Courtesy of Veronica Gluza M.Sc. '23

September 19, 2022

Mastering Photo Exhibits: A Look at Cornell Birding

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The fascinating thing about any university is the diversity of people, places and ideas that create an environment unlike any other. Between the broad variety of majors and minors and the seemingly countless selection of clubs, Cornell is an institution where even an engineer can host a photography exhibit, as Veronica Gluza M.Sc. ’23 did this Wednesday, Sept. 7.

A native of Toronto, Canada, Veronica first visited campus in the months immediately preceding the pandemic, doing undergrad research in choice modeling for transportation with applied machine learning. In addition to that widely studied field, she also found herself enamored by the natural beauty that surrounds Cornell’s campus. Namely, she became fascinated by birds. When I interviewed her, Veronica jokingly said that most of the reason why she made the trip to Ithaca every weekend between January and March 2020 was just so that she could see the birds on campus and in the greater Ithaca area. 

Courtesy of Veronica Gluza M.Sc. ’23

Veronica has been interested in photography from a young age, even running her high school yearbook a while back. Throughout her time at Cornell, Veronica has steadily amassed an impressive portfolio of avian photography, inspired by what she first saw here. In the intervening two and a half years since she first made her way to Ithaca, she has always had her camera in hand, ready to document any wildlife that she might come across. This has even extended to her travels around the globe, whether they be for school, work or just visiting family. “I always take my camera. I always travel with my camera,” she told me. “TSA agents hate me because I always have to take it out and get searched.” 

Despite having no formal connection to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Veronica was able to work closely with Elliott Ress ’23, a member of the lab, who she referred to as her campus field guide. This passion for photography combined with a newfound appreciation and interest in birds culminated in Veronica’s very first photo exhibition in the Big Red Barn on Central Campus. 

Courtesy of Veronica Gluza M.Sc. ’23

I had the privilege of being invited by Veronica to attend this opening, and the pride with which she discussed her work was clearly evident as she held her audience with rapt attention. The audience was a mix of friends and casual onlookers, with an incredibly relaxed and social atmosphere where no one felt out of place, even those of us who have never been to an exhibition before. Beyond the atmosphere was a sense of true craft mastery, as at any given moment, Veronica could be heard presenting onlookers with various facts about the birds that she had captured, whether they be camouflage techniques, levels of endangerment or size discrepancies between larger female and smaller male birds. 

Using a Canon R6 camera, Veronica managed to capture birds from Ithaca to Helsinki and back. She explained the significance of the camera that she used. According to her, what makes her camera optimal is the way that it focuses on the eye of the bird, which creates the most well-focused picture that can be created for the human eye to perceive. This is a world that I am more than comfortable in admitting that I know nothing about, and yet I never felt out of depth during the entire two hour exhibit opening. Veronica truly knows her stuff and she was quick to give credit to her friend Elliot for teaching her. “Being able to make a great friend who is not only interested in birding but also far more knowledgeable than myself has made it so much more fun to partake in”.

I had the chance to sit down with Veronica after the exhibit was over. Throughout our conversation,the main idea which we kept coming back to was the importance of having hobbies outside of school. As a master’s student studying Systems Engineering, there is no denying that Veronica works incredibly hard as a student, but she also stresses the value of turning off the computer from time to time. “Making sure that you can mentally detach from your work and the everyday kind of stress,” she emphasized. “Especially as a grad student there is a lot of stress to produce high quality research… my two favorite ways to disengage are through birding and lifting with the Cornell Barbell Club.”

Courtesy of Veronica Gluza M.Sc. ’23

When asked about her future plans regarding birding and the practice of photographing birds, Veronica said that she doesn’t really have any grand ambitions. She said to me, “These pictures are for my own enjoyment. I took them because I liked them. I’m just happy that other people liked them too.” I believe that she has the right idea when it comes to her photography and how she fits it into her life. Sometimes you just need to go outside and touch grass.

If you want to follow along on her photography journey, Veronica can be found on Instagram @cornell_birding. 

Tom Sandford is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].