Hoof Prints: SAHS senior studied photography in New York City, plans future career as a photographer

Photo courtesy of Dylan Cook
Photo courtesy of Dylan Cook

This piece is brought to you by Hoof Prints, a partnership between The Gazette and The Pony Express, Stillwater Area High School’s student newspaper.

By Cates Eliasen
Pony Express

Photos immortalize the most influential moments in history, capture the everyday lives of people around the world, and when put in the hands of someone with a beautiful talent for them, can create beautiful art that stirs its viewers’ emotions.

Senior Dylan Cook has been feeding his passion for film photography since he was 14. His talent has brought him all the way to Manhattan and has inspired him to pursue a career in the art of photography.

“I was tired of just sitting around so I decided that I wanted to try taking photos,” Cook said, after he broke his foot when he was fourteen. “I didn’t have a camera so I went to this auction up by my cabin near brainerd and ended up buying a case of old film cameras which I learned to shoot develop and print film with. From then on I sort of just shot randomly and over time got more invested and skilled until I finally decided that I wanted to take photos for a living.”

Buying that camera ended up starting Cook on a lifelong passion. The more Cook photographed, the more his skill increased. Combined with his natural talent, his work with film photography seemed to just fall into line. Cook realized that he could pursue a career with his skill and bring scenes from all over to life through film. There are only about 125,000 professional photographers in the United States, making Cook’s goals both competitive and unique.

But Cook has gone out of his way to put himself at the front of aspiring photographers in many different ways, including an impressive summer program.

Cook said, “I spent the month of July in Manhattan at Parsons, taking a summer program on photography. I got to work with an amazing professor who promoted both intellectual and important discussions on many different elements of photography. The conversations ranged from touching on ethics to begging the questions of what photos get to be considered art.”

The program is called a “summer intensive study” and Parsons hosts them around the world in places like Paris and New York. The official website describes them as a rigorous and enriching experience that helps aspiring artists to learn about their art as it related to the world around them. The program aims to combine academics and art to create a one-of-a-kind environment that prepares its students for college, careers, and life. It is open to high school students applying to college, as well as college students.

Cook said, “I learned a lot and improved my work while I was there. I made great friends, who I stay in touch with and got to know other people my age, who are just as passionate, which can be hard to come by. Surrounding myself with these people also exposed me to many new photographers and bodies of work that have come to be a great influence over what I do.”

Not only did the program show how dedicated to and talented Cook is at photography, but it also helped his photography and ideas of art grow. For most artists, seeing work different from what they’re used to, with new techniques, focuses, and inspirations, causes their art to grow in ways that it couldn’t have, before. Being exposed to other aspiring photographers from around the country helps photographers with learning new skills and improving their pre existing ones. So as Cook was able to learn from those around him, it’s likely that they were able to pick up skills and techniques from him that they had never had, before. One of the greatest things about art is that it is completely different between people, so whenever artists come together, new art is able to be created.

For Cook, inspiration can be found in almost every facet of the world. “I like to photograph everything, really, not to be vague. But I think that putting a box around what you make is foolish, since photography is such an expansive medium and allowing yourself to love all of it sort of keeps you addicted to it,” Cook said.

Specific examples of Cook’s inspirations are five photographers who show just how much emotion and depth that a photo can convey. While some like Garry Winogrand and Robert Franks focused on American social issues and differing perspectives of the country, another photographer named Martin Parr takes a more satirical and humorous approach to his art. Cook also spoke of Henri Cartier-Bresson, a pioneer in the world of street photography, along with another street photographer Joel Meyerowitz, who was one of the first photographers to advocate the use of color film in the sixties.

As Cook continues to feed his passion and increase his talent, he could be one of the next names on a different aspiring photographer’s list of inspirations. It has been argued that photography is one of the most influential forms of art for the fact that it can convey an entire world of emotion with a single photo; keep a part of a person’s life forever, and as long as the world continues to have artistically gifted photographers like Cook, photography will always have a sacred place in the world of art.

Cook said, “[Photography] has given me an interest to pursue and a way to express myself. It also keeps me busy, being that I’m always thinking about what would make a good photo. Lots of opportunities have come my way because of photography.”