New York Times photojournalist Ozier Muhammad meets Columbia students

By Katherine Savage, Staff Reporter

Kevin Tiongson
New York Times photojournalist Ozier Muhammad meets Columbia students

Four people are walking down a dirt road grinning from ear to ear while holding the South African flag in a May 10, 1994 photograph taken by former New York Times photojournalist ’72 photography alumnus Ozier Muhammad.

The photograph was taken right after Nelson Mandela was elected president, Muhammad explained during a conversation with Columbia students at 33 Ida B. Wells Drive, on Oct. 25.

The Mandela election photo was one of several historic stories Muhammad told about his career as a photojournalist.

“I was with [Francis X. Clines], a New York Times correspondent, the two of us were in a car and we were trying to find where the jubilation was,” Muhammad said. “We drove into Soweto and I just winged this picture out of a car window as folks were celebrating the outcome of the election.”

Muhammad also discussed his time at Columbia as a student, how technology has evolved and various projects he has worked on.

“At the time, there was a lot of fervent political activity, Students for a Democratic Society and the Democratic convention had been here in ‘68. There were repercussions from that,” Muhammad said. “The political energy in Chicago and the social justice energy was very intense. It carried over into the vibe at Columbia.”

Muhammad was first attracted to Columbia because of the well-known faculty members, including poet Gwendolyn Brooks, he said.

“My cousin said you should check out Columbia College because they have quite a wonderful photography department,” Muhammad said. “I thought ‘heck if Gwendolyn Brooks teaches there it must be a really great college.’”

Adjunct professor in the Communications Department and 2000 photography alumnus Rob Hart remembers when he was a student at Columbia and events like these had a lasting impact on him.

“I would go to every talk I could and I’m still talking about how great of an experience it was,” Hart said. “It excites you. It gives you something to work towards.”

Muhammad emphasized the need to learn how to do other skills such as video and audio. It’s important to evolve with technology because being well-versed in several skills could help make deadlines, Hart said.

“If you want this to be a career and if you want to make money, you need to be really good at a lot of things,” Hart said. “One of the things in my photo class that I’m doing now is getting photographers to think about the skills that we don’t know.”

These types of events are important for students because it builds their network, according to Executive Director of Alumni Relations Miriam Smith.

“It’s important for students to actually learn from alumni who have once been in their places,” Smith said. “They can have one-on-one face time with an alum who has gone through the same program that they are currently going through and has actually gone out into the world and made a career in that particular program or major.”