“What makes a photograph your favorite?” asks Bates photographer Theophil Syslo. “The photo you feel is your best? And, what is ‘best’”?

Welcome to the fourth annual Bates Photographers’ Favorites. In trying to answer Syslo’s metaphysical questions, he and his Bates Communications colleague Phyllis Graber Jensen offer some surprising examples (a blurry football image? what’s up with that?) of how they play favorites, photographically speaking.

Here are their 20 favorites of 2018, in their own words:

The Usual, Please

It’s Tuesday before October break, and, like clockwork, sunlight illuminates the foliage outside Hedge Hall. Winter, spring, summer, and fall, my go-to perch for change-of-season pictures is now the top floor of Hedge, looking down on this maple tree. When I feel as if I can no longer make fresh images there, I’ll shut the window and call it a day. — Phyllis Graber Jensen

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Catching the Catch

“What’s that lens for? Looking at Mars?” Sports fans see a photographer with a huge lens and wonder how far you can see with it, how much it weighs, and what brand it is. Let’s just say it’s big and heavy (about 12 pounds), it only gets heavier the longer you hold it, and it can see pretty far. What I’m most certain of is that it’s a 400mm 2.8 Canon lens — and it’s beautiful.

What I like most about this photograph is that I didn’t need to crop it much to fill the frame: just a little bit off the top. Bates catcher Jack Arend ’20 is diving very close to me and I’m still “follow focusing” with a ginormous lens. Great catch, great shot. — Theophil Syslo

Theophil Syslo/Bates College

Puddle Applause

Gail Dow of Lewiston, a proud member of the Class of 1960, considered taking a dip in the 2018 Puddle Jump, but after careful thought she decided to participate as an enthusiastic cheerleader instead. Three times a week, Dow swims in Tarbell Pool, which “is cold enough,” she repeated more than once. She was not going into the Puddle.

Primed for the anticipated excitement, Dow assumed her position — covered up and buttoned down on the sidelines — while her fellow Bobcats took their positions — barely covered, exuberant, and ready to plunge. The generations stood decades apart, but united by their love for water and Bates. — PGJ

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Starry Eyes

Last April, local children came to campus for an Astronomy Night Extravaganza, organized by students in an introductory course taught by Assistant Professor of Physics Aleks Diamond-Stanic. At one display, two balloons, one containing a ping-pong ball and another filled with glitter, were used to explain different types of supernovae. But for this little boy, Clifford Odle, age 8, this balloon had third purpose: a cushion while listening to Bates students explain space and looking at a poster board.

A photographer tries to see things from a different perspective, and Clifford sees the balloon as a chin rest rather than a supernova. What other things might we see differently, if we took the time to look? — TS

Theophil Syslo/Bates College

Lit and Lighter

There’s no context for this shot — a weakness, to be sure. Just for the record, this hot-air balloon is rising from Simard-Payne Memorial Park in downtown Lewiston during the annual August launch of the Great Falls Balloon Festival. I like the fiery thrust of flame that adds vigor and color into an already energized and brilliant scene. I shot it from the roof of a local parking garage, and that’s about as high as my acrophobia permits. — PGJ

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Bump in the Night

Here’s a saying: Make your own luck. You can prepare as much as you want, visualize what you want to capture, and believe you’re doing what is the best — and then accidentally bump your tripod during a long, 8-second exposure and, to your surprise, create something better. The photograph I took before this frame was exactly what I envisioned; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.

But for me, the accidental jostling of the tripod added another element to this image of a Hathorn Hall window framed by the famed magnolia tree, and gave it an art quality that the other photographs in the sequence lacked. — TS

Theophil Syslo/Bates College

Taking the Field

In June, after Bates announced University of Pennsylvania assistant coach Malik Hall as the new Bobcat head football coach, he arrived for introductions and a photo shoot. I was out of town, so my colleague Theo Syslo photographed him for a series of portraits, appropriately serious for their intended purpose.

In August, not knowing much about Hall, I decided to document the Bobcats’ media day practice on Garcelon Field. Perhaps I would uncover another side of him. He didn’t disappoint, projecting his characteristic intensity and disarming joy as he moved across the gridiron in this picture. — PGJ

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College


Commencement is like the Super Bowl or World Cup of photo assignments at a college. I’ve had the opportunity to work/intern/freelance for several newspapers in my photojournalism career, all of which had me cover all types of graduations: high school, college, culinary school, police and fire training, and even a Marine Corps ceremony at Parris Island.

So, covering my first Bates Commencement, I was all in, aiming to do something different from my normal coverage. At one point during the event, I used the power granted me as one of the college’s photographers, taking to the back of the Coram stage (discreetly of course) to make some frames from this different and distinctive perspective. — TS

Theophil Syslo/Bates College

Down But Not Out

At this point in the Bobcats’ first home squash match of the season, Benni Magnusson McComish ’20 trailed his Bowdoin opponent but still had a chance to win. His teammate McLeod Abbott ’19 made a full-court press to help McComish win his match, though ultimately he did not. But the Bates team did, the Bobcats’ 29th straight win over the Polar Bears. I didn’t overhear their exchange, but what I saw was hope and camaraderie under stress. — PGJ

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Rock ‘n’ Run

On some photo shoots, you work hard to make things as clean and symmetrical as possible. At first, that was my intention as I photographed Sam Onion ’19 training on the rock wall in Merrill Gymnasium. My goal was to make a frame that looked like he was climbing toward the ceiling.

