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Vista High School photography teacher Laura Olden, left, and senior Jonathan Olivares go over his work during class last week. Olivares earned two prestigious awards, a $10,000 scholarship and a trip to New York City after earning a national gold portfolio in the Alliance for Young Artist and Writers competition. Courtesy photo
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Vista student receives national awards for photography

VISTA — What started as a hobby has now become a passion coupled with several prestigious awards.

Vista High School senior Jonathan Olivares is one of 16 high school students to be recognized by the Alliance for Young Artist and Writers for his photography portfolio titled “Mi Vida Mexico.” With the recognition, he also receives a $10,000 scholarship and a trip to Carnegie Hall in New York City on June 6.

By earning a national gold portfolio, Olivares also received the Maurice “Robbie” Robinson Vision Award from Scholastic, which is given to one student each year.

His collection captures Mexican culture through black and white photos, a preferred style for Olivares. Submissions for the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers award numbered more than 340,000.

Also, three of his photos will be part of a national exhibit touring the country for the next year.

“I was scared and excited at the same time,” Olivares said through a translator upon hearing the news. “I’ve never had an experience like this, with a prestigious award and scholarship. There are all these people watching me. I’ve never liked putting myself out there too much. People are going to look at me and think that I’m better than everyone.”

Olivares was born and raised in Tijuana, but moved with his family to Vista several years ago to pursue a better education and life. He first began taking photographs as a child at the encouragement of his mother.

Over the past two years, however, Olivares has fully committed to his art and learning more skills from his teacher, Laura Olden. As a result, the Vista High senior has blossomed and become a force in his own right.

“With a picture, people think you just take a picture,” Olivares said. “But there is a lot more to a picture. One person can see an image, but there is so more depth that you can capture. All the background that goes into a photograph.”

One of the images submitted by Vista High School senior Jonathan Olivares depicts Mexican culture and life. Olivares recently won two national awards and several photos will be displayed on a national tour. Courtesy Jonathan Olivares

Olivares said what draws him to photography is the depth one can capture with a single image. It delivers background, expression and interpretation on a different scale than video or writing.

Olden, in her eighth year as the photography teacher at Vista High, said when Olivares first came to her class last year he was shy and reserved. He often struggled to deliver presentations, she said and adding the language barrier was a challenge.

But as time wore on, Olivares has become more comfortable and confident through his work.

“He’s improved so much over the course of the year and his transformation,” Olden said.

One inspiration for Olivares came from an assignment by Olden. Once per year, she has her students select a photographer to study, which she dubs, “Photographer as mentors.”

Olivares landed on Manuel Álvarez Bravo, a Mexican photographer who is credited as having been one of the most important and influential Latin American artists in the 20th century.

Some of Bravo’s work includes street life and culture, Olden said, which is the same avenue Olivares pursued with his collection.

“Jonathan was drawn to his work and drew inspiration from his work for his own series,” Olden added. “It was drawing inspiration from them, but then making their own story and incorporating their own lives.”