Photo courtesy of Chad Stevens
Chad A. Stevens was named College Photographer of the Year in 1997 while he was a student at Western Kentucky University. He is currently an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, NC and is working on a feature length documentary film on the conflict over energy extraction in Appalachia. Before joining the UNC faculty, he was a documentary producer/editor at MediaStorm. Stevens has also taught in the visual communication programs at Western Kentucky University, the International Center of Photography and Ohio University.
Q. How did you get into photography?
A. I was a nerdy art kid in college. I drew. I painted. I listened to The Cure - only the sad songs, none of that "Friday I'm in Love" business. And I was lucky enough to get a spot in Jack Corn's basic photojournalism course at WKU. Being the darkroom, the smell of the chemicals, learning to see and love light - all of these things and more got me hooked on photography. That's still the greatest gift for me personally actually, just being able to see and appreciate light in my daily life. It brings me a lot of joy.
Q. Do you think winning the competition helped you in your career?
A. Without question, but it wasn't just about my career. Receiving this honor when I did really gave a touch of confidence to keep moving forward, to keep pushing for the next summit. When you are on the journey you just don't know how far you have to go. So it's all about valuing each step and giving yourself credit for how far you have come.
Q. At the time how did it feel to win College Photographer of the Year?
A. I remember every detail of the moment. The phone I answered. The room I was in. The light of the day. Calling my parents after I received the call from CPOY director. It was a pivotal point in my journey, and I'm still very honored to include CPOY on my list of accomplishments.
Q. What would be your advice to current photojournalism students?
A. You have to be human. You have to care. Your compassion and empathy transfers through you - into your work. You are just the medium through which the stories are told.
Present tense storytelling. Be there in the moment. It doesn't matter if you are shooting stills or video, you must be present. Don't' fall into the trap of past-tense storytelling with video. It's the easiest formula to follow, but the easy path is almost always the wrong path. Always challenge yourself. Never settle for what's comfortable. And most importantly, ask yourself what you care about, then find those stories.
Q. Is there anything you would like to add?
A. This may sound just too simple, but here it is: create. You must create. You must continue, even when you can't see what's ahead, you must keep moving forward. Don't let the fear hold you back. That is the only mistake you can make.
Interview by Sarah Rothberg