May 7, 2012

NORMAN, Okla. -- Aaryn Ellenberg has one final project for which she hasn't written a single page.

While most of the student body spends every waking moment cramming for tests, Ellenberg takes to the streets outside and far away from the walls of any study hall.

Finals Week begins Monday at the University of Oklahoma, but Ellenberg isn't skipping out on her coursework. She's performing it intently. As an art sophomore with a focus in photography, each shutter click builds another page in her portfolio.

This afternoon finds her at OU's rugby fields where teammate Morgan Hook is directed through poses with a soccer ball.

Ellenberg's series is about shoes; specifically, identity through shoes in the different environments in which they are worn.

"I'm taking away the usual focus of a portrait," Ellenberg explains, "and putting an emphasis on what often defines someone."

There is irony in what is occurring at this moment. Ellenberg, as her team's leading scorer, is one of the institutions most visible student-athletes. Yet she strays from the spotlight and would rather have others face the cameras to discuss the Sooners' accomplishments.

And, right now, she's the one snapping diligently behind the lens of a Canon EOS Rebel T2si.

Selections from Ellenberg's Portfolio

"I had some black-and-white photography classes in high school and really liked working with film. Whenever I'm not playing basketball, photography is usually what I'm doing. I get to include a lot of my friends and teammates as subjects so that just adds to the fun."

Trading between jump stops and F-stops comes naturally, and Ellenberg's zeal for photography has bridged the gap between her on- and off-court relationships. Her camera is a fixture on road trips and she documents both the playful and intimate moments of her teammates' off-the-court lives. There is no difficulty finding material.

"She takes her camera everywhere," Hook says. "It's around her neck even when we go to the store and when she doesn't have it, she'll always say, 'I should have brought my camera!'"

With the latest project, the selection of models expanded from a handful of teammates to those in other sports on campus. It's sure to grow. Perhaps even Landry Jones will be in Ellenberg's viewfinder one week and Sports Illustrated's the next.

"My teammates trust me with what I shoot," Ellenberg affirms. "I think we're used to having cameras around. So that helps."

It also helps that she is good and getting better rapidly, although it takes some prying to get a peek at her collection. Shots from bus and plane trips, post-workout goofiness and stops at scenic locations pack her hard drive. They all represent captured moments in time and first-hand training for a life after hoops.

"It's fun to watch her be so passionate about something you wouldn't expect," Hook continues, "She really knows her stuff. I've seen all her photos and they're amazing. She won't let me see her drawings, though."

Though she is still and precise with her physical movements, much like her effortless play with a basketball in her hand, a million ideas swirl feverishly inside her mind. She will put them on canvas or glossy paper, eventually.

"This is what I'm going to do," Ellenberg declares. "This is going to be my career."

With those few words, her shoot is wrapped. Ellenberg and Hook kick the ball back and forth. No longer artist and subject, they are back to equal footing.