Alumnus shares photography experience with former classmate

July 23, 2013
Propp
Andrew Propp ’10

Although Andrew Propp ’10 now makes his home in the urban hub of Washington D.C., his photography roots stretch all the way back to Walla Walla.

Several years before Propp began his career as a staff photographer for the D.C.-based magazine The Washingtonian, he was a history major at Whitman. As an undergraduate, Propp played club soccer and intramural sports. He also had the opportunity to learn the craft of photography, taking photographs for the Office of Communications, Harper Joy Theatre and the Athletics Department.

Even though Propp never took formal photography classes at Whitman, his on-the-job training and the small school environment made a huge difference for his career.

“I was able to find a niche at Whitman and really develop skills. I got a job at the Communications office freshman year, and I earned a reputation. I wouldn’t have been able to do that competing with other students at a bigger school with a photojournalism department,” Propp said.

While an undergraduate student, Propp began his own private photography business. He returned to his hometown to work as a freelancer during summer breaks.  After graduation, he took a month-long course at the Portland, Maine-based Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.

 “I did it to bridge the gap between Whitman and the real world. I came out with photos, stories and a fantastic experience,” he said.

Just over a year ago, Propp took his portfolio to The Washingtonian. He worked for them as a photo intern from June to December and then took a position as a staff photographer at the start of the year.

Propp gives two important pieces of advice to any young person pursuing photography. First, it’s important to try out different styles of photography. Second, find someone to show you the ropes.

“It’s really important to find a mentor. There is a lot of pessimism in photography because it’s harder to make a living than it used to be … Guidance, particularly for freelancers, can keep you from feeling isolated,” he said.

Recently, Propp had the opportunity to be a mentor himself. While shooting a spread for The Washingtonian on local hiking and biking trails, he brought friend and fellow photographer Ellie Klein ’10, who is currently living in D.C. to attend graduate school at George Washington University. Klein had the opportunity to act as both model and student – she posed as a hiker and observed the ins and outs of magazine photography at the same time.

“Ellie was terrific. She willingly got up at 5:30 a.m. so that we could catch the morning light and hike to Chimney Rock, Md., when it looked its best,” he said.

Klein isn’t the only former Whittie that Propp has run into. He has been pleasantly surprised to find a small community of former Whitties in his hometown.

“It's definitely a transient community with fewer folks than in Seattle, Portland or San Francisco, but there are a good number here. Get-togethers tend to be informal, though I went to a terrific lecture by Prof. David Schmitz in May that drew a large crowd and some former classmates,” he said.

He is confident that a Whitman education made a positive difference in his professional life and in the lives of his classmates.  

“Like any liberal arts education, it prepares you for different situations and makes you knowledgeable and analytical about the world.”