Seated at Starbucks, Alex Fisher (C '19) talks with an air of quirkiness, creativity, and humor. In his red button–up and blue camo vest, he smiles while introducing himself. His eyes crinkle at the corners while recalling memories from early college years; they light up whenever he hits upon naturalistic photography and film.
A senior at Penn and a former staffer for Street and The Daily Pennsylvanian, Alex has dabbled in photography since middle school and has long viewed taking photos as a means of acclimating to new environments. Having moved frequently throughout his childhood, the camera lens has served as a medium for capturing distinct communities, for meeting people he might have never interacted with, and for going to places he might have never had the opportunity to explore. At Penn, Alex had worked on multiple photography projects, including Mugshot, an online magazine on coffee culture, and 33 to 40, a collection of photos encapsulating student life at Penn in 2016.
For Alex, what sets photography apart from other forms of art is its element of spontaneity. "You're freezing a moment that only exists once, and it's a way of concretizing it." Film, he notes, does an even greater job of capturing the spirit of a spontaneous encounter, as "you take a picture and then you continue having the conversation you were having with that person, and you don't develop the pictures until a week." Unlike digital photography, film does not allow for the same degree of control that editing functions can provide, but it is exactly this raw, unfiltered lack of control which Alex finds to be liberating. Photography, Alex says, holds a special place in his heart because "it gives equal value to all different sorts of moments, its not just the heightened point of celebration...photography does a great job of capturing the in–between moments."
Photography is a medium of wide spectrums, but Alex finds the most meaning in preserving the naturalistic tilt of things. "Film photographs...they're imperfect, but they're way more personal," he says. "It doesn't feel too artificial." In contrast to the flood of visual content online, his interest in printed publication stems from an emphasis on human connection, as people tend to value a work more when it is held in their hands. "I don't want the pictures I take to be just more content in the world. We are inundated with visual content all the time," Alex notes. Because the purpose of photography is to preserve a snapshot in time, he wants to ensure that a picture's lifespan, and the lifespan of its memories, is not cut short by the overload of information spoon–fed to audiences on Instagram and Facebook.
This reminds me of the 33 to 40 project, and I mention how they distributed printed copies of the photo collection. Co–founded and co–edited by Alex in his freshman year, the project was a photography time capsule of Penn student life and offered a limited edition hard copy run. At this, Alex nods in agreement, his eyes sparking up at the memory. "Yes, yeah, yeah, yeah...I look back at that project now, you know I'm a senior now, that was my freshmen year...my understandings at Penn have changed so much. I read it and I'm like 'I don't recognize the person who was taking these pictures and saying these things.' And that's the real beauty of it. It's a physical thing that I get to be like, 'This was what freshman year Alex was thinking!'" For him, the magic of a photo comes to life when seeing a picture and witnessing the memories of that moment resurface, regardless of whether or not they had held special weight at the time.
When asked about his relationship with the school, Alex asks for a second to gather his thoughts. Penn, for him, has been a bit of a "la la land." The people, the institutions funding student projects, and the community support for independent creation have built an environment of liberation. "I mean, who in their right mind would fund a 130–page magazine about coffee?", he gestures in grateful incredulity. At this, I can't help but laugh. While Alex's time at Penn is drawing to an end, his work here has left a mark on him. No doubt, he'll continue exploring in the artistic world, discovering new places and new people—always on the hunt for a moment in time worth capturing through the camera lens.