By Naomi Rose Delkamiller, Alumna, 2018
The beginning of my sophomore year has been all over the place. Consequently, my quest to “Find Balance: Sophomore Edition” has led me astray from continuing to write my New York series. All I’ve really managed to get out is that I walked across a well known bridge and had a rough flight home. However, my time in New York was a lot more than that and today I’m going to try my best to fill in some of the blank spaces I’ve left behind.
I first heard about the academy from my middle school journalism teacher in the spring of 2017, as an 8th grader. Applications had already closed by that time so I decided to put on my “patience pants” and wait for applications to open again at the end of the year. Then, towards the end of December I wrote multiple personal essays and completed an application for early admission to the program. Time turned to 2018 and in late January I was accepted. Following that, I worked a lot, spent less money on food, and with the support of all my friends and family I arrived at Fordham University, Mckeon Hall floor 19 room 13 on July 22, 2018.
Today was a big day. I finally got my evaluation back from my instructors at The School of the New York Times. After reading just the first sentence of it, I immediately thought about my academic R.A. who is back at Harvard studying to become a rapper, my course assistant who is writing her memoir in New York, and the other amazing mentors I met. Those two weeks were a privilege to say the least and I owe it to myself more than anything to write about them.
To set the scene: This was my first time going to New York City. Also my first time going far far away by myself. More or less my first attempt at big kid life.
An old family friend met me at the airport when I landed at LaGuardia in Queens and accompanied me to Manhattan. In the 45 minute drive to Fordham University he gave me the 411: Broadway Street messes everything up, Houston divides the island, uptown means Inwood Park, downtown means Battery Park, and so on. We got to Mckeon Hall and this confident girl you know and love… wasn’t so confident anymore.
Soon after that picture was taken, I was handed my lanyard, room key, ID card, and headed up to my dorm room on the 19th floor. I was welcomed by my roommate from Alabama and an incredible view that overlooked the Julliard School of Music, Broadway Street, and the bottom left corner of Central Park. Believe it or not, I never shut the blinds and enjoyed the never ending view that stretched all the way to Brooklyn. I often fell asleep late, woke up early and lived out my mantra that,“I can sleep when I get home.” I walked to the park almost every morning and relied on my stash of protein bars and goldfish to skip cafe lines. (My parents taught me well.) But, for today, almost three months later, I’d like to write about the important things… about what I really did in New York. Here it is.
I learned a lot about me. I learned about my mentality, who I am as a writer, who I am as a photographer, and as a growing storyteller. I learned that writing is rewriting and to tell my story before it is told by anyone else. There is more where these statements come from, for each of them reflect the biggest lesson that I learned in the two sections to my course: Cultural writing and photography.
Writing is rewriting.
I spent my first week at The Times doing exactly what I came to do. I came to write and with the guidance of Gordon Haber, that’s exactly what I did. Gordon is a short story author who writes for a variety of New York magazines, a professor, and Vietnam War researcher. Before his class I knew I had lot to learn about writing, but I didn’t realize how much I had to learn. (And have yet to learn.) First of all, I can be an impatient writer. Less so now than I used to be, but that’s a result of paying attention to my instructor and finally listening to my mom. In three days I was walked through the process of creating a piece of writing that could speak for itself. I was introduced to the art of a bad first draft, why sentences and structure are best friends, and how to edit my way to a final piece of writing.
The first day was a lot of introductions; who everyone was, where they were from, why they were here, and what they liked to write.
“Hi my name is Naomi. I am from Nebraska, no I don’t expect you to know where that is, I’m here because I have a lot of growing to do, and I like to write about my life.”
The afternoon was dedicated to brainstorming short story topics and intense class discussions about fears, obsessions, and inspiration. Unlike school, orchestra practice, or work, everyone in that room wanted to be there. And I thrived in that passion.
I was choosing between a few ideas of my own that afternoon, but then my instructor pointed to my Palestine idea. “Tell me that story,” he said. So I did. Click to read. The next two days were a mixture of in class writing time and in class lessons about structure and editing. Writing time was spent outside sitting in the grass of Fordham’s campus and I was in a whole new kind of happy place. In two days I cranked out my Palestine essay and spent a whole day editing after I got writing critiques from my instructor. There were definitely better writers in the room and I knew that. Knowing I had some growing to do allowed me to focus on self improvement rather than mastery.
This section of the course was the reason I chose the class and I was already seeing the benefits of it the day I got home. Throughout the remainder of the summer, my mom noticed that I was allowing time to write, rewrite, and rewrite some more. She thought something was seriously wrong with me. I have a special gift for being restless, taking a handful of thoughts from my head, writing them down, and expecting that to be the end of the process.
Consequently, I often used to ignore the fact that writing is rewriting. When in reality… it’s a ~process~. I also used to get mad when I wasn’t getting the results I wanted when trying to write, photograph, or edit. But, my time away from home changed my perspective. So much of art is simply letting it develop. Crumpling up stories and being willing to create again is BRAVE, so I’ve decided to be brave and unafraid to start fresh as much as I want.
Tell your story before it is told by anyone else.
Like my first week, my second week in NYC gifted me with knowledge and experience that I’m convinced couldn’t have been gained anywhere else. My introduction to the art of photography began with meeting my instructor, James Estrin, a New York Times photographer, writer, and creator of The Lens Blog. After a brief talk from him about his own journey, an Egyptian photojournalist came to speak to our class.
Amr Alfiky was originally from Alexandria, Egypt, but due to the ongoing crackdown on photojournalists in his homeland, he moved across the world. He explained to us that, “When I came I didn’t feel like I belonged in New York, but I couldn’t return home because there was a warrant out for me.” So, in 2014, he began documenting the lives of fellow Egyptian immigrants as well as his own. Over the span of his first 14 months in America, Amr documented his transition into a new life with photographs using his iPhone. Now, he is on assignment all over New York and still unable to return to his home.
In all of it he told us to, “tell your story before it is told by anyone else,”and that the best thing we can do as photographers is, “Capture the emotion and truth of being human.” His talk stretched the world of photography much farther than instagram photos and tweets, leaving my eyes open to greater power of what photography can do and my heart inspired to tell a story as great as his.
(He came to us just a day after seeing his family for the first time in four years.)
The next day we immediately got the chance to practice portrait photography with digital cameras. We walked a couple of blocks off campus to Central Park, spent the morning taking photographs with partners, and the afternoon editing in the classroom with the instructor giving feedback on every frame we took. He often preached that, “an artist doesn’t paint everything they draw. So take more frames!!!”
For the rest of the week we played with the game of light, color balance, and motion. I spent a whole day at Coney Island and the next day working on sequencing. Here’s a glimpse at some of the shots I took.
In the end, my instructor told us to remember three things.
- All rules in photography are meant to be broken.
- Photographs should be read as questions.
- This art is all in the service of storytelling.
Now that I’m back at home I’m happy to report that I’m breaking more rules than I ever did before, I’m taking photographs that don’t give all of the answers, and like a musician, the more I practice my instrument, the more proficient I become.
In the end my evaluation told me a lot. Below is a brief excerpt from my report.
“Naomi was one of our most expressive and passionate students. Inquisitive, curious, and confident about her contributions to the class, she always had questions that moved class discussions further along and thoughtful insights about the material as well as the world more generally. Though she may benefit in time to allow other voices to be heard before her own, her passion added a powerful and valuable element to the class. There is no doubt she will succeed in future endeavors, wherever she goes from here. We cannot wait to see how she develops as a writer and thinker.”
And neither can I.
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