By Bradley Wilson, Ph.D.
Midwestern State University
Since 1945, the College Photographer of the Year competition has been the premier competition for college photographers. Last spring, CPOY, administered at the University of Missouri, announced the winners selected from 11,024 still images, 82 portfolios, 456 picture stories and 169 multimedia stories and projects entered by 545 student photographers from 99 colleges and universities in 18 countries.
CPOY named Mario Wezel of the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hannover, Germany, as the 69th College Photographer of the Year. Wezel’s work was awarded Gold in the portfolio category, as well as awards of excellence in Documentary and in Interpretive Project.
This summer, Wezel is doing an internship with National Geographic, but took some time to answer some questions and to provide advice for college photographers wanting to enter the competition.
After you were named the top college photographer this year, you said, “This is the craziest thing ever. It is just a big as a surprise for me as it is an honor.” Elaborate.
If it comes to my work, I’m very critical about it, to an extent where I don’t even believe in it any more. I’m wondering why this or that story is important, why anybody should care about it and of course the fact that I don’t think my pictures are strong enough to tell that story. Such criticism is a good thing though. It makes me work harder and push myself out there again, working on a story and trying to find good images. This criticism of my own work, at healthy as it can be, is the reason why I felt like it was a surprise for me to win the CPOY last year.
For someone else who aspires to that goal, what would you suggest?
Do it for yourself and now one else. Don’t shoot for contests. Don’t shoot to get publicity. Find something that is close to your heart and follow that. Even if others won’t understand it nor support it, it is important that you believe in it.
You seem to have experience both working for news media and getting a formal media education. Was more valuable than the other? How did they work together to help you develop as a photojournalist?
I was fortunate enough to enjoy a long education of five years. I could take some time in-between and get back after half a year. That really helped me figuring out what way I wanted to go. If you just work in a college context and have as much time as you like for a project it disconnects you from what the work out there will actually look like. But it also makes you realize how certain things while working on assignments for media outlets could be optimized. For me personally, one couldn’t have existed without the other. During my education I was allowed to dream and think big. The work at a media outlet grounds you again. I like the way this works together and creates an idea of the work you could do as a photojournalist later.
Can you remember one moment when you said, “I want to be a photojournalist.” or was it a development over time?
It was a longer process. I was shooting part time for the local newspaper of my home town while I was in high school. Just small assignments on the weekends. I grew up in that town. I had lived there for 18 years but suddenly I got a whole new picture of it. I met people I never met before. I saw places I never heard of. It was super cool. The time there inspired me to keep doing this for the rest of my life (hopefully).
Tell me about other work experience you’ve had.
My first work experience was at the local newspaper in my hometown Nürtingen, a town with 35,000 residents. I covered everything from sports, politics, concerts and small picture stories. It was super cool. After two years in college I interned at the biggest regional newspaper in Germany called Weser Kurier. I had a blast there. I was there with a fellow student and we really got to work a lot on every day stories for the paper. It was really great but we also realized that you can quickly repeat yourself visually if you do this job every single day. I have deep admiration for newspaper staffers that do the work every day and manage to create compelling content over and over again
You’re doing an internship for National Geographic now. Tell me about it. Why National Geographic?
National Geographic is a sponsor of CPOY so they give this internship each year to the winder of the portfolio category. It’s a fantastic and magical place. Being educated as a photojournalist that is the magazine everybody talks about and refers to. The stories being created there are so well composed and researched. I have never experienced this mixture of thoroughness and creativity. I’m still in the middle of the internship so it’s hard to sum up what it means to work along side these amazing editors. It’s a crazy opportunity and a place I didn’t expect to be.
Tell me about the MINT Collective.
MINT is a collective of six young photographers from Germany and Denmark. We all felt the need to communicate and discuss more about photography. About our own projects but also about what is out there. Most of us are almost done with our education and felt that the amount of discussion we had at college just dropped rapidly. We didn’t want to become the lonely wolves but create a hub to go back to, get feedback and be inspired. The pictures that we create and publish together is a mixture of personal work, projects and assignments.
If you had one piece of advice for other college photojournalists, what would it be?
It is really about following your inner voice. It will lead you where you are supposed to be and where you can create the best work possible. Don’t do any kind of work or story because you think you are supposed to do it, do it because it feels right. Take your time to find out what story makes your heart beat faster, but work really hard once you have found it.
Once I’m done with my internship in the U.S., I will go back to Germany. I’m looking forward to be back in my own life for a while, after diving into the lives of so many other people in the last three months. I have two projects that I want to start working on once I’m back in Europe that I’m really excited about. I want to experience with different ways of telling stories and challenge myself by trying out these things.
More about CPOY
The College Photographer of the Year Competition was founded by Cliff and Vi Edom in 1945. The University of Missouri administers the contest with support from its co-sponsor, Nikon Inc., whose generosity allows CPOY to offer free entry to college students worldwide.