Aspiring photographer gets dream assignment

Jan. 7, 2013
Contact: Chloe Kennedy, News and New Media Writer
865.981.8209; chloe.kennedy@maryvillecollege.edu

For many aspiring photographers, having the chance to photograph wildlife in Africa is the ultimate assignment.

Last summer, Maryville College senior Emily Julian got that opportunity.

The art major and Bonner Scholar landed a photography and conservation internship at the Thanda Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, where she took photos of animals that make their home on this resort located in northern Zululand. The summer experience was coordinated through African Impact, the largest on-the-ground facilitator of responsible volunteer projects throughout Africa.

During the month-long internship, which Julian describes as “the experience of a lifetime,” Julian accompanied conservationists and researchers who were studying animal populations and species on the reserve. The art major photographed – and in some cases got up close and personal with – elephants, rhinoceros, cheetahs, water buffalo, lions, zebras, impalas and crocodiles.

“The researchers need to see how the populations work together, and for that, they need pictures to document what they see,” explained Julian, who is from Powell, Tenn. “For example, you can tell specific lions by the patterns on their whiskers.”

In addition to photographing wildlife, she worked with children from a local school to teach them about conservation efforts.

“I’ve always been drawn to kids, so that was one of my favorite times,” she said.

She worked with 25 to 30 children who ranged from ages 4 to 8. Many of the children, who live next to a reserve, had never seen a lion, Julian said.

“Plus, many of the children’s fathers are poachers, so the children did not know that poaching is bad,” Julian said. “We would explain that we know you need food, but if you kill all of those animals, there will be none left. They’re slowly understanding what conservation means as a community.”

At the encouragement of MC photography instructor Paula Campbell, Julian submitted 10 of her Africa photographs to Photographer’s Forum magazine’s 2012 “Best of College and High School Photography” contest. Julian was named a finalist in the 32nd annual photography competition for her photo of wildfire smoke billowing from a mountain reflected into a lake in South Africa. The photo is included in the hard cover volume of Best of College and High School Photography 2012, which was published in June.

Julian, who has long had an interest in photography, said her experience in Africa confirmed that she wants to pursue her dream job: becoming a travel documentary photographer.

“It didn’t just open my eyes – it slapped me in the face,” Julian said about the experience. “It sparked in me that I have to do this for a career. I have to travel and have a camera in my hand. The unexpected is what I love – it makes me excited.”

She also knows that she’ll return to Africa one day.

“I feel a connection with Africa,” she said. “I was told that once you leave Africa, it takes a part of you with it. It’s true. I feel the need to go back and keep going back.”


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2013 semester is 1,168.