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Pro­fessor of Biology Dan York audits Pho­tog­raphy II, boosts his Instagram game @yorkporch. Dan York | Courtesy

As senior Emily Rinaldi dis­sects cadavers in the anatomy lab, her biology pro­fessor, Dan York, will often pause at her side and say, “‘Hey, Em, what is the homework for this Thursday?’”

It’s a genuine question of York’s, not a pop quiz to test Rinaldi’s knowledge of the Anatomy II Syl­labus. In another lab, across campus in the Sage Center for the Arts, Rinaldi and York are class­mates in Pho­tog­raphy II, which York is auditing this semester to sharpen his skills in a medium that has long enamored him.

“Pic­tures are incredibly pow­erful, and I think pic­tures can have a strong impact on people’s feelings and thoughts about some­thing. I find that really fas­ci­nating,” York said.

Alongside his four class­mates, York has set out to capture Hillsdale through the lens of his Leica, a camera designed for street pho­tog­raphy. He has already become more com­petent with the pow­erful medium, even after just a third of a semester. But his improvement behind the viewfinder has chal­lenged him to grow as a person, too.

York likes to work with faces, eyes, souls. Firing off his shutter outside of class, he focuses his camera on people amid their daily lives, exploring a style known as street pho­tog­raphy.

“I find people very, very fas­ci­nating. A lot of the older, great pho­tog­ra­phers were essen­tially street pho­tog­ra­phers,” York said. “There is some­thing about people and people pho­tog­raphy. You can capture so much — the mood and what’s going on — in a pho­to­graph, par­tic­u­larly with people in it.”

At Hillsdale’s annual fair, kids crunched on caramel popcorn, ride atten­dants slumped until shift’s end, and teens screeched as rides spun them into the air. Twirling his lens to catch each moment in perfect focus, York clicked and clicked as he nav­i­gated the twisting roads of the fair grounds. His favorite shot? A man wearing a mane of grey hair leaned against a sign that read “World’s Strangest People” as he smoked a cig­a­rette outside the freak show tent.

Click.

The photo’s com­po­sition, lighting, and tone tell a story about one of many char­acters at the fair, York said. The potential to create a nar­rative in a pho­to­graph has always attracted York to pho­tog­raphy, and it fuels his desire to improve, explore, and create even more.

One day, he said, he’d like to return to Africa, where he has taken many of his stu­dents, and pho­to­graph the boy sol­diers.

“It’s one thing to see the written word. It’s another thing to see a truck going down a dusty road with a bunch of boy sol­diers in the back car­rying AK-47s,” York said.

York’s fas­ci­nation with pho­tog­raphy, and espe­cially his passion for pho­tographing people, has bol­stered his work, said Pho­tog­raphy Pro­fessor Doug Coon, who hadn’t taught a fellow pro­fessor before this semester.

“He’s very into it. That’s the most fun part, I’ve found, within the context of non-tra­di­tional stu­dents. They do tend to be pretty excited about pho­tog­raphy,” Coon said. “They tend to be more moti­vated, in getting out and actually shooting.”

Pho­tog­raphy excites tra­di­tional stu­dents, too, Coon said, but their time with the camera com­petes with com­mit­ments non-tra­di­tional stu­dents juggle with more ease. York has ded­i­cated many hours to his camera, setting up shots, adjusting the exposure, and making bold but pleasing choices in the field and in his editing.

The practice has paid off.

“It’s super inter­esting to see Dr. York’s beginning photos, what he focused on or what his interest was, and how it changed. Com­po­si­tionally, he can finagle things, and now he has a goal for pho­tog­raphy instead of shooting for what he thought was inter­esting,” Rinaldi said.

While York once snapped photos of any­thing that caught his eye, he now inten­tionally orga­nizes his sub­jects in a shot to convey an idea.

“He’s paying attention to more detail, which I think is really inter­esting, and really awesome to see him grow in that way,” Rinaldi said.

The tran­sition might have came more quickly to York, a biol­ogist, than another new student of pho­tog­raphy.

“When you look at things bio­log­i­cally, it’s very sys­tematic. It’s about how things work. When you come to art class, it’s similar in a way in which you have to think in a way things work to get the picture you want. You have to dissect the world around you in order to create more art,” Rinaldi said. “That’s pretty much what art is. You’re looking at the world around you and you’re dis­secting it. Art forces you to dissect things and under­stand them for what they really are.”

Rinaldi said she feels con­fident in sharing her cri­tiques as well as her affir­ma­tions with York in pho­tog­raphy class, even though he grades her anatomy tests. The five stu­dents share their work with each other and Coon every week, and both Rinaldi and York said the dis­course teaches them better than a lecture-style course could, and the dis­cussion moti­vates them to pursue new ideas and better tech­niques each week.

“York’s being in class, it just feels like another student in the class. It’s not abnormal, and I don’t find it weird at all. I find it actually refreshing because I get to expe­rience both sides of Dr. York,” Rinaldi said.

York said he has expe­ri­enced a new side of himself, too. In front of his biology classes, York per­forms like an actor on a stage, ready to impart his knowledge to an eager audience. But his per­son­ality outside of the classroom takes on a quieter, more intro­verted quality, he said.

When he steps into the field, camera in hand, he summons the con­fi­dence to approach people and ask to take their picture. His camera, which he has only equipped with non-zooming prime lenses, heightens this task: after York spots a subject he wants to capture, he must position himself quite close to them before he snaps the photo.

“That is not my per­son­ality at all, to get right in somebody’s face to take a picture without them punching you out or thinking you’re a total creep. Talking to strangers — I’m just not that com­fortable with it,” York said. “But now, with my camera, I see some­thing I really want to take a picture of and I’m actually devel­oping the nerve.”

York said he jokes that he would take Pho­tog­raphy III next, if only the course existed. He may audit a design class to quench his curiosity about aes­thetics, instead.

Mostly, the pho­tog­raphy junkie just wants to con­tinue his improvement for his renewed passion: “I love it because I can really see that I’m fur­thering myself quite a bit.”

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Katherine Scheu
Junior Katie J. Read is the assistant editor for the Culture page of The Hillsdale Collegian. When she's not working in the newsroom or reporting on a story, she's reading either French literature or backlogged feature stories on the Pulitzer prize website. After graduation, she hopes to write feature stories for a large daily paper and invest in a KitchenAid mixer and a puppy.