As the phone fastened to the pottery wheel spun beneath him, junior Henry Sowell craned his back from above, positioning his camera for a straight-on shot of it. He was trying to get an image of the perfect circle his phone flashlight created. As he straightened up, wobbling on the stool, he pressed the playback button to see the bright ring of light he had captured, and adjusted his settings to create a bluish purple glow around it.
Sowell had only been taking pictures for a year, but he always found new and creative ways to capture everything from leafless trees in the winter to pastries at his favorite bakery.
When Sowell was looking through his attic freshman year, he found his grandfather’s old film camera and started learning how it worked. Since his grandfather had died when Sowell was in second grade, he wanted to use photography to connect with him.
“I always idolized him in my head. He was a fantastic photographer,” Sowell said. “Photography is a way I can feel more connection with my family.”
When Sowell’s dad saw his interest in photography, he gave him one of his old digital cameras so Sowell could continue learning. He began snapping more than 500 pictures a day.
He shot the Prairie Village landscape to learn more about light and exposure, and his friends at school to get comfortable with movement behind his lens. In the beginning, Sowell had no clue what an F-stop was or how to use Photoshop, but after about three months, Sowell could adjust his settings without a second thought.
Sowell became known by his peers to always have his camera bag hanging off his shoulders. His Nikon D 3300 was glued to him throughout the school day and went with him everywhere — on walks, to school and to family outings.
When Sowell went to Montreal for an orchestra trip his sophomore year, he was already shooting photos of students as they stepped off the plane at the airport. Thousands of images of students in the wax museum, biodome and subway filled his memory cards for the rest of the week.
When he returned from the trip, Sowell spent more than five hours editing the photos on his laptop. His finger slid carefully along the trackpad, adjusting contrast and color just enough for the photo to be postable. When he was finished editing, he sent the photos to his phone and posted them onto his instagram, @henry.sowell.photography.
Although his friends loved seeing the pictures Sowell took of them, he was more interested in shooting still life. Because he wasn’t always in exotic locations, Sowell challenged himself to find different angles in everyday objects.
“I like making ordinary things look really alien and weird,” Sowell said. “I’ve been forced to be really creative with everything I shoot.”
Photography was a way for Sowell to hold onto memories. A picture of a latte in Broadway Cafe reminded Sowell of the smell of his mornings in downtown KC. A guitar player with a bright blue sky behind him was from the time Sowell finally asked to take photos of the man he had been listening to on the Plaza for years.
Sowell prided himself in being able to take pictures in less exciting areas with affordable equipment. He thought it was important to have a passion and talent for photography before spending money on an expensive camera. He didn't buy his Nikon until he knew it would boost his skill level instead of letting him to slack on his form and angles.
“It’s the artist who takes the picture, not the gear,” Sowell said. “It’s not easy, there’s time and effort that needs to go into it. You can’t just hold down the shutter and take a million pictures.”
Sowell would sit down by a pond and shoot a single flower reflecting on the water for an hour before he found the perfect shot. When the sun had moved just slightly and the light hit the flower perfectly, he could snap the picture.
Sowell’s passion showed in every part of his life, from his social media to his always-present camera bag. When Sowell found that camera in his attic, he discovered an outlet for his creativity and a talent that he had never known about before.
“People see photography as a personification of me,” Sowell said. “People know when it’s true passion. They see that in me.”