An Adventure Begins at NKU

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In 2009, it seemed like a perfect time for another adventure.

It was then that longtime (and beloved) NKU photographer Joe Ruh retired from NKU. Immediately, the search was on to find the school’s next cameraman. Hundreds applied. One stood out.

Those on the committee said Sofranko’s portfolio was filled with emotion – something that was lacking from the other applicants. Whereas other photographers seemed to have just gotten lucky with images, Sofranko’s consistently showed something compelling and different. It didn’t hurt he was a two-time College Photographer of the Year with countless awards to his name.

“He has an amazing ability to capture the college experience in a way that pays homage to the campus he’s on and the subjects he’s photographing,” said Rob Pasquinucci, chair of the hiring committee. “He approaches the job with a quiet humility that makes him great to work with.”

“It seemed like a very photogenic area,” Sofranko said of northern Kentucky. “My wife and I came and liked the area a lot. It seemed like a very interesting mix between the north and the south. It had all the things you’d want in terms of a big city without the congestion.”

Sofranko began his tenure at NKU later that year. He quickly immersed himself in the campus culture, meeting students, staff and faculty. But what he became most known for were his elegant, thought-provoking, and sometimes comical images of the university.

There’s the donkey. The graduation hug. The shack guy. The cave. Basketball’s first Division I victory. Many feature unforgettable moments that only Sofranko could have gotten.

He is still testing himself here at NKU. His adventures have taken him to the unexplored depths of Mammoth Cave to the highest heights above campus in a helicopter ride, capturing aerial shots of new construction.

He says he would love to travel with students on education abroad trips or service learning experiences in another country.

“I’m ready to go to Fiji,” he said, laughing.

‘You Have to be Ready’

It’s all about timing and patience, he says. Most people can learn to be technically proficient as a photographer. But it takes something more to become someone who tells a story with his pictures.

“You have to put yourself in the position to get lucky,” Sofranko said. “You have to have patience, to wait, to be ready for the moment.”

It takes time to gain someone’s trust, he said. But a good photographer puts in the effort.

Back in Trinidad, when Sofranko was documenting the orphanage, he watched through his lens as the children, stricken with HIV, played musical chairs in front of him.

“I couldn’t shoot quick enough,” he said. “I knew the moons were aligning, and I still keep that shot in my portfolio.”

Of course, being a photographer is also about being a people-person, someone who can relate to everyone and gain trust. In many instances, Sofranko will spend several minutes just talking to a subject before ever introducing the camera.

Last August, Sofranko and I found ourselves on assignment, walking around NKU’s campus to document Move-In Day. Neither of us has a problem approaching students and starting a conversation.

But it became especially interesting when we found a student sweeping a metal detector over the lawn outside a residence hall. It turned out he’d already lost his keys, and he felt pretty sheepish about it. Not only did Sofranko get him to tell us his story – we also got a picture, which we used on Facebook. (which actually got people to help him look).

NKU Faculty/Staff Picnic, 2010

NKU Faculty/Staff Picnic, 2010

“Some of the power of photography is to do a couple of things – allow the viewer to observe something in a frozen moment, and it can capture the absurd, the unexpected. I don’t know why this is so funny – it’s really open to everyone’s own point of view. But it’s probably the most comical thing I’ve ever shot.”

NKU alternative Spring Break trip to Mammoth Cave

NKU Alternative Spring Break Trip to Mammoth Cave

“One of the perks of the job – you’re granted access to these areas where people just aren’t allowed to go. It was hard coming up with variety in the dark.”

Cyril Ross Nursery, where HIV positive orphans play musical chairs, Trinidad

Cyril Ross Nursery, where HIV Positive Orphans
Play Musical Chairs, Trinidad

“The moment I saw this and shot this I knew it was going to be a good picture. It won the best of photojournalism contest, 2005. The sense of light, the gestures of the kids, you just knew it was going to stand above the rest. I walked in, saw this scene unfolding, and I knew it was going to be changing in an instant, so I had to just work as quickly as my fingers could go.”

“I’m interested in the way people act and interact,” Sofranko said. “The space they’re in is interesting. So you have to make people feel comfortable to have them be themselves. You know you’re doing your job if people are saying, ‘Hey, I want him to take my picture.’”

iPhone in Hand

When he’s not photographing someone or something, you may find him coaching his son’s baseball team. Or in the winter, you might find him snowboarding with his family. Then again, you might find him on an adventure with me going to a rock concert.

Even then, he’ll have his iPhone out, taking pictures much better than anyone else could ever replicate with expensive cameras.

In fact, it was just days after we attended that Indianapolis show (and I was able to meet my favorite rock band), that Tim sent me some pictures he’d taken while we were in the crowd.

The photos were incredible.

Later that day, a fan site for the band sent out a message via Twitter asking for the crowd’s best photographs from the tour. The best picture would have the honor of being the avatar for the social media site. I uploaded Tim’s photo, giving him the credit.

And, of course, it won.

Photo gallery