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Picture this Teen photographer shows flair for strange self-portraits

Now we've all avoided our fair share of pictures whether we like to admit it or not. Whether it was the dreaded family portrait or the status-changing high school yearbook photo, there was a point in all of our lives that we didn't want to be in a picture. Although photos serve as a reminder of all our precious memories, we just can't help but worry about how we will be remembered in them. Well Tom Schaefer, a junior at Sweet Home High School, decided to solve this problem by being the one behind the camera, where the pictures come out exactly how he wants them.

"It kind of just came to me randomly. In eighth grade I didn't really like being in pictures so I guess the first step was being the one taking the pictures and then from there I kind of curved my creativity into doing more with it," said Tom.

Unlike most photographers his age, Tom uses various elements of photography and visual metaphors to express the mind of a regular teenager. Examples include "Speak to Me", "I'm Not Very Superstitious", and "Not Everything is Black and White." "His photography is very unexpected and introspective," said Sweet Home senior Sarah Orrico. "He is very focused when he takes a picture and he thinks about every little detail. I've never seen someone so excited to take a picture."

Although he does not prefer to appear in photos taken by others, Tom enjoys appearing in pictures he takes himself, but not the way you'd think. In self-portraits such as "Sweet Dreams Tonight", he shows himself with a ghoul-like face almost like Frankenstein. "I definitely curve my emotion into my photography. Every picture reflects a piece of me," Tom said.

Since the eighth grade, Tom had shown an interest in expressing his creativity, which essentially started when he received his first camera/camcorder, an $80 Aiptek DV 4500. From there, Tom has upgraded to the Nikon D40x, a couple of AlienBee strobe units, a Nikon SD-600 Speedlight, three umbrellas, and various other pieces of equipment. "From what I see, he has a quiet passion in his heart and mind for photography. You don't feel or hear the depth of his passion until you see what he has done," said his mother, Francine Schaefer.

One thing that sets Tom apart from other photographers is his constant use of suspense, risk, and beauty. Not many people probably have the guts to create a picture of themselves headless with their head resting on a picnic table. Tom's "willingness to learn new things, experiment with different lighting and to push the envelope of comfort in his images never ceases to amaze me," said former photo teacher Kristen Piurek. "The images have a narrative, illustration-like quality to them. They are powerful and enable to viewer to stop and think and perhaps relate in their own personal way. His ability to create surrealistic images in a narrative way is fascinating. It is so exciting to see his work and I look forward to what the future holds for him." These unique qualities got Schaefer a Merit Award for self-portrait "Restrained" at last year's Kenan All-High Photo Show.

In addition to suspenseful pictures, Tom makes sure to add more sentimental photos to his portfolio. "I don't limit myself to any type of photography but lately I've been starting to get really into portraiture," replied Tom. Some of these include photos of friends, family, and his girlfriend Sarah, which can be see along with his other photographs on his Web site www.flickr.com/breatheintheair.

"I think he is a brilliant photographer and has taken pictures of some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. His pictures are inspiring," said Sweet Home junior Jessica Andriatch.

When asked about his inspiration, Tom replied, "Michael Kenna, Rosie Hardy, Aaron Nace, and Annie Leibovitz. I think that they are all geniuses, and that they are individually very talented at the type of photography that they do."

Tom spends time listening to music from various genres such as Death Cab for Cutie, John Mayer and Queen. He has played trumpet since fourth grade and recently discovered a fascination with the ukulele. Tom also shows his creativity with his special scrambled eggs with cheese and toasted bread crumbs and his family's super secret Schaefer Goulash.

As for the future of his photography, Tom said: "I plan to minor in photography in college. I would double major but I'm not sure if I'm up to it. I'm not really pursuing it as a main career so I'm trying to keep it as a focus, but not my main focus. One thing is for sure I'm never going to abandon photography."

Marc Luko is a junior at Hutch-Tech.