As I looked through the viewfinder, placing him where I wanted — top center of the frame — a group of runners came trotting through. Because of this accidental moment, what could be seen as a ruined frame in my mind’s eye became a far more dynamic and layered photograph. — TS

Theophil Syslo/Bates College

Setting for Siblings

As I passed a Kalperis Hall room on the morning of Opening Day for the Class of 2022, Anders Landgren, age 15, was taking what I am sure was a well-deserved rest after he and his sibling Lizzie, age 8, had helped big sister Anna ’22 settle into her new digs.

This is the kind of family picture — Anders lounging as the sisters bustle about— that might, as the years go by, tend to erase their collective memory of his help that morning. So I can imagine a certain nostalgia as the threesome reviews their sibling dynamic decades from now. — PGJ

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Bucket List

I’ll be honest: This image does not scream “rowing.” But it does feel awfully like Maine. It’s a bucket of boots at dockside at the Bates rowing facility in Greene. When leaving the water, rowers take off their rowing shoes and don boots or other shoes to carry their boats up the riverbank to the Traquina Boathouse.

So, in addition to the action photos I took during the Bates Invitational last April, I was excited to come away with something different and distinctive to this area. I like that it can feel like a bit of an advertisement, and the way the earth tones surrounding the boots reflect the tone of the leather. — TS

Theophil Syslo/Bates College

Nora’s Eye

I hadn’t met resident artist Nora Chipaumire when I barged into her late-afternoon rehearsal. As I photographed her watching Bates dancers from the foot of the Schaeffer Theatre stage, I sensed that the Zimbabwean choreographer, whose work merges the personal and the political, would allow me to get close, really close.

A 35mm f1.4 prime lens let me focus on just one of her eyes. She didn’t bat an eyelash (no pun intended). And I ended up with what I had hoped for. Is it an intimate portrait or an invasion of personal space? Both? You decide. — PGJ

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Having a Volleyball

Someone asked me to say something funny to lighten the mood. I don’t think I did, but most of these volleyball players broke up anyway. (I want to give a shout-out to the players who managed to keep it together!) Bates Communications devotes a lot of time to creating headshots, team shots, studio portraiture for Bobcat teams. Moments like this help shape an experience and make writing a year-in-review story a lot of fun. It’s a Great Day to Be a Bobcat! — TS

Theophil Syslo/Bates College

Past the Trash

Installation artist Adriane Herman created a temporary work from five plastic bales, materials ready for recycling, in the green space in front of Commons. While awaiting the arrival of Bates Facility Services staff to work with the artist to place the bales, I tried to decide where I could best position myself to document the activity.

I had time to notice students coming and going to breakfast. Some stopped to look at the bales, others skipped or skated past without processing what was in front of them. Framed by a parked bicycle, this skateboarder with headphones, breakfast in hand, whipped right by to complete the composition. — PGJ

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Early and Late

A photojournalism mantra goes something like this: Be the first to arrive and the last to leave. In this case, arriving early for a late-January women’s basketball game gave me the opportunity to witness something a little different on the court of Alumni Gym, this father-daughter embrace on Senior Day. While not an action shot that explains the game, it tells a story about the support that students really appreciate from their families. I love seeing moments unfold in front of my eyes and lens like this one. — TS

Theophil Syslo/Bates College

Marcus and John

Having not seen each other in a while, Professor of Religious Studies Marcus Bruce ’77 was able to catch up with John Jenkins ’74, a founding member of what was then called the Bates Afro-American Society, during a dialogue in the Office of Intercultural Education involving students, faculty, and staff.

We could all tell that the two men clearly enjoyed their reunion during the annual Unity Conference, Amandla! Black Student Union’s celebration of Bates’ black community, past and present. The first time they responded to each other as panelists, I sort of missed the moment. Rats, I thought, almost. Maybe they’ll repeat it with something similar, I wished, knowing how unlikely that was. But moments later, they shared another prolonged joke. Call it wish fulfillment. — PGJ

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Winging It

Shooting a performance offers at least two different opportunities. One is the performance itself, and anyone with basic training and appropriate gear can create cookie-cutter frames that will please most people. The other is shooting backstage, which requires extra helpings of work, trust, and discussion, with honesty and a well-placed “please” and “thank you.”

During Sangai Asia Night, a variety show celebrating Asian culture and heritage, I sprinted to the back of Schaeffer Theatre to photograph a performance, then headed backstage to make features of performers preparing for their act or coming off stage. This photograph, taken in the wings, suggests the backstage vibe, along with the layers of color and light. — TS

Theophil Syslo/Bates College

In the Swing

When I had last photographed him, back in mid-January, Tommy Sheils ’21 was swinging on a hammock outside Gomes Chapel. Two months later, spring-like temperatures drew him outdoors once again, offering an Admission tour an optimistic glimpse of March in Maine as Sheils soaked up the sun. “It’s a beautiful day at the beach,” he said. — PGJ

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Flake Focus

What makes a photograph your favorite? The photo you feel is your best? And, what is “best”? Short answer: Welcome to my world. The long answer is that I thought it was important to choose and write about a photograph that otherwise would never be published in a sports photo gallery or win an award, one that might prompt questions, like “Can’t you focus?!”

Today’s cameras rock some wicked-powerful automatic focusing systems, but when it’s snowing during a football game, good luck telling your autofocus to follow the players rather than the flakes, despite its 61-point, high-density reticular autofocus sensor. For comparison, Canon’s first digital single-lens reflex camera — the EOS D30, announced on May 17, 2000 — had a three-point auto focus. — TS

Theophil Syslo/Bates College