There are some opportunities that only come around once in a lifetime. Seeing an actual sitting U.S. president in person is one of them. Many metro area residents of Omaha and Lincoln were very excited about President Barack Obama’s University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) visit in January. Arthur Nguyen, a 1st year architecture student, didn’t waste time wondering if he was going to see the president in person, he immediately picked up the phone and contacted his old supervisor Josefina Loza at the UNO Gateway student newspaper and pitched his idea. They loved it.
Now Nguyen had a huge hurdle to jump – obtaining press credentials and a press pass from the White House. As Nguyen went through the online approval process with the Gateway team, he discovered the event organizers were only issuing two opportunities for press passes, one for the actual presidential speech at Baxter Arena (UNO) and one for the Offutt Air Force Base for the president’s arrival on Airforce One. He could only pick one event to attend but that choice was made simple, the Baxter Arena press passes were all spoken for. The only option left to cover was the president’s arrival in Omaha. This may have been a letdown to some, but Nguyen soon realized that this was an optimal test of his photography skills. Timing was of the essence with this type of assignment. There would be only one opportunity to capture the president emerging from Airforce One and only one chance to get that perfect photo of Obama talking to local dignitaries.
Nguyen submitted his press credential RSVP form as soon as he knew of the event, but time was short and the possibility of him not receiving event approval was creating some anxiety. He finally received event clearance the afternoon before the speech.
The whole experience was quite surreal for Nguyen. He had to go through multiple security checks. The first check took place at Offutt's Kenney Gate, and then at the press center where he again had to present his ID and declare his media outlet. At that point they finally gave him his official press pass and recited the rules of conduct and other restrictions. Subsequently, the invited press were individually searched, scanned and patted down. All bags were emptied and their equipment was inspected by security as well as a dog sniffing team.
Eventually, the press were cleared to board a bus which took them to the tarmac where the president would deplane from Airforce One.
Awestruck by his environment, Nguyen noticed the press and local dignitaries were surrounded by security including a sniper team. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity of anticipation, Airforce One arrived.
“When President Obama stepped out of that plane, every single photographer emptied their camera on high-speed,” Nguyen explains.
As expected, President Barack Obama arrived without incident and Nguyen took some amazing shots of the president’s arrival.
“It was an experience I’m never going to forget. It was truly amazing!”
Even though the president deplaned around 2pm, Nguyen wouldn’t arrive back in Lincoln until 10pm that night. There were still the tasks of coordinating speech photography from afar and editing high priority photos for immediate, live news posting. To make his life even more hectic, Nguyen had a big studio project due the next morning at 8am, so it ended up being a very late night in deed.
One might ask the question, “Why would an architecture student be taking photos of a presidential event?” Seems more like something a mass communications student would do. Additionally, Nguyen attended UNO as a computer engineering major prior changing majors to architecture.
Nguyen explains “Photography can be thought of as an outlet for meaningful design. A photo will show people what I saw, but a great photo will show them what I felt and evoke their own emotions. Composition, implied movement, and atmosphere all play a role. Smart design and empathy have everything to do with photography and my background helps me with my architecture work."
One might call Nguyen a renaissance man of design. If it is visual, creative or design related he’s interested. At UNO, Nguyen was Photo Editor for the UNO Gateway student newspaper for a short time. Since coming to UNL as an architecture student, he was sought out and given a position with the Athletic Department as a sideline videographer and video editor after digital communications staff noticed a video he made.
One might wonder if he’s missed his calling. But Nguyen said, “I have always wanted to be an architect. What I enjoy the most about my courses is the convergence of both creativity and technicality. It plays to my photographic side and my upbringing in a family of engineers. I believe this technical rigor is the reason why entertainment work comes and goes but architecture will always be around. It is an essential discipline, but it doesn't sacrifice artistic creativity to achieve that.”
However, he states, his experience in both photography and architecture are growing, and he wants to keep his future options open. For now Nguyen’s priority is being a good architecture student.