Q&A with college photographer Eli Burakian ’00

Eli Burakian talks about his journey from Dartmouth student to college photographer and what it’s like to capture Dartmouth through his lens.

by Tianxiao Wang | 10 minutes ago

Courtesy of Julia Burakian ’01

While the semester often goes by too quickly for us students to fully capture the experience, college photographers are always hard at work documenting campus happenings. The Dartmouth sat down with college photographer Eli Burakian ’00 as he shared his experiences photographing the campus over the past 10 years.

How did you get into photography?

EB: I am a graduate of Dartmouth and after graduating I ran Moosilauke Ravine Lodge for three years – which is not open in the winter. So I bought a camera for the winter to go to New Zealand with a friend and fell in love with it [photography]. I felt like I wanted to make this my career so I worked on putting together a book about Mount Moosilauke and that was my first real photography project.

What drew you back to Dartmouth?

EB: [After Moosilauke,] I stayed up here, worked at a consulting firm in White River Junction for four years, and learned photography on the side. I then worked as a freelance photographer for a few years and returned to school in 2011 when I heard that the former college photographer, who had been here for 17 years, was retiring. I thought it would be a really fun job to meet everyone, walk around and be part of an institution that has been formative for my personal development. I love living up here – it’s a great place to start a family so if I’m going to be here I might as well be working for Dartmouth.

What does a working day as a photographer at Dartmouth College look like?

EB: I think a lot of people think that my job is just walking around and taking nice photos of people having fun. I really wish that was the majority of my work, but most of my work is commissioned. Through the communications office, I am primarily responsible for the Dartmouth News’ photography, and much of it is faculty and student portraits. A lot of what we do is for social media – like Instagram and Facebook.

So an average day could consist of dealing with a bunch of emails and dealing with them [photos], and a meetup at 10. On the way to and from a shoot, I do my general campus photography and slowly meander around campus for photos. Then we could do views of the green and photo sets. In the evenings there might also be something like a theater production, which I really enjoy doing, or filming an athletics event. But usually most of our work is nine to five, and an average day might have maybe two shoots with a bunch of random campus stuff. For example, yesterday I photographed a lecturer at the Engineering and Computer Science Center doing interesting research on an app. On the way I went to a student organized “thank you” to Dartmouth staff and employees – and they gave out cups – so I followed them to Foco and took pictures of them handing out the cups to the staff in Foco .

What are some of the most interesting campus events you’ve filmed?

EB: I always love doing Commencement. It’s like the culmination of everything these students have worked for four years – just to see how proud the families are and how happy the students are. It’s always more interesting to capture events where everyone is having fun. It’s been interesting to see how Homecoming has changed over the past decade, but obviously making a giant fire in the middle of town is pretty fun. But to be honest, I just love spending time with students and faculty and photographing students doing something they really care about – let’s say working on an art project or working on the organic farm.

I also love getting interesting perspectives on campus, so going up the tower. I’m also a licensed drone pilot so we do a lot of drone photography. Thinking about new ways to get new perspectives on a place we all know very well is a real challenge.

What is your favorite part about being a photographer?

EB: I would say what I love the most is just interacting with the people here. I just did an article on all new Fulbright Scholars that we published last week. For each student, the portraits might have taken five or ten minutes, but I probably spent 20 to 30 minutes just learning about them and getting to know them.

I feel like I have connections with everyone – from incoming freshmen to Phil Hanlon and everything in between. So I walk around campus and know most of the faculty. I also meet many administrators and students. So it’s really just getting to know the people and then learning about the incredible research that’s going on here. When I write a story on Dartmouth News they tell me about their research and I always learn so much.

To what extent do you see the campus differently today as a photographer than as a student?

EB: I certainly have a much broader perspective. As a college student, it’s very easy to get sucked into your own little niche of friends. I was on the ski team here most of the time and I joined the Tabard and those were the things I did. I never took a course in, say, economics or studio art. As a student, your overall understanding of how Dartmouth relates to the larger Upper Valley community is limited. I think it’s really important to take a step back and realize that this is a place that exists in a broader community.

How would you describe the change in the College over the past 20 years, reflecting on your own experiences?

EB: I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to capture this special place. It was a really formative part of my development as a person and later as a photographer and it’s just so rewarding to watch so many young people grow up and learn about the amazing things people are doing here. And it was also fun to watch the development of the school. When I came here in 1996, we were much, much more of a homogenous student body. Now, I know there’s a lot of criticism of diversity on this campus, but I think if you look at photos from 30 years ago you’ll see a massive change in that. It was great to see more and more opportunities and facilities for people like the whole new West End with the Irving Institute and ECSC.

This interview has been edited and abridged for clarity and length.

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