Barry McNamara  |  Published November 12, 2020

Capturing the Moment

First-year student Charlie Conkle brings home awards from Security Savings Bank Photography Show at the Buchanan Center for the Arts.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – When it came time to pick his next school, Niles West High School graduate Charlie Conkle ’24 of Morton Grove, Illinois, chose Monmouth College in large part because of the way it stood out to him at a college fair.

Now it’s Conkle who’s standing out. The first-year art and English major recently garnered several awards at the annual Security Savings Bank Photography Show at the Buchanan Center for the Arts in downtown Monmouth.

“This semester, Charlie has jumped beyond expectations with every project,” said Monmouth art professor Janis Wunderlich. “One assignment was for students to enter one photo in the exhibition at the Buchanan Center. He entered five, and he took home four awards.”

Conkle used his sharp eye for photography to capture a variety of subjects – from a portrait of his friend Ismail, which earned the David Mace Memorial Award for a work submitted by an individual 22 years old or younger – to a beautiful scene in Cancun, Mexico.

CHARLIE CONKLE: The first-year student works on his art a couple hours a night McMichael Hall. CHARLIE CONKLE: The first-year student works on his art a couple hours a night McMichael Hall.“I realized I could get a perfect shot of its reflection in the water, because it was so still,” said Conkle of his award-winning vacation photo. “I was wearing dress shoes, and I got them soaking wet getting into the right position, but I was so happy that I got the shot.”

There’s also a story behind the portrait of Ismail, which at first glance might come off to some as a “mean” face.

“But if you look into his eyes, he’s relatively sad,” said Conkle. “There’s power in that photo. The juror expressed that in his interpretation of the photo, and I was really pleasantly surprised, because that’s what I interpreted, too.”

Another award went to a photo of a sunset, which Conkle said can be a “cliché” shot, but the colors he was witnessing in the sky that evening were too beautiful to pass up.

Serious about photography

Conkle has been a serious photographer for four years, going back to a class he took at Niles West as a freshman.

“As a kid, I would always get those disposable film cameras from CVS and take pictures,” he said. “But I really started to get ambitious when I took a class my freshman year and had a (digital) camera for the entire semester. At the end of the class, I had to give the camera back, but my sophomore year, my uncle and aunt bought me my own camera.”

“Charlie has a unique vision for his projects and doesn’t stay within prescribed media categories. … He thinks broadly and openly about every possibility.”
– Janis Wunderlich, art professor

It’s one thing to own a camera; it’s quite another to make it sing.

“Charlie has a unique vision for his projects and doesn’t stay within prescribed media categories,” said Wunderlich. “For example, when asked to figure out a display solution for his collection of drawings, he created a web-like arrangement to weave his drawings together.”

When interviewed for this story, Conkle was in the third-floor art room in McMichal Hall, working on a linear perspective-type landscape painting on the bottom of a skateboard.

“He thinks broadly and openly about every possibility,” said Wunderlich.

Another of his photos in the Buchanan Center show was a self-portrait, manipulated through drawing to have “an ’80s music video vibe,” which is also the decade he’s trying to capture with his skateboard.

Although experiencing his first semester of college during a pandemic is not ideal, Conkle has made the best of it, establishing a routine of working in McMichael Hall a couple hours each night.

“I walk back to the dorm at about 11 each night, and I always enjoy that walk back,” he said. “That’s something I’m not able to do back home.”

“Charlie has become a regular in McMike and is often there working late into the evening,” said Wunderlich. “It’s impressive that as a dual major, he so fully commits to the process of creativity. He spends a lot of time in the studio experimenting with material options and comes up with some pretty exciting results.”

Why Monmouth

Conkle said he chose Monmouth because of the impression it made on him at a college fair, which was staffed by admission counselor Brock McNinch.

“I reluctantly went to the fair,” said Conkle. “Monmouth’s was the only booth that was memorable to me. Brock was there, and he’s a character, for sure. He was very helpful without pushing a lot of unnecessary information on me. He left it up to me if I wanted to research some things on my own. I guess you could say he addressed my teen angst.”

As Conkle looks to the future, there are a number of creative outlets that interest him, including illustrating and video editing. But the one he’s leaning toward at the moment is to become a novelist – certainly a novel idea for a college freshman, but one that seems entirely plausible for a talented, creative student with unique vision.

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