For most students, it is enough to go to class, do work, and try to spend time with clubs and friends. Zara Bowden ’13 manages to fit a whole lot more into her day-to-day life. Bowden is a biochemistry major and sociology minor who kayaks, hikes, skis, meditates, and devotes time to her artistic passion, photography.
Bowden received her first digital camera in middle school and remembers taking it everywhere with her.
“It kind of just evolved,” said Bowden. “I almost didn’t realize it was happening, but suddenly I just realized how much I enjoy photography and wanted to pursue it.”
Bowden’s hobby became an area of study during her sophomore year of high school, when she began taking photography electives. For the next three years, she spent every other day working in the darkroom with her teacher, Tom Delaney.
“He gave us much more creative license than I think I even realized,” said Bowden. “I was developing my own personal style and my own personal interests.”
While doing a high school project, Bowden discovered the work of artist Gordon Matta-Clark. After studying and working to emulate Matta-Clark’s negative splicing and collage work, Bowden developed an appreciation for finding beauty in destruction and sharing it with others.
“I’m really interested in taking pictures of dilapidated buildings or graffiti, things that might seem like vandalism or tainting something pristine, but do something else entirely,” she said. “It has been my primary inspiration.
“I’m very into exploring and pushing the boundaries,” Bowden added. “I like seeing how I can push photography and make it something different so that when people look at it they’re not just like, ‘It’s just a picture,’ but, ‘Wait, what is that? How did you do that?’”
While she admits her workload at Bowdoin makes it harder to spend as much time as she would like with photography, Bowden’s experiences in high school inspired her to continue her work. During her time here, she has taken Introduction to Photography with Assistant Professor of Art Megan Gould and is currently enrolled in Digital in Color with Associate Professor of Art Michael Kolster.
“The photo classes I’ve taken here have definitely pushed me and taken art to a whole new level,” said Bowden. “[They] helped me discover a lot of things about my self. I have these ideas and it’s really interesting for me to see how they manifest themselves and how they play out.”
Photography class is also a place for Bowden to escape her busy life and scientifically driven academic career.
“I like the solitary nature of it,” she said. “I really enjoy being able to get away from the business of Bowdoin—especially with dark room photography.”
Last summer, after receiving the McKee Summer Photography Grant, Bowden was able to pursue one of her greatest undertakings to date, a project titled, “Street Art: A Transformative Reconstruction of Tagged Space.”
She began the project after studying abroad in Vietnam during the spring of her junior year. Bowden returned to her hometown of Fort Worth, Texas and began taking photos. She wanted to use street art to challenge her audience and urge them to question their surroundings.
“I think there’s a lot more in graffiti beyond just the colors, whether it be social, cultural, or political,” she said. “I think it just challenges us to think about the spaces that we’re in and what those mean. They force us to reevaluate our place in the world, what we typically associate with barriers, and what they can be transformed into.”
While she knew what she was trying to express, Bowden was not sure how her photos would convey her social commentary. It was not until the very end that all of the pieces came together.
“I was actually worried in August because I was taking photos but nothing was really materializing,” said Bowden. “But then suddenly I just kind of got one piece done, and it all started to come together.”
Her photographs were presented in the annual showcase for summer grant recipients this past fall, alongside the work of fellow student artists Becky Rosen ’13 and James Boeding ’14.
After graduation this spring, Zara plans to take a year off and step away from science to do something else that she loves, although she is not sure yet what it will be. She then plans to “become a real person” by going to medical school and doing clinical research in Boston.
Nevertheless, Bowden hopes that she will always have photography as a creative outlet.
“Everyone needs that space where they can retreat and photography is that for me,” she said.