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Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Sunsets with Savina

First-year Savina Bouathong works on “Sunsets with Strangers” photography portfolio

When looking through a photo album to get inspiration for a photography portfolio, first-year food science and technology major Savina Bouathong came across a picture of her and her sister in her grandfather’s Jeep. When she was growing up, her grandfather would take her and her sister to watch the sunset at Dixon Lake in Escondido, Calif. or Sunset Cliffs National Park in San Diego, Calif. She and her sister would be wrapped up in fuzzy blankets and enjoying their favorite snacks — Shrimp Chips, Hello Panda and Pocky, to name a few — while he told them stories about his life and the people he had met.

Bouathong started thinking about pursuing photography because of her grandfather. From the time she was five years old, she would notice him taking pictures of people and places. She started to view photography as a lifelong passion in middle school, working for the yearbook and eventually becoming its editor. She didn’t stay involved with yearbook in high school but continued to hone her photography skills through internships — switching off between using a Nikon D810, Fujifilm X-T2 and the camera she currently uses: a Canon Rebel T5.

“I think that people think photography is an easy thing to do,” Bouathong said. “[They think] they see something nice and take a picture of it — you just click a button. But it’s more than that. You have to look at the lighting and you have to look at the environment around. And you have to think [about] what you want in your photo and what you don’t want.”

Bouathong is in the process of applying for a photography internship for which she is producing a digital portfolio. The position is year-round, and Bouathong would be shadowing this summer and would be taking over the position while the year-round photographer takes the summer off for the next three years.

With this year marking 10 years since her grandfather’s passing, that photograph she saw in the family album gave her an idea.

“Usually when I create a portfolio, I do something that I’m inspired by,” she said. “Because I know if I’m not inspired, I’m not going to put my heart into it […] At that moment [when I saw that photo] I was like, I have to do it […] I need to honor him, and this is what I’m going to do.”

The title of Bouathong’s portfolio is “Sunsets with Strangers,” inspired by the time she spent with her grandfather at sunset and the stories he’d tell. The portfolio consists of three parts for each subject — a portrait, a silhouette and a sticky note on which the subject is asked to write their story. The fourth part is a video that includes footage of all the people she photographs.

Bouathong started working on the portfolio towards the beginning of Winter Quarter. For the portfolio, she wanted to include 100 sunsets, so she started off with a goal of getting 25 people each month so she could reach 100 by the end of May. She started asking people she knew and then asked them to reach out to friends. However, she wanted to make sure she included strangers as well, so she reached out to people she saw in the Dining Commons or in classes.

In creating this portfolio, Bouathong said she had some interesting and fun interactions with people she otherwise may not have talked to. But what Bouathong said she enjoys most is talking to these people, who were strangers to her before, and hearing details about their life.

“There have been photoshoots where people start playing music, and they start dancing,” Bouathong said. “It’s so cute, it’s really cute […] There have been times when they start talking about themselves and the way they grew up or a unique experience to them. They open up to me, and I enjoy that. And I open up as well.”

Bouathong’s goal is to honor her grandpa, and she said a lot of how she identifies herself today is from what she learned from him and his stories.

“Stories about people who had to give up their dreams, those who didn’t have a choice […] or simply those who did not have any sense of direction [have] made me the person I am today,” Bouathong said. “Because of [my grandfather’s] stories, I appreciate everything I have and everyone who decides to be a part of my life. My grandpa taught me to treat others with kindness, because life is complicated and everyone is going through something. I am living his dream — to live the way I want to and to do the things I love.”

Written by: ANJINI VENUGOPAL — features@theaggie.org  


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