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Seeing is Believing

Look closely at the building in the dewdrop. Yes, it really is Baker Library, suspended in time and space. But don't assume the effect was manufactured in Photoshop—this photo is the real deal, the result of Kawakahi Kaeo Amina '09's sharp eye for stunning images.

Photo by Kawakahi Kaeo Amina '09

"I want to capture something beautiful in my photos," says Amina, who caught this shot when he was walking to Novack Café and noticed that the trees were covered in dew. "But I'm not into digital manipulation. I'm not satisfied with creating something that wasn't there in the moment the photo was taken. The greatest challenge is to create a single image that conveys an entire story."

Amina began documenting the Dartmouth landscape the moment he arrived on campus from his native Hawaii. "Everything here is new to me," he says, "and I wanted images to share with my friends and family back home. My camera is their window into Dartmouth."

Looking for additional creative outlets, Amina soon began photographing for The Dartmouth, the Aegis, and freelancing around campus (look for his credit on Dartmouth Life photos). He takes on a staggering six to twelve weekly assignments for The Dartmouth, producing work strong enough to win him the publication's First-Year Photographer of the Year award in 2005 and Staff Photographer of the Year Award in 2006.

Kawakahi Kaeo Amina '09
A self-portrait by Kawakahi Kaeo Amina '09. "The Green in mid-afternoon is my favorite place on campus. The light is beautiful," he says. (Photos by Kawakahi Kaeo Amina '09)

"Kawakahi is an invaluable resource to us, both for his photographic skill and as a dedicated staff member," says Lauren Wool '08, photo editor at The Dartmouth. "He has a strong aesthetic sense and uses it to make even the most ordinary subjects worth looking at."

For his part, Amina insists that recognition isn't what drives him. "When I first took a photography course in high school, I just fell in love with it and knew it was what I wanted to do. I like photography for it's own sake. I'm not out to win any awards."

Fascinated by the technical, as well as the creative, aspects, Amina says he enjoys tinkering with the equipment to come up with modifications. "I love to take a camera apart, to learn what it does and how it works. But one of the hardest things is not letting the gear get in the way of the photo. Photographers have to manage the technical demands of the equipment but keep focused on the subject. The camera is just a tool."

That ability to balance the technical and the creative also serves Amina well in his studies in biological sciences and chemistry. "Photography is such a great complement for science," he says. "Both disciplines are driven by their respective 'gear,' but when done correctly, the products can be exceptionally simple and elegant."

An interest in research is what draws Amina to science, particularly microbiology and immunology. In high school, his research project on how Vitamin E affects free radicals placed third in the Medicine and Health division at the 2005 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. He plans to pursue additional opportunities at Dartmouth, saying, "The sciences at Dartmouth are amazing. What I most enjoy about studying here is that Dartmouth professors don't just teach material they learned in a book, they are doing that very research in their own laboratories. Learning here comes straight from the source."

For Amina, examining DNA through a microscope or photographing the reflection of Baker Library in a single dewdrop are interconnected tasks. "Under the microscope, microorganisms, DNA, and cells live in a tiny, almost abstract world," he says. "With my photography, I am making the macro micro again-taking large, everyday subjects and fitting them into a small, surreal, and sometimes abstract world."

See more of Amina's takes on Dartmouth.


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Last Updated: 7/24/18