Capturing the world on film

International student photographer flourishes in a nation with more journalistic freedom

International student Gao ZiYi is an avid photographer who prefers film photography over the more common method of digital photography.

Photo by Parker Reed

International student Gao ZiYi is an avid photographer who prefers film photography over the more common method of digital photography.

Story by Parker Reed, Sports Editor

Film photography is an art form that is nearing extinction in today’s digital age. However, for one UW-Eau Claire student, it is the only feasible way to take photographs.

International student, 19-year-old Gao “Coey” ZiYi, or Coey, is an amateur photographer and journalism major studying abroad at Eau Claire for the 2016-17 school year. She regularly takes photographs using a variety of different vintage film cameras, and tends to shy away from taking to digital photography. ZiYi said there is just something special about capturing images on film.

“I really enjoy the surprise of not seeing a picture until it develops,” she said. “You just don’t get that feeling of anticipation with modern digital photography.”

ZiYi was born in the northern part of China, and after living with her parents for the first 10 years of her life, she moved to Xian in the Shan Xi province of China to continue her studies. Her love for photography began to flourish while attending Jinan University in Xian.

“At first it was a casual hobby,” ZiYi said. “But, when people started telling me I could take good photographs, I got more serious about it and started doing it more and more.”

At Jinan University, ZiYi was the president of the photography club and won first prize in the University’s annual photography contest in 2015. At the end of 2015, ZiYi’s desire to attend Eau Claire first bloomed.

“A professor I had in China (who studied here as an exchange scholar), recommended it to me,” ZiYi said. “UW-Eau Claire has a long relationship with our school in China.”

When ZiYi arrived at the University, she says that she was welcomed to an area with a beautiful landscape and many friendly faces.

“The environment here is so peaceful,” ZiYi said. “It is not as crowded as it is in China and people here are much friendlier. I also feel like I have more freedom here as far as what classes I can take.”

ZiYi’s roommate in Governor’s hall, Morgan Anderson, said ZiYi is adapting well to life in Eau Claire so far.

“I think she is doing pretty well,” Anderson said. “She is not afraid to go off and do things on her own. She seems to be fairly comfortable.”

Over the course of ZiYi’s first month on campus, she said she has adapted to life in the United State fairly seamlessly. However, one thing continues to be a struggle for the young photographer.

“The language is very difficult,” ZiYi said. “When the professors and students are making jokes in class, it is quite difficult to understand what is going on.”

Luckily for ZiYi, the photos speak for themselves. She said her favorite things to capture on campus are the foot bridge extending to the Haas Fine Arts Center, and the various buildings that stretch across campus. But, landscape shots are not what she is passionate about capturing.

“I really love taking portraits,” ZiYi said. “I enjoy capturing people’s unique characteristics. It allows me to see the beauty in every single individual.”

Living in the United States, ZiYi is enjoying a world where journalists are allowed to say what they want (for the most part) in their respective publications. This is a concept that was considered outlandish in her home country of China, as censorship in news media is much more common.

“In China, some people do politics, sports or entertainment journalism,” ZiYi said. “The content is censored before and after, and it has to be approved or it will be deleted.”

The individuals responsible for censoring publications in China are not business owners looking to make a profit; no, they are individuals much higher up in the government.

“Chinese TV stations and newspapers are supported by local or central government,” ZiYi said. “In the United States, they are supported mostly by commercialism or private entities.”

Being able to practice photography and journalism freely is a welcomed change for the young photographer. She plans to continue to take photographs daily, and hone her craft on her way to hopefully graduating in a few years and attending graduate school.

ZiYi has some advice for international students that will be attending Eau Claire in the near future.

“Pack more clothes from your home, because shirts and shoes are much bigger here,” ZiYi said. “Also, improve your English, especially in order to stay up to date.”

She also has advice for any photographers that are looking to take up the craft but don’t really know where to start.

“Just buy a camera,” ZiYi said. “The first one you buy should be a good one, because if someone starts out with a cheaper one they’ll get discouraged if the quality is bad. And always have your camera with you in case something beautiful comes along that you want to capture.”

ZiYi’s love for film photography has not dulled after moving from one edge of the world to another. She still loves capturing things on film, meeting interesting portrait subjects and the thrill of not seeing the product until it has fully developed. After her time at Eau Claire has come to an end, ZiYi hopes to travel to more parts of the globe and capture their unique beauty. And if her past history is any indication, those places will be captured on film.