Capturing Moments and Recognition: One MU Student’s Photographic Legacy

When the Monmouth Hawks host a sporting event at one of their facilities in West Long Branch, NJ, there are a few staples; these include Shadow the Hawk hyping up the crowd, cheering fans waving blue and white flags, and Taylor Jackson holding a camera. The 21-year-old photography major from Westtown, NY is the official photographer for Monmouth Athletics.

Prior to Jackson’s arrival at the University, the school’s photographer, whose responsibilities included documenting all events occurring on campus, served as the primary person to collect photos for MU Athletics. However, due to a busy schedule, he would only be available to document certain sporting events.

Therefore, the University’s Assistant Athletics Director, Eddy Occhipinti, was interested in hiring a photographer to document games and assist with marketing efforts.

After meeting Jackson at a job fair in 2012, Occhipinti decided to create a new position: Monmouth Athletics photographer. “Thankfully, Taylor wanted to expand her role with us and got into shooting our games both at home and on the road,” he said.

When asked about finding the job, Jackson stated, “The funny thing is that it wasn’t really a job before I got it. I met Eddy my first week here and a few weeks later he told me that I had the job.” In this role, her primary duty is to capture action shots of University athletes playing their sports. The shots are often uploaded to the Monmouth Athletics webpage, sent to local media professionals for publication, or posted to the organization’s social media platforms.

The young photographer has now been employed by Monmouth Athletics for nearly four years and her work has not gone unnoticed. In Occhipinti’s mind, establishing the new role of an athletics photographer and recruiting someone as talented as Jackson are two decisions that have certainly paid dividends.

“I knew from the beginning that Taylor was a gifted and dedicated photographer, and she has continued to progress and her work is amazing,” he said. “Her talent as a photographer has definitely been utilized to enhance and promote the brand of not just Monmouth Athletics, but Monmouth University as a whole. The images she’s been able to capture really show what a special place Monmouth is.”

Deon Jones, a senior at the University and the starting small forward for the men’s basketball team, also offered high praise when asked about Jackson. “The photos she takes for the games are fantastic and she always captures the best moments,” he proclaimed. “She is such a great supporter and we thank her for traveling places with us to take photos. All the guys on the team love her shots.”

The very humble Jackson admitted that she doesn’t do what she does for recognition, but rather for something much more fulfilling. “Catching the little moments that most people, including those watching on TV, would otherwise miss,” said Jackson, “and having the opportunity to share those with the players and see them smile is the most rewarding part.”

This type of work is more than ideal for someone in Jackson’s academic situation; the New York native is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in photography with a minor in sports communication.

Furthermore, the job immediately appealed to Jackson because it aligns nicely with her hobbies and passions. “Definitely listening to music, painting, going to the beach, or watching sports,” said Jackson when asked to list her favorite pastimes. “Whatever I am doing, there is a camera in my hand.”

The interest in taking pictures began at a young age for Jackson, something she credits her family for. “My mom basically tortured my brother and me with pictures as children,” she said. Her younger brother’s participation in sports eventually allowed Jackson to be in charge of the family camera, roam the field searching for different angles, and find a genuine attraction to photography.

As a high school student, Jackson continued to pursue her passions and gain experience in the field. She completed two photography courses and worked as a ‘Mat-Maid’ for the school’s wrestling team for several years. In this position, her primary duty was to document the matches of her assigned wrestler.

Furthermore, she was asked to create a personalized scrapbook filled with the wrestler’s photos that had been compiled throughout the season.

“I was literally always taking pictures,” she said while reflecting on her time at Minisink Valley High School. The student’s positive experience with photographing events was very influential and guided Jackson’s decision to enroll at the Univeristy and work towards a degree in photography.

Prior to selecting this as her area of academic focus, Jackson was well aware of the negative connotation associated with the idea of earning a degree in photography, a field that most people feel offers few employment opportunities to graduating students. “People certainly tried to tell me to be more realistic when I mentioned that that was my major,” said the senior college student. “But in reality, if I hadn’t chosen this major, I would’ve been miserable. This is what I want to do for a living.”

Mark Ludak, Jackson’s academic advisor and a professor of photography at the University, was asked to comment on his advisee and student. When describing her inside the classroom, Ludak called Jackson, “Extremely talented and hard-working.” He also discussed several of the characteristics she possesses that he believes have led to her success in photography. “It’s her intelligence, talent, confidence, and natural ability to make people comfortable in front of a camera,” he said.

Jackson’s ability to take initiative, work hard, and consistently capture high-quality photos has allowed her to travel the country with some of the University’s athletic teams, secure an internship with a minor league baseball team, and even work the sidelines of a Giants game at MetLife Stadium, an experience that she refers to as “the best day of my life.”

Aside from being a successful sports photographer and student, Jackson manages her own personalized photo blog as both a hobby and a tool to advertise her abilities. “Companies want to see that you’re a well-rounded photographer,” said Jackson. “I use my blog to convey that message.”

Jackson’s natural skills with a camera, ample amount of experience in the field, and determined mindset make her an attractive candidate to potential employers in the future.

Jackson currently plans to graduate in May 2016 and will immediately begin searching for a job. The 21-year-old recognizes the fact that a job market for sports media and photography professionals may be small compared to other fields, but is confident that her skill set and experience will separate her from the competition.

Ludak is also confident in his advisee’s ability to find work after graduating. “For individuals like Taylor who are intelligent, adaptable, hardworking, and not afraid to take chances, the field is wide open,” he said. “I have no doubt Taylor will find employment as a photographer, editor, or visually creative individual.”

When asked if she could give advice to an individual entering college who may be considering photography as an academic focus, Jackson stated, “Absolutely do it.”

PHOTOS COURTESY of Taylor Jackson