By Kaeli Reeves
More than a decade ago, university photographer Jaren Wilkey had to decide between photography or pottery.
“I didn’t want to get my hands dirty,” he said.
And so an award-winning university photographer was born. Wilkey is one of the university’s in-house photographers, along with Mark Philbrick, another university photographer.
Wilkey and Philbrick were honored at the University Photographer’s Association of America’s (UPAA) 50th anniversary symposium hosted at BYU this year. The UPAA, founded in 1961, gathers university photographers from across the country, as well as from Australia and Israel, to promote the practice of photography in the higher education setting.
“It was a way to recognize those that play a significant role in advancing photography at universities,” Philbrick said.
Both entered six photographs into the print competition, coming away with a number of awards. Wilkey won photographer of the year and Philbrick won the master of the profession award.
Wilkey did not follow traditional standards of entering the photography field.
“I was mostly self-taught,” Wilkey said.
He said he went to Salt Lake Community College and realized they did not have a photo editor on staff, to which Wilkey replied, “I’m your new editor.”
Wilkey transferred from SLCC to BYU in 1998. While taking pictures for The Daily Universe and working on his undergraduate degree in English, Philbrick saw one of his pictures in the paper.
Of Wilkey’s photography skills, Philbrick said he is an exceptional photographer with energy, skills and desires.
“He called me up and I’ve been here ever since,” Wilkey said.
Like Wilkey, Philbrick had an interest in photography in high school, but came to BYU and became a mathematics major.
At the time he got hired, Wilkey was applying to the photography program.
Wilkey said he had to choose between working at university photography and the photography program. Philbrick encouraged him to stay with university photography, saying he would learn more working hands-on.
Speaking of Philbrick as a mentor, Wilkey said he taught him everything he knows.
“As a student, it was a great working environment … being able to do professional level work while you are a student,” Wilkey said.
Through practical experience, Philbrick helped him fine tune his skills.
About half of Wilkey and Philbrick’s work is taking pictures at school banquets and events. The other half of their work is shooting university sporting events. They are the men behind the football and basketball posters fans hang in rooms.
“I like shooting challenging things,” Wilkey said of shooting sporting events. “I like having to push myself to get something new and different and unique.”
Philbrick gave advice to aspiring photographers.
“The real secret on being a good photographer is to shoot, take a lot of pictures and throw away a lot of pictures, ” he said.
That advice proved to be valuable for Wilkey. One of his award-winning images was of a glass being shattered in a sound research demonstration.
With the 10 frames per second camera he was using, he was able to get a few lucky shots. Out of the 10 glasses the professor broke and the hundreds of shots taken, Wilkey got only four or five shots that looked good, he said.
“When you have a glass breaking, you just have that one instant that’s perfect,” he said.
The new digital age has given regular people the opportunity to become good photographers.
“The beautiful thing about digital is there is not a barrier to entry,” he said. “You can get a great camera for a few hundred dollars and go out and shoot.”
Now Wilkey has the opportunity to provide the same hands-on learning Philbrick gave to him. He mentors students like Jonathan Hardy, 21, a junior from Kenmore, Wash., studying organizational behavior.
“He goes through each of my shoots with me when I bring them back and helps me point out things I could do better,” Hardy said.
Wilkey brought Hardy from the basics and taught him different techniques to use to get the best out of his shots.
“Photography has been such a great part of my life and the creative challenges and the success have just made it a very fun career,” Wilkey said reflecting back on the decision he made years ago to pursue photography.