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Oct. 2, 2006

In the summer edition of the Cavalier Daily, a picture of a bottle of pills appears on page 3. What makes the photograph special is that the artist was first-year Lauren Elstein, who took the picture while a high school senior–and then saw it in her new school’s newspaper in an edition that went out to every student.

Elstein is no stranger to standing out in her field, whether it is photography, academics, or hockey. The valedictorian of her class at Stafford High School in Fredericksburg, Elstein also started for the Cavaliers in Virginia’s scrimmage as the field hockey team opened up the 2006 portion of their schedule against perennial power Penn State. An Echols Scholar who wants to combine her love of Spanish and photography in future pursuits, the Virginia native is thrilled to be at The University where she has the academic freedom to pursue a program that allows her to reach her potential and have fun doing it.

“I have always wanted to go to Virginia,” said Elstein. “This school is so strong academically, and when I came to visit years ago I fell in love with the school. I looked at other institutions in conjunction with hockey, but no where else measured up with the combination that Virginia offered.”

Elstein’s early connections with the University, however, were not hockey-related but rather in the field of photography. An accomplished photographer who served as an editor for her school’s yearbook, Elstein pursued photography projects as part of her studies at the Governor’s School, in which she had to present a body of work in a field of her choosing as a year-end program.

Her freshman pursuit included a study of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs and both an analyzation of the art as well as a photographic experimentation of the elements that made them stand out. She put together a scrapbook with a copy of the honored photo, paper that addressed significant elements in the art, and then a couple attempts by her to imitate some of the pieces of the picture that made it stand out.

“I tried to re-create the sharpness of the bricks in a photo from the Boston Globe from the 1970s,” recalled Elstein. “I took the picture and the clarity of those bricks was a significant element in the photo. I experimented with my own design and added my takes to the book.”

Elstein studied the effect of the mechanics of photography for her project the following year. She dissected the impact that lighting, shutter speed, apature size and other aspects of photography had on pictures. Using the darkroom at her high school, Elstein was able to finish hundreds of photographs and go into depth in her study of photography.

During her senior year in high school Elstein was fortunate to locate a photographer who would serve as a mentor for her final high school project. Mr. John Bunch, a member of the faculty at the University, met with Lauren numerous times throughout her year to help her not only develop her skills but also her understanding of photography as an art.

“He is just an amazing man,” said Elstein. “We would just talk and share our love of photography, and I have learned so much from him. I am looking forward to taking his classes here at Virginia where I will be able to pursue photography even more.”

Bunch is not the only teacher who has made an incredible impact on Elstein. Mrs. Atkinson, Elstein’s Spanish teacher her sophomore year in school, has also had a profound influence on the Virginia native.

“She has been an inspiration to me,” said Elstein. “She has always been so supportive of me and has helped me reach inside of myself to work to reach my potential. No matter what has been going on in her life, she has been there for me.”

One example of Elstein’s reaching her potential is that she was the valedictorian of her high school class.

“It wasn’t easy,” said Elstein. “But then if it comes too easy it’s not worth doing. And if I’m not reaching my potential, then I’m not satisfied.”

As an Echols Scholar at the University, Elstein will have many resources at her disposal to allow her to work to reach her potential.

“I love to learn,” laughed Elstein, “and Virginia is so supportive of that for me.”

Elstein will also be able to learn as she pursues another form of art in athletics as a member of the Virginia field hockey team. A two-time District Player of the Year, Elstein will add depth to the Cavalier backfield as Virginia looks to move back to the national tournament after a brief hiatus.

“I’m excited to be a part of the Virginia team,” said Elstein. “I’m looking forward to this year and being a part of this program.”

“Lauren is a great example of the student-athlete at Virginia,” said head field hockey coach Michele Madison. “She is self-motivated and can excel both on the field and in the classroom.”

Elstein moved into her dorm room in the middle of preseason and one of the first things she did was hang up the artwork of one of her favorite photographers, Ansel Adams.

“He was so talented in what he was able to do with a camera,” said Elstein. “His work was phenomenal in that not only was it great art, but also it spoke to the people about the importance of preserving the environment. He might have been criticized for not taking social photography seriously, but I think what he did was important in its own right. It made people stand up and take notice of the world around them.”

Adams was not the only socially-conscious photographer that is a favorite of Elstein’s. She is also enamored with the work of Dorothy Lange, a social photographer who helped create awareness during the Depression.

“She was remarkable in that she could relate to her subjects and through that make them more alive in her art,” commented Elstein. “The fact that she was a woman and also had a slight limp made her seem more accessible to her subjects. She was able to influence many politicians through her art.”

Elstein herself has already influenced many people through art herself, whether it be art through photography or academics or field hockey. Her love of learning across a breadth of subjects caught the eye of the Echols program, and in the spring of her senior year in high school she was admitted to the program. Now, as a first-year field hockey player and an Echols Scholar, Elstein will be able to combine her love of hockey and her love of academics while pursuing a passion of photography. No doubt that her picture is a bright one and will be for years to come.

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