University Photographer Mark DiOrio looks back on 2020 through his camera lens.
Every year, Colgate starts the spring semester with a celebration of the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As part of the tradition of MLK week at Colgate, students perform a day or service, either in Hamilton or in a neighboring community. It is an opportunity for students not only to keep the memory of Dr. King alive, but also to participate in serving a greater good through the act of volunteering.
Strings of lights, hot chocolate, and an ice rink created a new scene on Whitnall Field during the winter 2020 Skate the Gate. It was reminiscent of a winter scene from a classic movie or old post card. As I took photos, I couldn’t help wanting to strap on a pair of skates and take to the ice myself, safely setting my camera aside first.
As COVID-19 spread last spring, America witnessed a shutdown that expanded to universities like Colgate — as well as shortages of protective equipment such as N-95 face masks. ITS staff at Colgate wanted to help and took it upon themselves to create PPE, including face shields and 3D-printed face masks for staff and faculty. It was rewarding to witness and document Colgate employees coming together, using their skills and knowledge to keep the community safe.
Being a photographer at Colgate gives me the opportunity to document the milestone of graduation every May. I never imagined that I would photograph the ceremony as it was celebrated virtually, instead of on a stage in the physical presence of thousands of people. It was an unusual scene watching President Casey deliver his 2020 commencement message to an empty chapel and a livestream camera. Although the virtual commencement was not unique to Colgate, it was nevertheless a historic moment.
For some time, I had wanted to capture the Colgate campus in an astrophotography image with the galactic center of the Milky Way. The main challenge is that the lights from the campus overpower the night sky. I consider myself more of a photographer than a Photoshop expert or photo illustrator and wanted to create the image with minimal post processing. In creating this image, I took a short exposure to compensate for the bright lights of Pinchin and Burke halls and then made a second exposure for the Milky Way. The images were stacked in Photoshop to create one photo with the correct exposure of the campus and the stars.
The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers sparked nationwide protests against police brutality, especially toward people of color. Colgate faculty, staff, and students were joined by members of the Hamilton community in standing in solidarity with citizens across the nation to raise awareness and bring about change. A protest was held on the village green in June, and I wanted to document how this national issue affects our own community and how we unite to support injustice and effect change in our own way.
Considerable planning and preparation went into keeping students, staff, and faculty safe as they returned for the fall semester. In addition to a quarantine period for students and COVID testing for those returning to campus, new sanitation measures were created to make shared spaces safer. All of these combined, proactive efforts enabled us to have a safe return to in-person instruction and to keep our positivity rates low.
Earlier in the year, I was tasked with taking photos for a spread in Colgate Magazine for a story we were doing about COVID preparations that Colgate was taking for students to return in the fall. Staff at this time were required to be tested for COVID. I wanted to make a variety of photos for the spread and decided to take them from my perspective as I was going through the process of being tested — including inserting the testing swab into the vial at the completion of the test.
On arrival day, families traditionally have the chance to help their children move into their residences, tour the campus, indulge in an ice cream social, and enjoy ample time for goodbye hugs before departing. Due to the pandemic, many of the time-honored traditions of the day could not occur. The time students and their parents had this year was brief — parents drove onto Whitnall Field, unloaded their vehicles, and said goodbye. I was a witness to many of the emotions experienced by these families during this historic time.
During the first two weeks that students were back on campus, they were required to quarantine as part of the Commitment to Community Health. I wanted to document the steps that staff were taking to ensure that the student body was successful in their 14-day quarantine. Meals had to be prepared in the dining halls and distributed daily to all student housing. It was inspiring for me to see staff rising to the occasion to take on this new task.
Throughout the fall semester, many of the classes that would normally be held indoors were held in outdoor learning spaces to ensure social distancing and provide additional ventilation. We were fortunate to have relatively warm weather into the fall for this novel form of outdoor learning to take place.
There was a period in October when I was keeping close tabs on the leaf colors around campus with the intention of photographing in stages as the leaves changed. I was also looking to capture a fall aerial image from an angle I had not taken yet and was looking for just the right number of trees that had already changed color, combined with some that were still green. I recall the day this image was made as one of the better days. The late-day sun gave a nice golden tone to the campus as well.
The trees along Willow Path this year were lit earlier in the season so that students could see them before departing for Thanksgiving break. It had been well more than a year since I last took photos of the illuminated trees, but we saw little snow in November. So, I waited and came back after the snowfall on December 17. The snow adds that quality of winter that we expect to see as well as a reflective surface for the blue evening sky and the light falling from the trees.