Arhea Marshall ’15 received her first 35-millimeter camera when she was 11 years old. She had just moved to New York City from San Juan, Trinidad and Tobago, and saw photography as one of her new hobbies.    

“When I was 11, I really liked going to the playground and taking shots of smiling people,” said Marshall. However, “it didn’t really become a passion until towards the end of my high school career.”

During her junior year in high school, Marshall participated in the Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics—a youth program organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—to encourage academic and cultural achievement across the United States. Participants attended workshops for three months and submitted their final projects at regional and national competitions. 

Initially, Marshall only intended to participate in the science competition. However, after catching a glimpse of her photos, the program’s art director encouraged her to submit them as well. 

“I came in third place in New York City, which isn’t so bad,” she said. “And that’s when I realized it was more than just a hobby.”

Even though Marshall’s science project claimed first place, these awards are not what she remembers or values the most. 

The photography judges “came over to my science poster—and I usually take the pictures for my science posters—and they were like, ‘You could be a National Geographic photographer,’” said Marshall. “Just having people who believe that I could do this as a career, even though I’m definitely taking the route towards science, was inspirational.” 

When Marshall arrived at Bowdoin, she sought out Professor Meggan Gould’s Photography I class on black-and-white film. Though it is the only photography class she has taken here thus far, it left an impact on her view of photography.

“I feel like that one class here at Bowdoin taught me a lot about patience and about the power of the ‘in-moment’ taking of the picture and not knowing if you got the shot you have been stalking for so long,” she said. 

Marshall’s first exhibit, titled “Escape,” is on display in the Lamarche Gallery in David Saul Smith Union for the month of April. 

“The title came from wanting us as Bowdoin students to take an escape from aspects of Bowdoin life,” said Marshall. “Whether it’s being busy, whether it’s being worried, even if it’s just not knowing what to do, it’s an escape for just one second and you can realize that the world is more than just the Bowdoin Bubble.”

The exhibit began as a personal collection of photos taken over winter break while visiting Trinidad and Tobago. Marshall said it grew, first and foremost, from her passion for science.

This past fall, she took the class Behavioral Ecology and Population Biology with professors Nathaniel Wheelwright and Shana Deeds. Every week, the students spent their lab time in the field and  learned the science behind each animal, insect and plant they encountered.

“I was inspired by this class,” said Marshall. “It really gave me a sense of pause in my every day. Like, there is so much more to a maple tree. What makes the leaf that shape?” 

Marshall’s exhibit also demonstrates her focus on shadow and light.

“I really like playing with light because I think it creates a really interesting image that is abstract but at the same time is still very true to its nature as it is constantly moving,” said Marshall. “In my exhibit  there are a lot of pictures of black birds that are actually color images. But as I like playing with daylight and with the location of the sun, it looks like they are black and white.” 

The exhibit also demonstrates her goals as a photographer. 

“I hope to convey a sense of stop. A sense that you should just take some time to be observational throughout your day,” she said. “With my photography, I really try to focus on the moments that won’t be there anymore, which is every single moment, but the ones that I feel need to be captured for a little bit longer.” 

Her next project will feature squirrels at Bowdoin.

“Animals give you a little thrill because they’re either going to run really fast, or they are going to go to a place where you really can’t shoot,” explained Marshall.

She is taking her time with this next project, as her subjects can be less than cooperative.

After Bowdoin, Marshall hopes to travel and pursue a career in global health. While photography is not at the forefront of her plans, she wants to incorporate it in other ways. 

For example, this summer she will be conducting research at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. Instead of concluding her research with a traditional poster for a scientific symposium, she is going to put up an exhibit about her work. 

“I really think that photography can play a unique role in telling the stories of a lot of academic subjects that the jargon and papers can sometimes miss,” said Marshall.