Sevilay Kelek, a 2017-2018 CCI participant from Turkey who studied media at Scottsdale Community College, wrote the following reflection. In it she shares her aspirations as a photojournalist, and explains how her CCI exchange year supported her experiences and future goals of becoming a female journalist.
Many people have a dream in their life. My dream was to travel to different places far from my home and to meet new people understanding their cultures, language and lifestyle. When I was a child, I wanted to be a photojournalist. I wanted to be like Mary Ellen Mark who is a Fulbright scholar and also a Magnum photographer. She inspired me in knowing that women can be good photojournalists and how we can show people’s lives and their issues. It is nearly impossible to become a photojournalist as a female in Turkey. There are few opportunities and limited spheres in which to start.
Growing up in Turkey, I read many books about photographic history. I was drawn to one famous photographer, Ansel Adams, and his photos of the American West. I didn’t know before, but he was an amazing photographer who shot many famous places in Arizona, too. His pieces are famous around the world. While I looked at these photos, I never thought I would have the opportunity to cover places or take photos like these.
In 2016, I applied for the U.S. Department of State’s Community College Initiative (CCI) Program. I was selected for this program as a 2017-2018 participant. My Arizona dream came true on July 15, 2017 when I was placed in Arizona. I started studying at Scottsdale Community College (SCC) which has the best journalism course of any community college in Arizona. I have an amazing instructor, Janet Richards, who is a broadcast and newspaper journalist with decades of experience. Janet always supports me and encourages me to do more with my photojournalism skill. I have been able to publish my stories on NEValleyNews.org, the school-based news website. My first assignment was to cover an American football game. It was an amazing experience for me because I had never seen that game until the day of the game I was to cover. I was proud of my work, because this was my first photojournalism experience as a woman and first journalism experience in the USA.
In Arizona, I quickly learned about many famous places like the Grand Canyon, Navajo Nation, and Monument Valley, some of which had been shot by Ansel Adams himself in icon photos. Since then, I have continued to imporve my photojournalism skills, submitting shots for other students’ articles, competitions, and publications as often as I can. At the same time, I continue writing articles and improving my English language skills. While on a program trip to San Diego, we visit US-Mexico border and volunteered with a non-profit organization. I took a photos series that achieved great compliments from my peers and faculty at the school.
In March, Therese Tendick, Director of the Center for Civic & Global Engagement at SCC, and Megan Young, CCI Program Coordinator, made plans for a networking event for journalism students to meet Arizona Highways former editor Don Dedera. Dedera and his wife, Nancy, hosted us in his home in Payson, Arizona. As I walked into the home, I recognized the photos covering his walls as Ansel’s Adams photos. It was an amazing experience for CCI Program participants to listen to Dedera’s life story, history of journalism and photojournalism in the 20th century from him. Dedara showed us many photos, personal and professional, that he took when working for the newspaper. He had photos with Walter Cronkite, one of my favorite journalists. He moved from a simple crime-photographer to Editor of Arizona Highways with a large readership. All Dedera’s work was taken by the film camera, which he still had at the house and gladly showed up. The cameras were so old-fashion and very large. Dedera talked about the traditional photojournalism and why the art was so important. He spoke of how hard photojournalist had to work, spending many hours in a dark room. He talked about his Vietnam war experiences and added that journalists should be passionate in many kinds of situations.
Finally I got the courage to ask Dedera about his photos, and was surprised when he said, “Ansel was like my brother. I worked many years with him and he had an amazing personality.” I was so happy to see Ansel Adam’s original creations. I will never forgotten this experience in my life. The CCI Program has given me many opportunities to learn about my career. Dedera’s advice will remain with me, “Be passionate in every kind of situation in my work life.” I believe that one day I will be a successful photojournalist and achieve my dream of becoming a Magnum agency photographer. And always I will work for equality of women of many countries who can do what they dream, in any field, especially photojournalism. I am so glad to be a member of the CCI family.
This post was written by CCI participant Sevilay Kelek (Turkey, Scottsdale Community College, Media, 2017-2018).