Sarah Champion’s portfolio for her final project of her Bachelor of Applied Visual Imaging left lecturers amazed. Kaye Davis, Sarah’s supporter and lecturer, discusses the reasons why this portfolio left such an impression on its viewers
What I love about my job is the amazing people I get to meet, and, this issue, I’d like to share an experience that has come from my day job as a photography teacher and the story behind the work of a very inspirational student.
For the last three years, I have worked alongside and supported this pretty amazing student as she paved her way through her photographic studies. Her name is Sarah Champion. Some may have already heard of her, as she won the Student Photographer of the Year at the 2015 Epson/ NZIPP Iris Professional Photography Awards.
As part of the final year of the Universal College of Learning (UCOL) Bachelor of Applied Visual Imaging course, students are required to generate their own brief and come up with a complete packaged body of work — essentially a portfolio piece that showcases the skills and knowledge that they have gained throughout their study and the direction that they aim to take on leaving the course.
Sarah’s goal was to produce a portfolio piece in the form of a book that highlighted her love of child photography — a genre that she wants to step into as she pursues a career as a professional photographer. Her heart and soul were poured into the production of her work and this truly showed in the final product.
Now, we all know that photography is an incredibly powerful medium, but I can’t remember a time, in my 19-plus years of teaching photography, that a student’s work has moved the lecturers so much. Being a multidisciplinary programme, and this being the final paper, five lecturers individually marked each of the students’ work. In this instance, we encouraged every lecturer on the programme to view her work, and not one came away with dry eyes (and I have to add here that I am the only female on the lecturing staff).
Sarah had set herself the challenge of creating a book that celebrated the lives of children who were battling, or were survivors of, cancer. It was a book aimed at celebrating the “hope and courage of the children” rather than the negative aspects of the disease presented — influenced by New Zealand photographer Rachel Callander’s Super Power Baby Project book — and, to this end, Sarah’s work was incredibly successful.
Sarah’s process first involved establishing her project and its parameters, liaising with community organizations, contacting families seeking their interest and permission, travelling to numerous locations, interviewing parents, spending time with the children, then photographing them. Following this came the editing, design, and layout of the work and, finally, the liaison with the printing company. All of this was documented through a number of precise visual diaries that recounted the project’s journey.
You are probably wondering what makes this work so special. Well, sometimes it is the story behind the image(s) that add further meaning and power. With this book, the introduction is a bit of a giveaway, as Sarah writes, “Cancer is not a journey you face on your own. It is one where you take your family and friends along with you. They too endure the good news and the bad, the most recent scan or blood-test results, and the threads of hope you are given along the way. Amongst it all there is hope, strength, courage, and positive experiences. Every child who faces cancer has a story which is important to tell. They and their families also have joy, laughter, and the creation of memories along the way. Every family who goes through this kind of journey re-evaluates what the important things in life are. Without exception each family will tell you it’s the little things that count. The things that cost nothing, the experiences they share, and the second chance to have more time. This photographic art book captures those moments … to provide an insight into each child’s journey, and to set in time the emotion, delight, and the things that matter in the end … the little things.”
It was the ‘knowing’ and the empathy that Sarah brought to the project herself that has made this work and the way she has captured each child so special. Every page and image is a reflection of its photographer, and the journey she herself has been through. As the great photographer Ansel Adams once said, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”
Additionally inspiring is that, throughout the project, Sarah showed incredible professionalism, fortitude, and determination, while silently being confronted again with the challenges of further personal hurdles. Sarah, her work, and her story have certainly enriched the lives of my fellow colleagues and myself; however, in the end, the work speaks for itself, and it was an honour to be able to mark it. As an aside, Sarah received 100 per cent from each of the lecturers marking her work, demonstrating that she is more than ready to establish herself in the professional portrait market.
You can follow Sarah Champion by connecting with her on Facebook: search for ‘Paper Crane Photography’.