If you have ever heard the phrase “three and a tree” then you probably work in higher ed marketing. It is a classic photo that many colleges use – three diverse college students standing under a picturesque tree, wearing school branded clothing, smiling, talking, laughing and having a very pleasant time. This image can in fact show what some of the students and what a part of campus might look like but it does little to reveal the spirit and personality of the institution.
I was hired by Saint Mary’s College and the branding agency, 160over90, they are working with to develop an image library for their upcoming viewbook and advertising campaign. Our goal was to capture real: the real campus, the real students and the real community there. They were not looking for three and a tree. In fact the branding agency even has a book about the subject and how they think differently about it.
As a former newspaper photojournalist I loved this opportunity to document life on this campus and tell their story. Through a process of planning ahead and then hitting the ground with a constant curiosity mixed with a little luck we investigated classrooms, followed bird watchers, peered through an observatory, crawled in a garden, ran around busy dorms dodging nerf guns and squeezed into a room full of avid basketball fans. We looked for details and evidence of what these students thought like, looked like, and love to do. The client, the agency, and the college was inspiring and I hope the images offer a window of that experience.