Laila Stevens: Looking at life through a lens

By Emily Palazzotto
Connetquot High School

When she was eleven, Laila Stevens received her first camera and knew photography would be a big part of her future.

“I love that you can create a whole new image, oftentimes one that we cannot see with our own eyes,” said Laila, who will be a senior at Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens, this fall.

At school, the journalism and the media studies programs are a home away from home for Laila. Since her freshman year, she has been able to explore different aspects of journalism through a series of classes. For her senior year, Laila earned a spot on what she described as the highly esteemed and extremely selective yearbook committee, which will give her the opportunity to incorporate her photography skills into her school day more than ever before.

“I realized there were so many different things to do with just a camera,” said Laila, who was first published professionally in an online magazine at the age of 13. “So many angles, qualities and colors.”

She said she strives in her photography to incorporate messages of racial equality – another one of her passions.

“Although this goal of depicting racial equality is already out there in the world of photography, I feel Laila’s work will be exceptionally unique and moving because she began dabbling in photography at such a young age,” said Laila’s best friend, Laura Morel. “She has a God-given gift.”

Laila has sharpened her skills through gigs such as modeling shoots, and she often plans photo shoots with friends.

“I enjoy spending time with my friends because I believe that it is healthy and opens the mind,” she said. “I take a lot of walks, because it encourages activity without going to the gym. Music also plays a large role in my life. I love that it is an art form that speaks to so many different audiences.”

Laila’s older sister, Amirah, describes her sibling as being determined. “As long as she has been alive, no matter what, once she has made up her mind about accomplishing something, she does it,” Amirah said.

As for college, Laila said she expects to study photojournalism. She describes the Parsons School of Design as her “dream school” but said a State University of New York campus is also a tuition-free possibility because of her eligibility for the Excelsior Scholarship.

Laila said she anticipates her week at the Robert W. Greene Summer Institute for High School Journalists will give her more insight into a professional career in photojournalism. “I hope that I am able to learn new techniques to make my photography more realistic for the professional world,” she said.

Matthew Quan: A photographic storyteller

By Corianna Jackson
Brentwood High School

Matthew Quan said he has always been attracted to the idea of telling stories, but not with words.

The 17-year-old senior at Longwood High School is trained in photography, a craft that allows him to capture the unwritten tale behind beautiful, everyday things.

Matthew didn’t start seeing the world through a camera lens until three years ago. “I always thought it was interesting, but I didn’t start taking photography classes until I hit high school,” he recalled. He has taken every photography class that his school offers and has earned much praise for his work.

Matthew was raised in Astoria, Queens, by an Ecuadorian mother and a Chinese father. His parents traded the dynamic hustle and bustle of city life for a more relaxed life in the suburban Suffolk County community of Longwood when he turned 13.

This change did not come without hindrances. “At first it was hard to make friends,” he said. “I didn’t know anyone and it was pretty awkward at times.” Since then, Matthew said, he has learned to break out of his shell and has acquired an amazing group of friends. He now finds himself more comfortable in his cozy house in Longwood than his old apartment in Queens.

Matthew said snapping and editing photos helped him through a stressful sophomore year. He excels more in his art classroom where his photography teacher, Melissa Bussewitz, encouraged him to share his craft. She said she has consistently supported and critiqued his impressive work all year. Matthew wouldn’t have applied to Stony Brook University’s Robert W. Greene Summer Institute for High School Journalists if it weren’t for Bussewitz. “He’s a great photographer,” she said. “I told him that he should apply.”

Matthew said when he isn’t working on his photography, he likes to stay active because it’s a “great stress reliever.” He enjoys taking long bike rides in his neighborhood and also studies mixed martial arts. He considers himself outgoing and he loves to talk to people.

He is undecided on what college he wants to go, but luckily, he said, his parents wouldn’t mind if he went away from home. Lately, he has been leaning towards journalism as a career option.

When he heard the news that he got into the Greene program, he said he was ecstatic and shocked. “I’m not a very good writer, so I was surprised that I got in,” he said. He said he is excited to learn new techniques in photography as well as other journalism skills. The only thing he worried about was the lack of air conditioning in the Stony Brook dorms.

Matthew shared he has doubts about his future. But the one thing he doesn’t have doubts about is his photography. “The pictures I take I’m always pretty proud of,” he said.