By Kathleen Shannon
Up next on our exploration of J-School tracks is Ridley Hudson. She came to Montana all the way from Georgia to learn about photography at the J-school, where she’s now a junior. She does photography work for the Montana Kaimin student newspaper and is currently busy editing photos from her spring break reporting trip to the Crow Reservation for her Native News class.
Ridley sat down with graduate student Kathleen Shannon to talk about her path in photography. The transcript of their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What made you decide to enroll in this program?
A: I did a student expedition with National Geographic in Yellowstone. And it was like, really photo heavy. And that’s where I learned really in depth how to use Lightroom. And then after that trip, I was like: ‘why not go to school out here?’ And then I decided to do journalism my senior year of high school.
Q: And how did you end up being most excited about photography?
A: It’s just always been an interest of mine. But when I first got my camera in middle school, we went to my first National Park facility, and we went to the Ansel Adams [exhibit] where all of his work is. And I was like: ‘I want to do that.’
Q: How has journalism shifted the way you look at photography?
A: So photojournalism [has] pushed me to be more creative in the way that I make people feel about images or, like, the way that I can pose my images. I feel like sometimes people [are] like: ‘oh, photojournalism–you just take a photo of the event.’ But there’s so many ways that you can make it interesting and make people want to read the story and want to learn more about it. We’ve been working a lot on portraits of people this semester with the Kaimin and making portraits of people very dynamic and showing their personalities more, which I think makes people want to read the stories, too.
Q: What’s the best part about the photo track at UM?
A: I would say that the professors help a lot. Definitely working at the Kaimin has helped a lot—you get a ton of experience. I don’t know how else I would have gotten so much experience. But, yeah, the professors are great. They help a lot. Their classes are great. And they’re always available if you have any questions or anything.
I would just say the biggest thing that I’ve learned is connections are super important. The J-School and professors are a great place to start with that. And getting involved in the J-School is really important. Because getting involved, you make connections, and then connections lead you to connections that lead you to further opportunities down the road. Because you never know who you’re going to run into.
Q: What’s one of the challenges of doing photography?
A: I like to do freelance and, obviously, journalism. And so [the challenge is] making time to do what you want to do [while] also work[ing] on your expertise. Because [with] journalism, you’re going to events all the time. You never know when breaking news is going to happen.
Q: Can you talk about making time specifically for shooting things that aren’t for class?
A: I’m taking a class right now with the Pollner professor [Daniella Zalcman]. And we’re working on long form stories right now, which has given me a lot more insight on how to pitch, how to apply for a grant, all these things. So I’ve started like thinking a lot more on long form stories. [And] whenever I’m able to travel or enjoy my weekends. I go skiing in the winter a lot. And we do galleries every week for the Kaimin. And so I’m like: ‘Oh, maybe I could do a skiing gallery for the Kaimin, on a ski team or some ski event that’s happening.’ I try to incorporate things that I love to do with my job.
Q: What advice would you give to new students who are charting their course through the program?
A: Even if you have an idea of what you want to do or you have an idea of what you’re interested in, definitely try classes out of your comfort zone or classes that you think you might be interested in. Try all [kinds] of journalism just to get a good idea of where everything is. And then usually you’ll find what you love.
Q: What’s your dream job after school?
A: I want to work for National Geographic to do long form stories. I mean, that’s the ultimate goal.
Q: Tell me about a project you’ve created that you’re particularly proud of.
A: Right now, I’m working on women in rodeo. The photos are really fun. The women are great. I’m mainly working with the U.S. rodeo team. But it’s been really fun going to the rodeos and their season’s coming up soon. I did do the reproductive rights rally for the Kaimin, which was fun to cover, if that’s the right word. I’m hoping to work on a story about wildlife moving into the city more with climate change and everything. Right now, I’m working on the Native News story. I just got back from our trip [to the Crow Reservation]. And my team, we’re doing lodgepole pines and [how they’re] so affected by everything like drought. [Over] years and years, the trees are becoming thinner. Just a bunch of things with climate change on the reservation.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the highlights of that trip?
A: Yeah. I met a lot of great people, a lot of great connections. On the trip, I feel like it was like my first real experience with on-the-go traveling for journalism. I learned a lot [about] how to manage my time. The reservation we were on is super spread out. [If] you’re going to one side of the reservation, you can’t just come and then go back. You have to plan out your days. You have to be very prepared before you go.
Q: Describe a photo that you took on that trip that you’ll probably use in the final project.
A: So this lady that works at newspaper there, she was kind of our connection to most of our interviews that we had. And one day she was like: ‘Do you want to tour the whole reservation?’ So we’re like: ‘sure.’ [It’s] a four-hour drive. And we’re like two hours in and we see a bunch of smoke, so we drive over to see it. And it’s a huge dumpster fire. And there’s a Smokey the Bear sign in front of it. So I got a photo with the fire in the back and then the Smokey Bear sign and it was a pretty cool photo. Sad to see, but pretty cool.
This guy showed us where the Crow Fair is. And then he asked if we wanted to see it from this lookout point, which is, like, this area that’s a little tiny hill that stands by itself, because the reservation is pretty flat. And then you have this random hill. And he went up this really steep dirt road up to the very top, [and] his truck was barely on the top. And so I took his portraits up there. And then took a photo from up there and you can see the winding dirt road and then the Crow Fair below it.