Stressed-out graduate students will be happy to learn that they have it easy. It could be much worse. They could be photojournalists. Or so says Dan Bersak, an MIT alum (’06) who just can’t seem to get enough of Comparative Media Studies.
While working as a freelance photojournalist, Bersak maintains his ties to CMS teaching media production and writing courses. His affiliation with the 02139 zip code began in 1998, when he enrolled with the Institute as an undergraduate to study electrical engineering, computer science, and, of course, media studies.
After taking Henry Jenkins’s introductory media course – “it was the only humanities course that didn’t have a lottery” – Bersak remained with CMS and earned a master’s degree. A stint as a teaching assistant last year inspired him to get involved on a full-time basis.
“I love MIT,” gushes Bersak. “The faculty boasts all the leaders in their respective fields across the sciences and humanities. There’s a stereotype on the outside that MIT does not have a strong humanities program, but when you’re on the inside, you realize that it has one of the strongest humanities faculties of any institution.”
Of course, Bersak’s enthusiasm for the Institute may stem from the fact that it introduced him, through an undergraduate course, to his first passion: documentary photography. Having discovered his inner shutterbug, Bersak began working for The Tech and was soon discovered by the Associated Press, where he worked as a photojournalist for a year after graduation.
“Photojournalism was difficult,” admits Bersak. “I worked long hours for pay that was just enough to scrape by on. As a freelancer, I had to maintain my own equipment, which was an added expense.” He also points out that exciting assignments were often the most challenging.
“I covered the Republican and Democrat conventions during the 2004 elections. While it was amazing to be on the floor, barely 15 feet away from the presidential candidates, I had to claim my spot 20 hours earlier than the event began and couldn’t move away even for a bathroom break. It was a real physical test of endurance.”
‘That Winning Shot’
Complaints aside, Bersak admits that competing with thousands of other photographers for that one shot that no one else could get is what makes the job worth doing. Not surprisingly, then, his other favorite subjects include protest riots and sports. Ever the MIT student, Bersak likens sports photography to a puzzle: “you have to know the stats. You have to work out the probability of what’s going to happen next so that you’re ready to take that winning shot.”
Given his enthusiasm, Bersak is fortunate to be able to balance his love for photography and pedagogy. Recently, he took time off from work to travel to South Africa where he photographed cheetahs in Pretoria, the slums of Soweto, and the artifacts of the Apartheid Museum.
“I love taking pictures of my dog. Thanks to this last assignment, though, I can finally say that I’ve done some nature photography,” jokes Bersak.