Trevor Cokley, who left Minnesota State University, Mankato in July of last year to further pursue his studies in New Zealand, has continued his love for imagery through photography. His favorite subjects, to name only a few, include his other adventures in nature, but expand into the skies and capture breathtaking lightning thunderstorms, the moon, stars, and auroras. While he had not completed qualification for his graduation requirements before he left, he’s explored beyond the box of ideas and has recently used his connections he’s made.
“I’ve begun a little project to explore all the different departments at the University of Otago,” Cokley informed his friends in a recent status. “I love science and the other week I thought, ‘Hey, Otago does a lot of theoretical science and research. Why don’t I see what they’re up to and tag along on their research the best way I know how?’”
So, Cokley emailed all the departments and their directing professors to see what they had to offer and received some responses.
“And I’ve realized that I’ve just done something that’s made me very excited,” Cokley added later in his status. “Of course all of the professors and departments are eager to show off their research and work, but the obvious hadn’t really hit me until now that this is a wonderful way for me to learn more about everything.”
His activities in high school prepared him for his later work.
“I was the yearbook photographer, I worked with the local newspaper, and I ran my own website,” Cokley wrote.
He enjoyed photographing the Aurora Borealis from his parents’ home in Mora, Minnesota, but he’s also traveled hundreds and even thousands of miles to catch photogenic thunderstorms when he still lived in the area.
“A better answer would be that thunderstorms are my favorite thing to photograph as my fascination with them was a catalyst to me getting into photography,” Cokley said. “If I had to pick a place though, it would be here in New Zealand, specifically around the small inland tourist town Wanaka. The stars there are bright, the air is clean, the water while cold is clear, and the snow-capped mountains just hypnotize me.”
As the photo editor for The Reporter last year, Cokley learned what it’s like organizing photography assignments and what he needs to do in order to find new and interesting things to photograph.
“The most important thing that I took from my experiences in Mankato was the confidence to meet people, ask them about their day, and to photograph their story without hesitation to the best of my ability,” Cokley said in an email.
Before Cokley left, he wrote and directed a short film called Those We Leave Behind. He based it on his experience that ran parallel to his internal struggles as he considered his decision to go to New Zealand. While he had spent the previous five years building his new contacts and had a stable income that covered most of his expenses, but excluded tuition, he found it difficult to leave. He was already doing what he loved, especially in his job as a photographer at The Free Press and The Reporter and other freelancing enterprises.
“The important thing to know about the year leading up to me leaving is that, emotionally, it was a trial,” Cokley said in the same email, “and so the film represented that. I was interested in art film at the time and I wanted to make something surreal while grounded at the same time.”
The influences that inspired Cokley’s ideas were the French New Wave and the Italian Neo Realism films, but at the same time he also contributed his own original thoughts.
“I also wanted to put a surreal spin on things and make it so you’re not sure what this world really was that you were watching,” he said. He revealed a secret in a scene he shot that he deemed “the most important shot in the film” that likely no one would catch onto, but he still included it because he found it meaningful to him.
“After the time lapse two minutes in when Roy (who’s the main character) is walking down a path with a fork with the old clock tower over her with the other path leading to a new construction site. It’s the path I took home every day after class,” Cokley said. “I’m going to be ambiguous here and not say exactly what that shot means, but it sums up every feeling I had at the time. The main thing about art films is the nuance placed within each shot. As far as the story is concerned, it’s complete.”
Cokley added how helpful professor Steven Rybin was and that he enjoyed Rybin’s willingness to work with him, his expertise, and his laid back calm approach.
“Perhaps it was because he’s still pretty new to the university, but I found it easy to connect with him,” Cokley added.
Even now he has his times when he misses his friends and family, including his cat.
Currently, Cokley is not sure when or if he will be coming back since he is finishing his degree in New Zealand at Otago.
“I’m sort of just riding the wind at the moment seeing how things go,” Cokley wrote in a Facebook message. “I’m just in New Zealand bumming around on financial aid, putting future me in debt. Haha! Exploring New Zealand is worth it.”