Photographer / Photo Editor / Archivist, University of Texas, San Antonio
The Art Institute of San Antonio, a branch of The Art Institute of Houston
I have always been an artist but the idea of having a career as an artist seemed unrealistic to me until I found The Art Institute of San Antonio. Courtney Campbell , Photographer / Photo Editor / Archivist, University of Texas, San Antonio Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Photography, 2014 , The Art Institute of San Antonio, a branch of The Art Institute of Houston
As a photographer, photo editor, and archivist for the University of Texas in San Antonio (UTSA), Courtney Campbell is responsible for capturing and producing a wide range of high quality images of general, medical, and scientific phenomena and subjects. She utilizes specialized techniques of modern photography to produce a wide variety of creative images for clinical, teaching, research activities, special events, the university website, as well as print publications.
Courtney oversees the editorial planning and photography for the school’s magazine, Sombrilla—a publication with a circulation of 80,000. She also serves as the photo archivist for the university, organizing all digital assets and fulfilling photo requests from colleges, departments, and the media.
In addition to her work at UTSA, Courtney runs her own fine art business, Sparx Photography. "I've been exhibiting since 2011. In just the past few months, my fine art has been exhibited in Italy, San Antonio, San Francisco, South Korea, and Budapest." In May 2017, she's exhibiting in London and Rome. Courtney is also an active marketing volunteer for San Antonio Pets Alive.
She recommends that to prepare for a career, current photography students should push themselves—and never just do the minimum to get by. “Nobody makes you go to college. You make the decision, so why not make it work for you? Every single project I was assigned in those four years, I took and made it my own. I imagined it was for a client, or for an exhibition. Doing this gave me a very strong portfolio in the end.”
Courtney also states she had to overcome a health crisis while in school—a stress-induced seizure that led to other, smaller seizures that would occur up to 20 times a day. “This totally threw my motivation off-course. I thought, how could I go to an interview? How can I talk on the phone? How can I have a successful career with this? I wasn't able to drive for a year and a half.” After graduation, she applied for positions including the job at UTSA—but she was terrified that she’d have a seizure during the interview. “For months, I was working on managing stress but still, I was nervous. I nailed the interview. I had no seizures. I followed every single detail that all my instructors told me over the years. I think channeling those reminders got me through that interview.” She says that soon after starting her job, the seizures began to subside—they’re now almost completely gone. The experience taught her to better manage her stress. “If something is out of your control, let it be. If there is something stressing you out, fix it or change it.”
The positive work environment at UTSA adds to the commitment she feels to her craft. “Work doesn't seem like work so much when you get to talk about art and photography all day. However, your superiors need to see that commitment so that is why I have made a habit of helping others where I can.” When she has downtime at work, Courtney asks others in the design suite if they need assistance. “Working at a university, you not only need to be committed to your job, but the entire vision of the school.”
She’s proud of the impact she’s made in her position, receiving kudos from coworkers for changes she instituted within the school’s magazine. “I really try as an artist to halt literal interpretations of an editorial story. I motivate people to see the value in strong composition and design control.” She cites an example of a feature story about a person—and asks, “what would motivate someone to read the story?” Courtney believes that moving away from a traditional head shot makes all the difference when it comes to reader engagement. “A beautifully lit environmental portrait in a lab or a greenhouse can really change the entirety of the feature story. It will draw viewers in and engage them in a different way.”
Today, Courtney continues to grow in her position. When she was first hired, she was an events photographer. Within two months, she became an archivist and implemented Photoshelter's Libris, a digital asset management system to help organize the school’s 30+ years worth of photos. She continues to enjoy the surprises that come with being in a creative profession. “The main thing that challenges any photographer is how every situation is different. Every head shot, portrait, editorial, or event is different. So you have to keep growing in the technical field of lighting. Earlier this year, I went to shoot the most important photo for the magazine, the cover shot. For the first time ever, all my lighting failed. One trigger broke, than another and it was completely out of my control. I had limited time and had to think fast to come up with a solution. I ended up shooting three separate shots to composite together to get the shot we needed.”
Courtney, who in 2014 earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from The Art Institute of San Antonio, says that her education change the course of her life. “I have always been an artist but the idea of having a career as an artist seemed unrealistic to me until I found The Art Institute of San Antonio.” She says that the small classes helped her to feel that the education was personalized. Courtney adds that the instructors got to know their students and helped them to develop the skills needed in the real world. “[They] were professionals who allowed me to pursue my personal [goals] versus a strict pathway. They taught from real life experiences, not from a textbook. [For example], getting a true critique on your artwork is very different than getting a score on a test.”