Oh, The Places You'll Go! The potential of self-assignments...

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Text and photos by Jay Drowns

Jay Drowns is Photography Manager at Utah Valley University. In 2018 a UVU assignment in Alaska provided Jay with an opportunity to do what is a bucket list item for many: Visit all 50 U.S. states. He describes how being a university photographer put him in a position to both serve his campus and broaden his own horizons.

Our mascot is the wolverine. The designer for our Prospective Student Services and I batted some ideas around. Among the ideas was a mailer to the students that talked about the characteristics of the wolverine.

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Banff the Wolverine at the Kroschel Wildlife Center in Haines, Alaska

All the stock art out there was either boring or expensive. We pitched the idea of shooting our own images not only for the PSS book but also for widespread use across campus. 

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We started looking for guides or anyone who could help us get the shots we wanted. Our senior project director found a video of a guy in Alaska who had rescued a wolverine that had two kits that he raised from birth.

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I contacted him to ask about the possibilities. When he responded that we could come up a shoot photos in a variety of situations I wrote a proposal and contacted a few departments on campus who would be interested in sharing the cost. We got the permission and the rest is history. We had a two person video crew, a photographer, an art director and a project producer.

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As university photographers there are a lot of demands on our time that don’t necessarily feed our creative core. Creativity is a feedback loop that can help improve even the most mundane photo assignments. Exploring the campus community and digging-up / photographing unique visual story ideas is an important part of creating a consistent creativity cycle. Our work shouldn’t be just about us, but without satisfaction from our work we won’t be able to effectively provide the best imagery possible. Self assigned photo projects should be part of our routines for increasing the quality of our work as well as fulfillment in the job.

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As a newspaper photographer I had assignments in most of the western states. I had one assignment that took me across many of the Northern States between Washington and New York. While at The Sporting News I shot assignments in every state except Vermont (freelance), North Dakota (newspaper) and Alaska (UVU).  I don’t have a lot of photos of me from the road. The Alaska sign was more due to the group I was with. They wanted to see the Canadian Border. I saw the sign and thought it would be a good shot to remember my 50 in 50.


I wasn't sure about this beard at first but it's growing on me!” Stories/opinions/ideas always welcome, email editor Matt Cashore at mcashore@nd.edu