The Ohio State University Alumni Association

How two alums captured winning international photos

The annual Office of International Affairs photo contest brings out the best photography skills in students, faculty, staff and alumni.

The Office of International Affairs has hosted its annual International Photography Competition for 19 years, inviting Ohio State faculty, staff, students, visiting scholars and alumni to share their images captured outside the United States. Photographers have responded with wildly varying scenes — serene and bustling, bursting with color or sober in black and white, bubbling personalities and stoic landscapes. The announcement of the winners is one of our favorite annual events at Ohio State.

While every photo tells a story, sometimes the photographer’s story of capturing that image is just as or even more fascinating. We talked with two alumni — Steven Hirsch ’83, ’87 MD and Vanessa Burrowes ’12 — about the moments when they captured their images for this year’s competition.

Steven Hirsch ’83, ’87 MD

Hirsch is an otolaryngologist who lives in Powell, Ohio. He won Best in Show in the 2017 photo competition with an image of an explorer silhouetted against a dramatic waterfall cave beneath 60 feet of ice in southern Iceland, where he’d visited with his wife, Sheila Marx Hirsch ’84, and friends. His entries in the latest contest came from an October 2018 visit to Japan — including a birthday morning hike up nearly 400 steps to a stunning view of Mount Fuji and the Chureito Pagoda.

Yakitori Alley
Expand icon

Steven Hirsch ’83, ’87 MD

Yakitori Alley

Honorable mention, Arts & Culture category
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Date: October 18, 2018

Camera: Canon EOS 5DS R
Lens: EF24-70 mm f/2.8L II USM
Exposure: 1/160 sec; f/2.8; ISO 800; aperture priority

Play audio | Yakitori Alley

I’m Steven Hirsch. This photo is called Yakitori Alley.

My daughter loves food. If she goes on a trip, all of her pictures are of the food that she eats, whereas mine are of the places and the things that we do. She said, “This is a place we have to go to.” See, these are back-alley streets, and I'm talking four feet wide. They're not real big areas. Along these back-alley streets are stall after stall after stall of the most amazing smelling food and visual sites that you can put your eyes to.

This one in particular, there was just a line of people, and I noticed them in sitting there, and the guy was serving these noodles. It just looked like a picture I had to take. It's not the only one I took on that street, but it's the one that came out the best, with the expressions on the face and the servers and the detail in the bowl of ramen. It was just an exciting place. I wish I'd have gone back more than once.

Chureito Pagoda, Fuji
Expand icon

Steven Hirsch ’83, ’87 MD

Chureito Pagoda, Fuji

First place, Places category
Location: Yamaguchi, Japan
Date: October 26, 2018

Camera: Canon EOS 5DS R
Lens: EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
Exposure: 1/4 sec; f/11; ISO 50; manual

Play audio | Chureito Pagoda, Fuji

I’m Steve Hirsch. This photo is the Chureito Pagoda and Mount Fuji.

We drove to Mount Fuji and it was completely clouded over. And I had read about this spot and said, “We need to go see this before you’ve been checked into our hotel.” So we found the spot and we climbed all 398 steps with camera equipment, got to the top and could see nothing. Nothing in this picture was visible other than this pagoda because that’s where you were standing. And we checked into our hotel and our hotel was directly across a pond from Mount Fuji. Couldn’t see it. So four o’clock in the morning, I woke up, I said to my wife, “The stars are out.” And I just grabbed my camera equipment, walked outside and climbed up again. And then the sun came out. It was the most glorious thing you ever saw. The sun hit the top of Mount Fuji. It was as impressive a sight as I’ve seen anywhere in all my trips.

Reflection of a Geisha
Expand icon

Steven Hirsch ’83, ’87 MD

Reflection of a Geisha

Honorable mention, People category
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Date: October 29, 2018

Camera: Canon EOS 5DS R
Lens: EF24-70 mm f/2.8L II USM
Exposure: 1/30 sec; f/4.0; ISO 100; shutter priority

Play audio | Reflection of a Geisha

I'm Steven Hirsch. This photo is called Reflections of a Geisha.

We hired a guide to take the four of us around to some of the lesser smaller known temples. As we got into this one temple, which was a Shinto temple, it’s King Kaku G., we noticed this woman who was walking in this real colorful kimono. I was just admiring her. She was walking with her husband. You could only could see her from the back. Then I realized as we were walking around this pond, her reflection was showing up in the pond, which was full of koi. It was really neat, and I thought this image represented a lot of what we were seeing in Japan, the culture itself. The reflection just made me think of Monet. There’s some water lilies in the picture. I snapped a couple of quick photos, looked at it on the back of the camera, turned my camera over and thought, “Oh yeah, this is really kind of cool.”


Vanessa Burrowes ’12

Burrowes is a doctoral candidate in the Global Disease Epidemiology and Control Program at Johns Hopkins University. “One of the most inspirational experiences I had at Ohio State was with a student group called MUNDO, which stands for Multicultural Understanding Through Nontraditional Discovery Opportunities. My advisor, Julius Mayo, was really formative in making sure students would go on these different types of trips around the United States but also around the world and engage in different ways, other than touristy ways, I guess, [and also] in how to engage more and what different lessons we could learn from populations living in these regions.”

Los Pequeños Vaqueros
Expand icon

Vanessa Burrowes ’12

Los Pequeños Vaqueros

Second place, People category
Location: Puno, Peru
Date: October 15, 2017

Camera: Nikon D7500
Lens: 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
Exposure: 1/60 sec; f/3.5; ISO 4000

Play audio | Los Pequeños Vaqueros

My name is Vanessa Burrowes, and the title of this photo is Los Pequeños Vaqueros.

Puno, Peru, was a pretty rural, agricultural region that I was working in for my PhD research the past two years. We drove about, I don’t know, two hours to the middle of nowhere, and it was just this big show that had a lot of dancing and a lot of horse acrobatic kind of things going on at the same time.

I was trying to take some pictures of the events and all the dancers and everything, and it just started completely downpouring, sudden onset of storms. Everybody has to take shelter or you’re going to get injured. It’s just that kind of hail. We all had to duck into this building which was not big enough to hold anyone, really.

These kids are totally itching to start dancing, and they just can’t do it yet. They’re pretty young kids, but they seem to continue to be patient, at least for storm duration, and then they busted out of there and started dancing immediately.

Face in the Crowd
Expand icon

Vanessa Burrowes ’12

Face in the Crowd

First place, Arts & Culture category
Location: Puno, Peru
Date: February 2, 2018

Camera: Nikon D7500
Lens: 55.0-200.0 mm f/4.0-5.6
Exposure: 1/1000 sec; f/5.6; ISO 500

Play audio | Face in the Crowd

My name is Vanessa Burrows, and the title of my photo is Facing the Crowd.

So this particular photo was taken in the city of Puno in a football stadium that was actually in the middle of town. And so this event is Candelaria, which is the second largest cultural festival in South America besides Carnaval. It about triples the size and population of Puno. It’s just round the clock, almost 24/7 dancing in the streets. They have a competition in the stadium that actually gets judged and people get awarded and it's also televised all over Peru.

I was up in the stands and actually had my zoom lens on and everybody’s trying to get on or off or they’re trying to see the judges ratings and yeah. I seem to have captured just one single person who was actually taking a moment to look back through the crowd to sort of see whether one of her friends was behind her. She did not find her apparently, and then everybody just sort of dissolved back into this colorful mass of costumes and then was taken off the field after that.