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Take a break with … Sylvia Stahl ’18

Take a break with … Sylvia Stahl ’18

Rebecca Sutton '25 April 10, 2024

Sylvia Stahl ’18 is no stranger to gorgeous sunsets behind the chapel or faces of students sledding down Stuart Hill after a snow storm. They’re classic UD scenes captured in time — images that Stahl is looking forward to capturing again as UD’s new photographer for the Marketing and Communication office. 

As a student, Stahl loved taking photos around campus as a photographer for UD Magazine under the guidance of Larry Burgess, UD photographer of more than 30 years who retired last fall. But as she steps foot back on campus in her new role, she’s looking forward to forging her own path capturing the beauty of the community she loves.

2404_sylvia_incopy2.jpgWhat initially brought you to UD?

I had two brothers who went here, my dad went to grad school here and I ended up transferring here the second semester of my freshman year. I have four older brothers, and Alex, the one directly above me, and I were “Irish twins,” so I didn’t originally want to follow in his footsteps. I ended up going to a different Catholic school in Louisville but didn’t like how everyone went home on the weekends. I ended up visiting Alex at UD on Halloween, and loved how he had a core group of friends. Everyone seemed to be very happy, loving and supportive, and I loved that sense of community that seemed to be special here at UD.

It seems like you made the right decision. What are some of your favorite memories as a student?

As cliché as it sounds, I met my fiancé here, and we have an amazing, solid group of friends. The friends I met freshman year are still some of my best friends and we love to get together, reminisce and see everyone’s growth. We ended up doing a lot of different art projects and things for the community with WeCareArts my senior year. I also remember sitting in the student section during my first UD Flyers game and photographing the First Four during my senior year. Russell Dickerson even came to our house party my senior year!

What sparked your passion for photography?

Definitely my first year of college here. I took a class on film photography, which was sort of my introduction to photography. As an art major, I didn’t know if I wanted to do graphic design. I was also interested in English, but didn't know if I wanted to write. I took a film class and that sparked it. I liked the editing part, the creativity, working with other photographers and getting a portfolio together that would lead to other things I could shoot. 

Who was the professor of that class and how did they inspire you?

Joel Whittaker was the professor, and I loved our class. One of the other students in the class became one of my good friends and also ended up becoming a photography major as well. There was a growth in the class you could feel because many of us were first years and didn’t know what we were doing, but we could do whatever we wanted in terms of projects. Joel was just a professor who gave us an outline but let us do what we wanted, which is a great parameter to have especially when you don’t really know what you’re doing. There was a creativity aspect in that you could do something crazy and people would support it, and that was really beautiful.


What motivates you to pursue your work?

I have always been fascinated by photography because everyone knows that photos freeze time, and I think there's beauty in that. I started doing weddings when I was in college, which opened a lot of doors for me with photography. With weddings, I loved the aspect that there are a lot of people there for a short period of time of all different ages. Photos can tell stories that words can’t, and if you look at a photo, you can get inspiration from that as a visual versus written word. You could also show that to someone and they’ll have a different viewpoint or something will stand out to them and there’s inspiration in that as well. That allows you to think about how this tells someone’s story in a way that maybe we wouldn’t see or view in another medium.

Now that you’ve had both experience with being a student at UD and working at UD, what has that transition been like?

My group of friends and I just celebrated our alumni five-year anniversary this past June and honestly, as a person that's working here now, the sense of friendliness and the sense of people being caring and open hasn't really shifted. It's funny that the faculty-to-faculty interactions reflect that we want to do what's best for employees as well as students, and you can really feel that because you’ll present an idea or a story, and everyone is very supportive as long as it aligns with UD’s mission. There's so many people that graduated that come back and work here, which must say something awesome about this place. It's nice to feel like you come back and you still feel like you can grow, that you have growth and potential here.

What is your advice for those who want to pursue creative endeavors?

I think connection is really good. You have to have people that are willing not only to support you but to teach you. I was lucky enough to work a lot of weddings and events, photoshoots and things with people who were welcoming and could see potential in me and the other people we were working with, and that was really nice. Not being afraid to ask questions is a big thing, especially if you’re learning a new piece of equipment. I worked with a lot of photographers that taught me what I do want to do, and I worked with some photographers who showed me ways that I would never do something, but that’s as much of a learning experience as it is the other way around. Be willing to take on jobs that, honestly, you may not feel like you are equipped for. I shot a lot of things in college I did not think I would be able to handle at the time, but when I graduated, I realized I was able to handle them, and that was a really big learning curve that showed I could do what I could not do before.

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