The Harbinger Online

Behind the Lens

It’s quick. It’s a physical stimulation. A short breath in, then out again. There’s no brains in it; he just goes. Snap, snap.


He’s a sharpshooter, armed with a Pentax ME Super camera.

And then he sees the subject. Senior Andrew Hartnett can imagine a frame around them; he can practically see the shot. He rushes towards them. Quick.

These pictures, these moments, they’re hard to come by. They disappear in a second. He has to be there before they slip away. To get a glimpse into the life of a Middle Eastern rug store owner, or a guy writing illegibly on his stomach. It’s fascinating.

Andrew clutches the camera in front of his stomach. He pauses for a moment, and then snaps the picture. Another pause. Then he keeps going, on to the next one.


This is his routine. He’s done it for years. He’ll grab his camera, check to make sure he has enough film and set the shutter speed. Then he’ll go downtown to the bus station, the plaza, anywhere he’ll find interesting people.

“To go to a completely different culture, and a completely different part of town, it’s enlightening,” Andrew said. “These people are living real lives, and they struggle, and [life has] never been perfect for them.”

Andrew’s appreciation of photography began through his love of art. He studied art, mostly painting and drawing, reading countless books dedicated to different art movements — cubism, fauvism, anything that he was interested in — for a number of years. He loved the art; he breathed it. But drawing and painting take patience, patience that he doesn’t have. Yet, he likes the luck of photography, and the communication between the photographer and the subject. So he decided to sign up for Photo 1 his sophomore year.

Earlier this year, photography teacher Adam Finkelston nominated Andrew to work with the Nelson Atkins Museum’s Photography Scholars Program. Only 15 students from around Kansas City were allowed entry into the program, and after submitting a 500-word essay about his work, Andrew was admitted. It was there that he started shooting more and spending more time developing; he spent hours working and shooting galleries to present to the group each week.


Every other student in the program used a digital camera, and could easily edit all of their photos from their computers. Andrew was the only student working with an analog camera: his Pentax ME Super. For him, analog, or film, cameras are what make photography engaging as an artist. To him, analog makes the art of photography much more honest, and much less gimmicky. But it also meant working longer than everyone else.

Even outside of the program, he has to go out and wait for the right moments to shoot. Then he’ll head to the darkroom to develop the film and to make prints. Bathed in darkness he’ll work to find stories hidden in his photographs.

And yet, Andrew doesn’t label himself as a photographer. He observes his surroundings and tries to capture people’s stories; their lives in a single photograph. He considers himself a regular person, like the subjects he captures.

“There are people that are much better at [photography] than I am that are constantly involved in it,” Andrew said. “I’m just trying [so] many things at this age and just seeing what I enjoy and what fulfills me. I take it all very seriously, and I try my hardest, but I try not to take myself very seriously.”


His photographs hung on one of the walls at the Nelson, displayed as part of the photography program. Even then, he didn’t think they were very good. He doesn’t think any of his photos are very good. And he’s okay with that. As much as he shoots, there’s always going to be some way in which he can improve. His photos aren’t supposed to be about him; his photography has to do with the people around him.


He’s just an observer. He has to be receptive, sensitive, and when he finds what he’s looking for, he can practically see the photograph right in front of him. Like a reflex, he knows he has to capture it before it disappears. Every shot he gets is a lucky one. It’s pure chance. And that’s the beauty of it.


“Everything is art, really, when you look at it,” Andrew said. “It’s the world, it’s humans. It’s who we are. We’re artists.”

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Susannah Mitchell

Senior Susannah Mitchell is the Online Co-Editor of the Harbinger with her soulmate, Julia Poe. She enjoys sweaters, feminism, collaging and actor Ezra Miller, whom she believes is a total fox. Read Full »

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