Burak starts as College photographer

by Lindsay Ellis | 11/28/11 11:00pm

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College photographer Eli Burak '00 replaced the recently-retired Joe Mehling '69, who held the College photographer position for 18 years.
by Lindsay Ellis / The Dartmouth

"I bought a camera and 20 rolls of film and went out there and was like, This is awesome, I could see myself doing this forever,'" Burak said. "That's how I got into it."

Burak's pipedream has morphed into reality he clicked the shutter on his Sony digital camera as College photographer for the first time on Nov. 14. Burak replaced former College photographer Joe Mehling '69, who retired in August after serving 18 years in the position.

Burak who prints all his work under the surname Burakian is "gregarious and very passionate about technology and equipment," Director of Digital Content Martin Grant said.

"He's only been here for a couple of days, but he's contributed not just to the Flickr channel but to our news website as well," Grant said. Burak is currently in the process of legally changing his last name to Burakian, as it merges Burak and the last name of his wife, Julia Martiesian '01, he said.

After graduation, Burak managed the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge for three years and worked for Resource Systems Group, a consulting firm in White River Junction. He quit his consulting job in 2007 to work as a full-time freelance photographer, capturing everything from weddings to the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region, an unrecognized state in Azerbaijan, Burak said.

"I loved being my own boss and having my own hours, but it's very stressful knowing you constantly need to be looking for work," he said.

In early July, Rob Jenisch, owner of the Gilded Edge Frame Shop in Hanover, told Burak that Mehling would retire in the upcoming months, which initially piqued Burak's interest in the position, he said.

"The more I thought about it the more I was like, This job would be sweet,'" Burak said. "I happened to be in a not-very-good financial position and thought I should apply for a job."

Out of approximately 30 applicants who interviewed for the position over the phone, Grant invited "a handful" to campus for full-day interviews, he said.

"Eli was a standout from the beginning, not just for his work, which was just amazing, but he's just a guy who captured our interests," Grant said. "He's very genuine, he loves Dartmouth and he loves the area."

Burak said that during his first few weeks on the job he has encountered aspects of the College that he did not experience as an undergraduate.

"I never went to Sherman Library," he said. "I just went there for my first time today. I like the ability to interact with professors and staff in a different role than I was before. I'm now communicating with them from a position. It gives me a whole new perspective."

Because he was not formally trained as a photographer, Burak said he has learned new skills in the art particularly in artificial lighting with help from Mehling.

"He's come in twice to help out," Burak said. "He showed me how to use the strobe and battery pack. I'm honored to follow in his footsteps, but I'm also interested in taking what he's done and pushing it a little bit farther."

Since Burak started in mid-November, he has gone to Rauner Library to flip through photos by Adrian Bouchard, Dartmouth's first College photographer who worked from 1937 to 1976, he said.

"It's cool to think that someone's perspective of Dartmouth 60 years from now will be influenced by how I capture Dartmouth," he said.

Mehling said Burak's work which Mehling has explored through Burak's website and a book on Moosilauke Ravine Lodge authored by Burak and published in 2009 shows Burak's curiosity.

"He really wants to find out more about what's going on," Mehling said. "I'm impressed. I like it."

Of Burak's few shots that have been published on the Dartmouth Flickr account, a shot of Michael Odokara-Okigbo '12 laughing with Henry Luehrman '12 taken at a Nov. 14 Dartmouth Aires watch party stands out the most to Grant, he said.

"This is a wonderful shot," Grant said. "His first day was that shoot. We made a great choice."

Burak said he hopes to eventually capture scenes from Dartmouth's various off-campus programs to expand the College's visual offerings.

"It's one thing to hear about these trips but it's another to see pictures," he said. "Martin [Grant] is hoping to keep me on campus for a while, but thinking long term, there's a lot of opportunity to explore the amazing things that Dartmouth is, above and beyond student life."

Burak said he looks forward to embedding himself within College life. Getting to know his subjects will create compelling imagery, he said.

"Dartmouth is amazing in the diversity of experiences of people that are here, and that's what I want to show," he said.