, which launched my YouTube channel. With encouragement from my peers, I made several other short films on a variety of topics, ranging from a Western-style duel to a metaphorical story about self-discovery. For my school robotics team, I created a film utilizing a helicopter, a steadicam, and a rotating platform. My work won 1st place at the VEX online challenge and advanced our team to world championships.
To date, my most ambitious film project has been an anti-war documentary centered on the experiences of a Vietnam War veteran. This piece was the product of my summer study at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, which introduced me to the wonders of modern day filmmaking. During my interview with the veteran, I had to ask deeply personal and often uncomfortable questions involving the horrors of war and its aftermaths. Memories of killing a 14-year-old boy, losing fellow soldiers, and suffering from PTSD came bubbling to the surface. This project was unlike any of my others, for it challenged me to find new ways to pursue knowledge and, in the process, broadened my sphere of awareness.
Dorothea Lange once said, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see.” Indeed, the camera is a medium which has enabled me to see clearly and allowed me to learn about humanity in greater breadth and depth. My biological eyes no longer limit what I can see.
I have found my place behind lenses.