Senior staff photographer Autumn Walter enjoys taking photos of the school’s sporting events. Photo by Kayla Michaud.
The University of Rhode Island holds great pride in its sports teams, and for the last four years, I had a courtside view.
In high school, I was a cheerleader and had grown accustomed to the sideline adrenaline. Unable to continue once I started college, I sought to develop my skills in another one of my other passions: photography.
I came to college armored with my dad’s old Nikon 5200. In my second week in Kingston, I elected to bring it down with me to a men’s soccer game. And just my luck, this cold night turned into a rainy night, but I stayed. And because I did, I met John Brock, the photo editor of The Good Five Cent Cigar and was invited to join the organization.
My first assignment with the Cigar was to shoot the open men’s basketball practice to kick off the season, far less exciting than the Rhody Madness we are used to now. From the hour I spent walking the floors of the Ryan Center, I fell deeply in love.
My freshman year was the dream team for URI basketball, coached under Dan Hurley and stars including Hassan Martin, E.C. Matthews, Stanford Robinson, Jared Terrell and Jeff Dowtin. It’s no wonder that this team was my training in sports photography. I spent hours watching and learning the game, how they each played with each other and how to follow along one of the fastest games looking only through a viewfinder.
During my freshman year in 2017, URI was heading to March Madness for the first time since 1999. This was another turning point for me. I never wanted to be left out from shooting the team I loved, and so I dove deeper into sports photography.
From then, I changed my major from animal science to communications, started to minor in art with a concentration in photography and picked up the sports media and communication minor when it was introduced in 2018.
I started to travel with URI sports, not just basketball but football, soccer and others too. I have had the honor of shooting in the Harvard Stadium, the Dunkin Donuts Center, Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., PPG Paints Arena and other locations.
In 2018 URI Basketball played Providence College at home in the Ryan Center. Every seat was full of screaming fans. I sat on the Alex and Ani Court, shaking from the energy being sent my way. It’s a strange experience being in the center of attention, but knowing that there is not a person who can see you because every eye, including mine, is locked onto the action happening only inches from my lens. This game gave me my first taste of greatness.
Fatts Russell, a freshman at the time, had just made a because dunk and in his landing he let out an animal-like roar. I captured this raw emotion. I posted this shot online after the game and it went viral around campus in a matter of minutes.
Later that year, I flew to Washington, D.C. to shoot URI basketball at the A-10 tournament. Despite coming in second, URI was still heading off to the big dance, and so was I. I sat on the court for three March Madness games in the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, shoulder to shoulder with professionals living my dream.
I am now heading into my final year at URI, and it is bittersweet. I am not sure where my life in sports photography will lead, as my experience on the sidelines has been a mixed bag.
Being a woman in the sports world is not easy. For years, I have been the only woman on the sidelines shooting still photography. Men older than I have called me sweetheart, darling and sweetie. I have been pushed back and stood in front of so that a man can do the same job that I am doing. URI is typically a very inclusive environment, so this culture worries me for the future. I am not sure how sports photography will be implemented in my future, but I hope to work to continue to shift the culture to be more inclusive.
No matter where my life leads me, I know that I was able to do something great at URI with my time. I have proven myself past what most people thought me capable of. I have shot countless basketball games and other sports games, I became the photo editor of The Cigar, had my work published on GoRhody.com and in the Providence Journal, traveled and shot a variety of sports in different cities and went to March Madness. There are few photographers that can say they have done what I have in my time at URI.