Annual UCR Retail as Art Competition Inspires Student’s International Photography Career
DALLAS, Texas, February 19, 2014 – When 17-year-old Abby Chang entered her first student photography contest on a whim in 2012, she never thought that two years later she would be shooting natural disaster footage as a field photographer for an international aid organization.
Chang, currently a junior at The Einstein School of Plano, first entered the 2012 UCR Retail as Art photography competition, which awards thousands of dollars in scholarships each year to area high school students, at the behest of her North Dallas High School art teacher Brian McClure.
“Mr. MClure took an interest in me and saw that I liked photography and had a lot of potential, so he let me know about the contest just for fun,” said Chang, who realized her interest in photography while studying abroad in South Korea before returning to the states for high school. “I didn’t realize there was an actual career aspect to photography until after I explored it in depth. Before I had just thought it was a hobby. [The contest] definitely opened me up to other opportunities in photography. I was able to find out that photography is a career path that a lot of people pursue and it made me realize it’s an option for me as well.”
Chang initially began taking pictures on her cell phone while commuting to and from school in South Korea.
“I was a dormitory student and didn’t really see my parents until the weekend,” said Chang. “I had a lot of time to myself and being a foreigner and not really having a lot of people to connect with, I started to take a lot of pictures on my phone. That’s what started it.”
McClure said Chang’s cultural background and experiences make her photography work stand apart from the average student.
“It has been wonderful seeing her grow,” McClure said. “Abby has shown drastic improvement and responds very well to constructive criticism. She has a unique advantage and perspective living in Korea and doing mission work.”
Under McClure’s guidance, Chang won third place in the 2012 Retail as Art competition and went on to win second place the following year. She said the experience gave her the confidence to explore photography as a career.
Chang’s family, who founded the nonprofit aid organization Linking The World in 1996, opened a Dallas- based American branch in 2012 that is run by Chang’s sister, Mina Chang.
“I think through the Retail as Art competition and exploring other portals of photography they realized I had some talent and they tested me out a couple of times just to make sure I had the right qualifications to become one of their field photographers,” said Chang, who attended an intense training program last summer to prepare for the role. “I had to go abroad to these countries where there is a lot of risk involved. There was a really long training and trial period and it just worked out really well.”
Chang recently returned from a month-and-a-half-long assignment in the Philippines where she photographed the aftermath of the typhoon Haiyan. Prior to that, she shot photos in Haiti and the Dominican Republic for the organization.
“It’s not just taking the photo, it’s about the things involved in it,” said Chang. “Traveling has really opened me up to things. Everywhere I go my perspective is always changing and I get to see the perspectives of other people. As a photographer it’s really important to understand that.” Chang said she would recommend contests like Retail as Art to aspiring student photographers because of the exposure and inspiration it offers.
“You can learn a lot about working in the photography field because you’re up against other people and you can see past winners and their photos, discover why those photos won, what people liked about them and what the judges look for,” Chang said. “Every time you enter a contest, you’re learning something new. When I first entered, I didn’t know anything about it and now I know what the judges look for and what makes a good quality photo.”
Jim Reische, photography instructor at Cistercian Preparatory School, who has also mentored several students in the Retail as Art competition, said he is always surprised at what the contest brings out in students.
“You just never know what they’ll be able to do,” Reische said. “I’m exceptionally proud of all my students who take part in this. Having a deadline and a specific topic is good motivation, and they get to see how photography in the real world looks. It’s good for them to see their work compared to other students’ work. They get to see how good they really are.”