Dirt, rocks and jagged debris swirl up off the dusty ground and into the increasingly intense gusts of wind in Chickasha, Oklahoma. While most scatter from the forming tornado, Mike Mezeul calmly slings his black camera strap over his shoulder and heads straight toward it.
“I pursued photography as a hobby but really didn’t consider it going anywhere,” the Mayborn graduate student and photojournalist says.
Yet what started out as just a hobby has not only taken him storm chasing, but also flying with the Navy’s Blue Angels, to the pit of a sold-out concert to photograph Britney Spears’ bronzed belly, and to the front of the crowds at last year’s Dallas Mavericks Championship parade.
Mezeul didn’t always aspire to work as a photographer. After receiving his undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice from UNT, he decided the police field was not for him and started working at a production company doing video editing while practicing photography on the side.
“I eventually lost my job because my boss felt I only wanted to do photography. It was then when I started my own photography company and started networking. I decided to return to school in the fall of 2010 and pursue my Master’s in Strategic Communications.”
That series of serendipitous events led Mezeul to his current positions as house photographer at the Allen Event Center, freelance photographer for both the Dallas Observer and Denton Record-Chronicle, and owner of his own business, Mike Mezeul Photography.
Most recently, Mezeul was selected out of hundreds of applicants from around the world to attend the prestigious Eddie Adams Workshop (EAW) in New York—only 100 students are selected out of all the applicants, and the selection process is based strictly off the merit of a portfolio of 20 images.
“It was an extremely intense four days with very little sleep—I think I got twelve hours from Friday to Tuesday,” Mezeul recalls. “The mornings were full of lectures from world-famous photographers, editors, much more. We spent the afternoons shooting assignments, particularly ones that put us out of our comfort zone.”
Additionally, Mezeul received one-on-one portfolio reviews with James Colton of Sports Illustrated, Deidre Read of National Geographic, and David Griffin of The Washington Post.
“The portfolio reviews were an amazing opportunity where I got to show my work to editors from major outlets. The constructive criticism was fantastic and made me understand how to improve my work. The reviews also opened many doors and some potential future work."
Even after having received personal instruction from such influential photographers, Mezeul credits Thorne Anderson, Mayborn assistant professor of photojournalism, visual communications, and multimedia storytelling, for his success.
Mezeul says of Anderson, “He’s been such a fantastic teacher, mentor, and great friend. He has pushed me as a photographer and encouraged me to take my photography to the next level. Without Thorne, I would have missed out on the EAW and would most likely be considering my photography to still be just a hobby.”
Mezeul is a recent runner-up in the 2012 Best Internship Ever! Contest. To read his fascinating contest entry, click here.