SPARTA, NJ – The photography students at Sparta High School had a special guest last week. Teacher Christie Graham’s former student Chris Szczypala visited the intermediate and advanced photography students talk about his career as a professional photographer.
“I have been teaching at Sparta for over 11 years and its nice when past students come back to share with current students their success stories,” Graham said. He has made me proud as his former teacher and to know he got his start in photography at Sparta High School just warms my heart.”
Szczypala is currently the media coordinator for Monticello Motor Club as well as working as a freelance photographer and videographer. Monticello is a private racetrack in New York state that operates from April to November. When it is open, he is “responsible creating content for web/social media, magazines and print ads, shooting events and races, assisting commercial and video productions, and creating video and photo content for various other marketing materials.”
In the off season Szczypala works as a freelancer. His home base is Sparta but also lives in Bradley Beach during the off-season with the club. He has traveled to many racetracks across the country but does most of his work in the tri-state area, Szczypala said.
“I love a project that requires me to tell a message or a story,” Szczypala said. “Whether it’s a photo that ties into a magazine article, or a music video that puts you in someone else’s shoes, those are the projects that are challenging and require more thought. If I have to ask myself, ‘how the heck am I going to do this?’ it’s most likely going to be a project that I’ll really enjoy.”
Szczypala credits Graham’s class as a junior with the beginning of his career path. He was “originally focused on studying music (drums) but that all changed after taking the entry course, then enrolling in the advanced class.” He was interested in action sports and had friends that raced cars so he “spent a ton of time up at Mountain Creek in Vernon and down at Englishtown Raceway Park in Old Bridge.”
“I’d always bring my camera along with me to capture our adventures, starting creating videos, shared them online, and met a lot of people who were doing the same thing as me,” Szczypala said.
After graduation, he attended Sussex County Community College studying communication and film production. “Living at home while going to school gave me the freedom to try different things and allowed me to practice outside the classroom environment,” Szczypala said.
“Professional drivers began noticing and sharing my work and the employees of Mountain Creek were doing the same,” Szczypala said. “I started freelancing on various different projects. When a job opening came at Mountain Creek, I sat in for an interview and started working part-time as a marketing assistant creating web/social videos, and started working there full-time as a creative producer after I graduated from William Paterson University.”
This was his first visit back to Sparta High School. Szczypala was impressed by the renovations. “It was amazing to see all of the new additions,” he said.
“The students showed me great projects of their own and their enthusiasm and passion brought back the memories of myself just a few years ago. Mrs. Graham made photography so enjoyable for me and she continues to do so with her students today. Whether they pursue photography as a hobby or career, the students will benefit from the creativity in so many ways.
“To see a past student so in love with what they do as a career makes me so happy,” Graham said. “And to top it off to take the time to come back in to Sparta High School and to share and give advice to current students is so humbling to see.”