Riley Swartzendruber and the NANPA College Scholarship Program

Rax Bolay means "Green Viper" in the indigenous language Q'eqchi. The common name for the snake is Yellow-Blotched Palm Pit Viper. It is a highly endemic species to the area. © Riley Swartzendruber.

Rax Bolay means “Green Viper” in the indigenous language Q’eqchi. The common name for the snake is Yellow-Blotched Palm Pit Viper. It is a highly endemic species to the area. © Riley Swartzendruber.

One of the highlights of NANPA’s 2019 Nature Photography Summit & Trade Show was seeing the work of NANPA’s College Scholarship Program participants.  Now that the event is over, it’s a good time to learn a little more about them and their experiences at Summit.  Today, we meet Riley Swartzendruber.

Riley was an undergraduate student majoring in digital media and photography at Eastern Mennonite University when he applied for the 2019 NANPA College Scholarship Program.  “I had an interest in creating videos all through elementary, middle, and high school and knew quickly that I wanted to pursue a career that involved using a camera,” he says.  But the first time he picked up a DSLR camera wasn’t until college, during which he went to Guatemala and Colombia.  “This challenged me in what I could do with my photography.  I found an immense amount of enjoyment experimenting and finding creative ways of telling the story I wanted to tell.”

“I see myself pursuing stories that involve our environment and how people interact with it” Riley says. “What’s important are the efforts people are putting into benefit the planet because, if we only look at the problems, a solution will never feel in reach.”  He felt that the NANPA Summit would be “a great opportunity to connect with storytellers who also want to show the interconnectivity of both nature and humans.” Swartzendruber is the third NANPA College Scholarship Program recipient from Eastern Mennonite University.

 

Discovery: Young girls learning about and seeing the beautiful, unique birds that share a home with them. © Riley Swartzendruber.

Discovery: Young girls learning about and seeing the beautiful, unique birds that share a home with them. © Riley Swartzendruber.

What was the highlight of the program for you?

One of the highlights of the program for me was the people I got to meet and work with, especially the other students. There is so much talent out there and it was refreshing to get to know people outside of my community willing to collaborate and learn from one another.

What was your biggest takeaway or “ah ha” moment?

It (the Clark County Wetlands Park video) felt like a huge project and we had such a short amount of time! I have never had to edit something that quickly before and with the vast amount of content there was to filter through, I was not sure how it would be possible. My biggest take away was increased confidence in my abilities. Of course I still have plenty to learn, but I know I can do it.

Manipulated: A photo tryptic for a class exhibition. Each photo was taken separately with different colored water. Each image was processed in Lightroom. © Riley Swartzendruber.

Manipulated: A photo tryptic for a class exhibition. Each photo was taken separately with different colored water. Each image was processed in Lightroom. © Riley Swartzendruber.

Has participating in the program changed you, your photography, or the way you look at the natural world and, if so, how?

The NANPA College Scholarship Program helped me realize how much of the creative process is collaborative. Everyone comes with different skillsets and you quickly learn to rely on one another.

Harrisonburg Women's March: Documenting a rally of women and supporters of women with a 24-70mm lens. © Riley Swartzendruber.

Harrisonburg Women’s March: Documenting a rally of women and supporters of women with a 24-70mm lens. © Riley Swartzendruber.

What would you say to someone considering applying for the program?

I would tell them to just do it!  There is no harm in trying.  If you have passion for your work, it will show.

Learn more about NANPA’s College Scholarship Program and see the video created this year by the students.  The biennial program takes place during NANPA Summits, so there’s plenty of time to build a strong portfolio for the next application period in 2020!  Scholarships are funded by the NANPA Foundation.