Life behind the lens: Couple shares passion for photography

Bella McWhorter

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Senior Olivia Runnfeldt walks through an abandoned, drained pool. With her camera bag slung over her shoulder, she skirts around an unwanted couch and stops to snap a picture of the graffiti decorating the pool walls. Photoshoots like this are a regularity in Runnfeldt’s life.

“I’ve always been really interested in photography and how pictures can convey emotions in ways that other forms of art can’t,” Runnfeldt said. “There’s so much emotion in photos and that’s what I strive to convey through mine.”

In March, Runnfeldt received an award for her photography. As one of seven Redwood students who submitted work to the Youth in Arts Marin high school art show, she received the Black Cat Prize for best unmanipulated photography, meaning her photos were not altered.

Runnfeldt recalls that she shot her winning photo in the spur of the moment. A grayscale photo, it depicts a young daughter of a family friend who had been running around when Runnfeldt simply  called the girl over and snapped a photo as she paused.

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“I always get my best photos when I’m not thinking about it. If I just let it happen, it turns out much better,” Runnfeldt said, referring to her winning piece.

The only other Redwood student to win an award was senior Hagen Wehde, Runnfeldt’s boyfriend. Wehde received two awards for his photography: best manipulated photography, a category within the Black Cat Prize, and the award for best altered image. The photo that won best manipulated image will move on to another art show alongside the works of some of the best artists from across the county.

“I was in the seventh grade when my parents got my sister a film camera for her photography class, and that’s when I first got my hands on a camera,” Wehde said.

After this occasion, Wehde said he developed a strong interest in using film as an outlet for his creative mind. He acquired a love for film and eventually narrowed his interest down to photography.

“My interests started to shift more towards just the individual frames instead of whole movies,” Wehde said. “I could focus on making one frame really cool and really perfect and put a lot of thought and effort into that one photo.”

Wehde’s winning piece is drastically different from Runnfeldt’s, as their styles are exact opposites; Runnfeldt tends to capture more realistic scenes, while Wehde focuses on creating surreal ones.

Wehde’s winning photo is heavily photoshopped due to his focus on unreal imagery. It shows Wehde posing, but his face is photoshopped so that his skin is a burning newspaper page and only half his face is seen, with the rest in flames.

After meeting during junior year photography class and getting to know each other in their shared Chemistry class, Runnfeldt and Wehde sparked their relationship and have been dating since last May.

“It’s really nice to have someone who you’re really close with who also shares your same interests. We collaborate very well and it’s just very fun to work together. It’s very comfortable,” Wehde said.

Furthermore, their relationship allows them to lean on each other throughout the creative process.

“Being able to relate on the same topic definitely helps; he’ll get an idea and it will inspire or spark me to do something too,” Runnfeldt said.

While they both share each other’s passion for photography now, Runnfeldt and Wehde said they each plan to pursue photography in their own ways in the future.

Runnfeldt sees herself eventually starting a photography school in Uganda, where she believes children face tough circumstances.

“Photography or art of any kind is eye opening to people, and it shows them that there’s more to life than their circumstances,” Runnfeldt said.

Runnfeldt plans to major in communications in college and then work for a nonprofit at some point in her career. She has yet to decide where she will attend in the fall.

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Wehde hopes to become a professional photographer and will study photography at Sacramento State next year.

“It’s a hit or miss profession with photography. You can go months without getting a lot of jobs,” Wehde said. “I’m willing to take that risk. Even if it means living with minimum wage, at least I’m doing something that I like.”

Wehde believes that today’s technology has transformed photography into more than an art. Anyone, he said, can now snap a photo with an iPhone or digital camera.

However, artists like Runnfeldt and Wehde don’t pursue photography simply to take note of a memory with a quick tap of a button.

Wehde said he sometimes spends more than eight hours perfecting a single photo, and Runnfeldt said she has driven more than an hour to find the perfect location for a photo idea.

“Sometimes I love photography and I hate it––sometimes it’s a lot of work and it can get a little tedious and annoying. But something brings me back every time,” Wehde said.