I became interested in photography as a high school student when I took classes experimenting with black and white film. From those moments my life unfolded with the camera leading me in my own particular direction. My parents always encouraged me to take the road less traveled, so as a high school senior in Port Aransas, Texas, my mind was focused not on what college I would go to, but which country. For the next four years, I traveled to 25 countries throughout Europe and West Africa with a camera as my companion. From the Eiffel Tower to the Berlin Wall, from Casablanca to Cotonou, from carefree Frenchmen picking grapes on organic farms to snake charmers in Marrakesh; each person and place I encountered fed my desire for exploration and discovery through photographs and stories.
During my travels, I realized a photograph can be a link between people who have nothing in common except for the moment itself. I have seen that this holds true for people of different cultures, ethnicities, languages, religions and races. I fondly remember Ito, Khadija and Zahara, three Berber girls who welcomed me into their home nestled in Moroccoâ��s Atlas Mountains. Though they couldn't speak French and I didn't know Arabic, our smiles, laughter and charade-like communication built a bond so strong that leaving them was like leaving home all over again. The children of the village were so delighted by my camera that one day, while I was cutting grass in the oasis to gather food for their animals, they took over 1,000 photographs! As I watched them huddled around the device, their eyes wide with amazement, I realized the magnitude of a camera. That I could share this part of myself with them was something none of us will ever forget.
That's just one story from the hundreds of people I met through the magnetic pull of the lens. Countless times while trying to photograph something in the scenery, a child would slowly sneak into the frame to be captured by the moment. People would call out from the roadside, asking me to take a portrait of their family, children or babies. My camera was a window into different worlds and I often observed people through the viewfinder, pounding millet, cutting meat or selling dried fish and perfumes from atop their heads, all with grace and dignity.
Through my experiences backpacking in Europe and West Africa, I decided to become a photojournalist to show the beauty and diversity that can be found in our world and to use my camera as a tool for positive social change as well as intercultural communication. After 14 months on the road, I returned home and enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin where I now study photojournalism and Spanish. Already a senior looking back on these moments, I am so thankful that my parents encouraged me to explore and overcome fear of the unknown. Without their guidance, I would not be looking at a future hopefully full of unwritten stories and adventures!