Student Feature: Michelle Gray, A Photographer’s Insight on Swaziland Photojournalism

Since coming to Southern Utah University, Michelle Gray, a senior studio arts major with an emphasis in photography from San Diego, has embraced her love for beautiful adventures.

In May of 2017, Gray and a group of students went on a study abroad to Swaziland and South Africa. The group went to study wildlife tourism and photojournalism, as well as immerse themselves in the culture and do service work.

Gray first learned about the trip from Jonathan Holiman, lecturer of communication. He pointed Gray to Jon Smith, professor of communication, who was over the Swaziland trip.

“It was a busy trip to say the least,” Gray said. “If we weren’t taking photos of animals, or zip lining in the forest, we were probably attending a cultural dance or hanging out with orphans.”

Two experiences stood out to Gray the most. The first is when the group visited orphanages. Gray described the orphans as very shy and wary of the class at first, and the fact that they couldn’t understand the English spoken by SUU students did not help. Luckily for Gray and her fellow T-birds, fun is universal. By the end of the trip, young children were laughing, dancing and playing with them.

The second experience that really stood out to Gray was taking photos of the wildlife. At one point Gray was only a few feet away from some lions, who were relaxing on the warm asphalt road!

A rhino during Michelle Gray’s trip to Swaziland. Photo courtesy of Michelle Gray.

“I had only ever seen these animals in the zoo or on TV, and seeing them so close in the wild was nothing short of breathtaking,” she said. “I took a few hundred photos in the five minute span where they posed for us. It is moments like these I will never forget, and if I had the chance to do a trip like this again I would definitely take it.”

Gray said the trip changed the way she sees the world. She now tries to travel and experience as much of it as she can.

Michelle’s ultimate dream is to shoot for an ocean conservation foundation: be a freelance photographer for National Geographic, a travel magazine, or a diving magazine: or travel wherever and take whatever photos she wants in those moments.

For more information on studying abroad or visiting Swaziland with SUU, please visit the Study Abroad website.  

All photos courtesy of Gray.

Story By
Samantha Burfiend