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Learning to be present and tell stories from behind the lens -30-

(Michael Zshornack/Photo editor)

By Efren Pinon

June 11, 2017 2:05 p.m.

I came to UCLA as an eager transfer student prepared to take on the opportunities this institution has to offer. I wore hard work, determination and confidence as my armor – time, my greatest enemy. The two years I would spend here seemed like a countdown. And so I was on a race and everyday became a mere stepping stone for the next. Standing still was not an option; sleepless eyes on a perpetual search for something, anything.

The Daily Bruin was not initially part of this plan, but it was the collision that literally and figuratively shifted my tracks.

My introduction to The Bruin was an accident. I recall walking through a busy campus for the welcome week activities fair. My friend found home in the sorority booths while I was left to find my own. I tripped on a loose shoelace and caught the edge of a wobbly table for balance. I tried to brush my embarrassment off by pretending to be an interested applicant, leaning closer for more information.

I was greeted by a bright English accent.

“You seem to like art, would you like to join the Daily Bruin?” William Thorne, a member of the Daily Bruin’s Arts & Entertainment section, asked.

Perhaps it was my wide-brimmed hat and loud, patterned shirt that gave it away, but for the first time amid the chaos I felt understood.

Weeks later, I filled out the application and made a portfolio of photos taken from my phone. I listed Dorothea Lange as the greatest influence on my life because she was the only famous photographer I’d heard of. I was then interviewed and quickly found my name on the list with my friend Erik standing beside me.

On the first day of media training our instructor emphasized the responsibility of capturing the truth and painting images that are too sacred for words. I had never picked up a camera before and the expectation was daunting. My eyes moved faster than my hands. Frustration became a constant companion to blurry photos and missed opportunities.

With every click and flash, I started to let go of the unnecessary pressure on my shoulders. The Daily Bruin gave the gift of being present and allowed me to witness people’s truths. I was able to take a small part in telling the subject’s stories of hope, love and fear, the highlights and shadows that make us human. More importantly, I woke up to the reality of systems that oppress the marginalized. As a photographer, I welcomed a responsibility most artists proudly carry – comfort the disturbed, disturb the comfortable.

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera,” Lange once said.

My growth in photography has allowed me to pause and appreciate the truths that orbit me, the light that extends beyond the lens. From midnight strolls for food, hour-long phone calls, cackling through silly jokes and having meaningful carpool conversations, I have found truth in the people that I am grateful to have in my life.

To my parents and siblings who have been the most patient and understanding, thank you for always being there for me. I would also like to acknowledge my best friends, Fabiola and Grace, whose strengths have inspired my galleries on mental health and pushing past barriers and China, my dear friend who introduced me to photography. To my friends from church who have become family to me, thank you for being just a phone call away.

To my coworkers, thank you for your unwavering support and switching shifts when I needed to cover important events. My fellow transfer friends, especially my UCLA family since orientation – Yary, Monica and Erik – I truly don’t know what I would do without you. The close friends that I’ve made from the Daily Bruin – Miriam, my boss and hermana; Tehya, the keeper of all secrets; the phenomenal Keila, Diana, Lindsay, Shreya, Anisha, Julie and Jillian as well as everyone I’ve trained and worked with on the Photo team – it has been an absolute pleasure.

To Marley, Mackenzie and Michael – my dates to every party and fellow members of our secret fan club – you have come so far!

There is some truth in saying that the Daily Bruin takes you places. Perhaps it could be quantified by awards and priceless opportunities. But I’ve truly found my personal wins in moments that don’t need photographs to be remembered – memories that are simply unforgettable.

Piñon was a Photo contributor 2015-2017.

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Efren Pinon | Alumnus
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