FALCONER - Elise Cusimano, of Falconer, was recently awarded the Honorable Mention in the 34th annual College and High School Photography National Contest, sponsored by Nikon USA and Photographer's Forum Magazine.
Cusimano's story into photography begins as a child. Like many photographers, Cusimano took a liking to the camera at a very young age. It fascinated her how a simple piece of equipment could freeze a moment in time with a click of a button.
"Before my 10th birthday and up to my middle teens, I used photography mainly for documentation purposes, not as an artistic expression," Cusimano said. "I believed that if only I had the perfect camera, then my photographs would suddenly exceed satisfactory status."
Elise Cusimano is showing her award-winning photo to patron, Mia Volpe. Elise’s Photo Display is for the Month of March at the Falconer Public Library.
However, on her quest for the best equipment and the best "how to" books, she slowly came to the realization that maybe it's not the camera after all; maybe, it's the photographer, and how they manipulate their tools. With fresh determination, she decided to learn how to use a manual DSLR and the qualities of composing a photograph.
Despite this, all the studying, reading and countless attempts only produced status quo results.
"I thought I had done everything in my power to become a good photographer," she said. "It was this period of self-doubt and feeling of defeat that urged me to take a class at my college."
Last spring, she took a black and white film photography course at Jamestown Community College with Mark Kirsch that resurfaced the passion she possessed deep down. It took a semester behind a film camera and countless hours of developing in the darkroom to cherish the true value of a photograph once more.
"An essential part of being a photographer, I am learning, is having intentions behind every photograph I compose," Cusimano said. "Photography is more than just documenting events and people and things. It is a creative medium for expressing emotion and beauty."
She said that's why nothing she did was working before. There was no goal, no purpose in her photographs.
"I used to think my passion for photography was worldly, and that it clashed with my faith, but now I know it's exactly the opposite," she said. "These unique talents we possess are to be used to give God glory by using them to love and help others. My goal is to reflect the beauty of nature and humankind back to the world. Every great photographer has a motivation and this is mine."
Cusimano's picture will appear in the Best of College and High School Photography 2014 to be published in June of this year.
Eight of the 15 photographs in the collection are from either of the two black and white photography classes she took at JCC. These were taken with 35mm black and white film that she developed and printed in the darkroom.
These photographs were all once part of different series, each with different intentions depending on the nature of the assignment. The oddball of the collection was taken with a Kodak Century Portrait Camera from the 1900s. All of the color photographs in the display are digital photographs and have minor, post-production edits.
Cusimano currently has a side business, Ellie Photography, in addition to being a full-time college student and holding a part-time job.