Interviewed by Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator
Kinley Bollinger received one of the NANPA Foundation’s 2020 High School Scholarships. That was supposed to include an immersive nature photography experience at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont in Townsend, Tennessee, in June, but the coronavirus pandemic had other ideas and the trip never happened. Kinley, like the other scholarship recipients, is a talented photographer already and a young photographer we should be watching. I spoke with her last month.
Kinley lives in Wyoming, where she is a high school junior. She’s been interested in photography since sixth grade and enjoys combining her love of the outdoors with nature photography. She captured first place in the landscape category of the 2019 Nature Conservancy’s Wyoming “I Believe in Conservation” Photo Contest for high school students and first place in the wildlife category in 2020. Kinley has received honorable mentions in several other photo competitions and had her images printed in magazines and calendars.
Developing an artistic vision
As a result of the pandemic restrictions, she’s had more time to be at home and explore the landscapes and wilderness areas nearby. Bollinger learned a lot of what she knows about cameras and photography by just playing around with her gear, trying things, seeing what happened. When she had questions, she’d look it up online or on YouTube. There’s a video to answer almost any query. Kinley also gives a lot of credit to having great mentors—the teachers at her school, other photographers, her parents. There’s so much you can learn from studying others’ photos, she says, not to mimic or copy, but to understand what they did. That understanding is critical in developing your own style and vision.
Kinley’s artistic vision is also shaped by her interest in painting, pottery, and drawing. “Art, in any form, is all connected at some level, from painting to performing arts to photography. It’s taking ideas and thoughts and putting them out there, on paper, in music or through a photo.”
She says that “photography is one of the only places I can lose myself. When I’m taking a photo, that’s all that matters. The stress of life leaves my brain for a moment. I can find peace.” Music comes a close second. She plays drums, piano and cello and, perhaps to balance the quiet of being out in the forest with a camera, Kinley is the drum captain at her school, in charge of running a drum line of 12 boys. As much as she likes the solitude of being out in nature with a camera, she also loves meeting other photographers because, she says, you have an instant connection with each other and so much in common.
Photography and conservation
She is interested in the conservation and preservation of wild places. During eighth grade, she was part of a group of students who did an outdoor education program called Expedition Yellowstone during which they stayed in a field study station near Mammoth while learning about the ecosystem and thermal system of Yellowstone. They also investigated how human activity impacts the park and how people can help preserve and protect this great national treasure.
She is on the youth advisory commission of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West museum complex in Cody, a Smithsonian affiliate, trying to boost the number of young visitors, which has been declining. In addition, she is participating in the Earth Optimism Project, a youth-led, nationwide dialog about conservation and sustainability where young people come up with and present to the Smithsonian ideas for projects and applications for micro grants.
Conservation is a big issue among young people, she says, and they have a heightened sense of urgency about it. Her generation is seeing big environmental changes and how those are impacting plant, animal, and human life. Her friends and peers are doing what they can, working on recycling at school and adding their voices to a national conversation on conservation. Kinley knows photographs can have an impact, but it’s harder for young people to see themselves in nature or conservation photography. Most of the photo contests require photographers to be at least 18 years of age. Most of the well-known conservation and nature photographers and potential role models are older. But that’s also where the NANPA Foundations’ High School Scholarship Program has helped. Kinley has seen the work of past participants and follows some, like Ashley Scully.
When asked what she’d tell other young people thinking about getting involved in nature photography, Kinley doesn’t hesitate to say “there are lots of benefits to doing it, even if it’s just for fun. You can do photography and still be in school, play sports or music, hang out with friends. It doesn’t need to be a career choice or a full-time job. Even as a hobby you can have fun and make a difference.”
While becoming a physician is her ultimate goal, Kinley says “I know that, no matter what career field I’m in I will always take photos and continue spreading environmental awareness. Photography isn’t just a hobby for me, it’s my form of expression and how I escape from everything else. It’s allowed me to gain confidence and be proud of the work I do, and that is life changing.”
We look forward to seeing what Kinley Bollinger will accomplish in the future. You can see her work and follow her via: