Art of Digital Photography: A Safe Space for Personal Expression

By Nicole Rodriguez, Senior Writer

In her fourth year of teaching at Manhattan College, Lili Kobielski has sparked interest in photography for novices and students with prior experience alike.

Kobielski’s fascination with photography began in high school and has since developed into her blossoming career.

“I started in high school actually,” Kobielski said. “A lot of my friends had a thing that was their identity, whether they’re musicians, or they’re interested in fashion design or whatever it was, I was looking for my thing. I took a photography class, and it just really spoke to me. I ended up going to NYU, got a degree in photography and I’ve never looked back.” 

Kobielski received a BFA in photography from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and a Master’s degree in digital media from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. 

Her work has been featured in Vogue, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Huffington Post, Narratively, Thirteen, Quartz, The Wilson Quarterly, Vice and The Vera Institute of Justice.

Apart from being her career choice, she describes photography as one of the joys of her life. She hopes to share this joy with her students who inspire her on a daily basis.

  “I love photography, it’s how I make a living, and it gives me true joy. Being able to share that with young people, it’s just really fulfilling. You guys really are an inspiration to me,” she said. “Seeing people discovering it, falling in love with it, making careers out of it or just as a hobby is just totally inspiring and it keeps me excited about what I do. So that’s why I do it.”

  Geared to encourage personal expression, Kobielski’s class creates a safe space for students to find their own voices and interests visually through both assigned photoshoots and projects of students’ choosing. 

 “Our first shoot was our block, then branched out to our entire neighborhood and now we’re getting more intimate with self portraits and narratives,” said junior finance major Laura Litvak. “Every week we present what we  shoot to the class and we give all feedback to our fellow classmates. Lili always gives helpful advice to guide you along which is always super helpful and she always gives us words of encouragement to give reassurance. She really inspires us to delve deeper into the subjects of our shoots and gives us good directional feedback.”  

Students in the class this semester had the opportunity to present their midterm projects on a topic of their choosing to Buzzfeed News photography editor Pia Peterson. 

“I was very intimidated at first, but our professor made it such a comfortable environment for us to share our work. Since we had practiced every week prior [by] presenting to our entire class, it made it a lot easier of an adjustment,” Litvak said.

For junior communication major Juliette Cazzari, presenting work from class to a real world professional was incredibly helpful and rewarding. 

“She critiqued us on some of our work and it was really cool to have somebody that is in the industry give us advice and real world criticism,” Cazzari said. 

Senior psychology major Andy Ortiz had a similar experience having taken the class semester and even found himself wanting to pursue photography on a more professional level.

“I found that it was a really great way for me to express myself, express how I viewed the world through art and it was just a really fun and interesting experience. I do think that this experience definitely expanded my mind about what is possible for my future and for my future career,” said Ortiz. 

Even if her class may be the only time that her students pick up a camera in their lives, Kobielski is grateful for her students. 

“The students have been really wonderful and I really appreciate the diversity in so many meaningful ways, in people’s interests and their backgrounds,” Kobielski said. “That’s been really an amazing experience for me as a teacher and I really mean when I say that you guys are an inspiration for me to stay excited about photography. Your energy is just infectious to be around. I feel grateful for you all.”