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Arts & Culture

Behind the scenes of an award-winning travel photo

Learn this amateur photographer’s travel philosophy and keep reading to see more of the competition judges’ favorites.

bright green colored cuban cab with people seen in the rear view mirror

Jynel Casey ’04, ’08 PharmD — a winner in the Office of International Affairs’ 2021 photo competition — learned that the Cuban driver in her picture kept his 1950s Plymouth running by cobbling together parts never intended for autos. “The ingenuity makes you appreciate the little things,” says Casey, who can be seen in the rearview mirror (second from right).

Jynel Casey ’04, ’08 PharmD has been to such fascinating locations as Morocco, Thailand and Romania. But unlike many world travelers, she doesn’t keep count of the countries she’s visited.

A pharmacist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, Casey goes anywhere that grabs her interest, often traveling in January to celebrate her birthday and escape Ohio’s dreary weather.

“For me, travel feels like Christmas did when I was kid. It provides that level of excitement,” Casey says.

Her meandering sense of curiosity took her to Havana, Cuba, in 2017, when she snapped the photo that took first place in the arts and culture category of the Office of International Affairs’ 2021 competition.

“Cuba had always been elusive because U.S. citizens can’t easily get there,” Casey says. “It was near the end of the Obama era, and I figured they were going to be closing down access. So it felt like a last shot to see this country in our backyard that has a lot of history.”

Jynel Casey travel tip: Get euros before you go to countries that don’t take U.S. dollars and pay for any travel expenses requiring cash with that currency

She, her boyfriend and two friends stayed in the capital for five days. They faced challenges inherent in a nation on frosty terms with the U.S. government. For example, Casey knew her debit and credit cards wouldn’t work, so she had to carry more cash than she was comfortable with. And money exchanges don’t really want U.S. dollars, so they charge a hefty fee.

Also, there were no directional signs at the airport, no commercial billboards, no advertising.

“I like international travel and how you feel accomplished when you make it through and manage to get around, even if you don’t speak the language,” Casey says. “Cuba was the first communist country I’ve been to, and it seemed kind of like it’s stuck in a time warp.”

Back to her award-winning photo: The Ohio State Alumni Magazine staff chose it for publication from a wealth of gorgeous submissions to the annual photo exhibition.

“This photo is interesting because there are layers of scenes within the photo — the inside of the car, the mirror, the windshield and beyond,” says now-retired Senior Photographer Jo McCulty ’84, ’94 MA. “It draws your eyes through the dimensional and boldly colorful view, asking you to take time to look at all of the fabulous details.”

Casey doesn’t consider herself much of a photographer. When she looks at her photo, she doesn’t see an award winner.

She sees the driver her group hired, who meticulously kept his vintage Plymouth running and was excited about a small gift they gave him — a pair of plastic sunglasses that matched the color of his car. She sees the friends she traveled with and remembers the good times that made them want to stay longer. She sees a country that is so different, and its people, who are so welcoming and inspiring.

And perhaps that’s unsurprising for a person who keeps no checklists of places she’s been and no numerical goals for the travel she wants to accomplish in life. What she keeps is a thick trail of photos on the wall along her stairs, showing the people and the places that have mattered to her.


More gems from the exhibition

stone bridge connecting two sides of the city in Ronda Spain

“A Bridge Through Time”

Location: Ronda, Spain Date: July 2019 Photographer: Dominic Campagna (undergraduate student)

“What struck me about this picture was the angle,” says competition judge Judith Dunham-Borst, section program coordinator at the Knowlton School in Ohio State’s College of Engineering. “The beautiful houses and orange roofs, and in the foreground that majestic bridge. What made this photo exceptional was the accompanying story from Dominic, who followed his interest in this bridge. He traveled four hours to reach Ronda and then traveled outside of the city to be able to use his drone to take this picture.

“I love the fact that drones are becoming more accessible to amateurs, and I can’t wait to see what beautiful images from different angles the future of photography will bring.”

rocky beach where the water meets a highway and forest in Canada

“Canadian Overview”

Location: Vancouver, Canada Date: December 2019 Photographer: Daniel Zaas ’13

“This photo is perfect in its simplicity: water, road, forest,” says competition judge Dunham-Borst. “The composition is interesting, the colors are in balance. It’s very peaceful and inviting at the same time. It is a photo that can tell all kinds of stories.”

young boy enjoying playing in the water in Saint Lucia


Location: Soufriere, Saint Lucia Date: August 2020 Photographer: Nathan Peachman (undergraduate student)

“This is a cool photographer’s trick that captures an image half under the water and half above it,” says Ohio State Alumni Magazine Art Director Pat Kastner, a competition judge who added that “the designer in me” gives kudos to Nathan for placing the waterline right at the lower third of the photo. “But what really makes this photo special is the pure joy on Kyle’s face. Even more special is the story Nathan tells about the boy he met on the beach in Saint Lucia.”

long exposure showing the streaming lights of a bus in Picadilly Square London

“Piccadilly Night Bus”

Location: London, England Date: April 2018 Photographer: Steven Hirsch ’83, ’87 MD

“We awarded this photo ‘Best in Show’ because … well, look at it! The image is so vibrant and dynamic with the colors popping out of the frame,” competition judge Kastner says. “This is a still image, but you can feel the movement as an iconic London double-decker bus whizzes by. There’s such a wealth of detail in the surrounding buildings as well. Composition is super important to me in a photo, and I really appreciate the mirrored curving shapes of the buildings and roadway and curb that balance the image.”

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