By Kathleen Prosperi-McClard ’11
She’s a photographer, bird enthusiast, musician—and a Gator, too.
Meet the multitalented Lauren Zurchin, a 2002 Allegheny graduate and an award-winning photographer based in Pittsburgh.
A religious studies major with a double minor in music and health studies, Zurchin’s original dream didn’t involve being behind the lens of a camera. In fact, immediately following graduation, she moved to Salt Lake City to study under Matthew Donovan, a renowned evangelical musician she met while attending church in Meadville. Her ultimate goal was to become involved in music ministry.
What she calls “a crisis of faith” occurred, though, and other more enticing opportunities arose: She moved to South Africa, found love and took a few interesting jobs. For instance, she worked with birds at a boarding school in exchange for free room and board and as a high school music teacher. A longing for home, however, sent her back to Pittsburgh at the age of 27, forcing her to start fresh and ask, “What now?”
An unconventional path? Maybe. But she thinks of it as a time of aligned opportunities—brought about by her own tendency to follow her passion that was enhanced by her time at Allegheny—that helped her get to where she is today: “Allegheny gives you the freedom and confidence to explore, play and experiment … to figure out what you are most interested in without being forced to pick one box. I’ve had the life I’ve had so far because of this,” she says.
A transitional job at a bookstore inspired her to experiment with a career in writing. A connection with Jennifer Rees ’95, then an editor at Scholastic Press, through Allegheny’s Office of Development and Alumni Affairs gave her the courage to apply to review books of young adult science fiction and fantasy books on lytherus.com. She is now managing editor of the book department for the site. “I believe it was my friendship with Jennifer that made me feel I could do it,” Zurchin says.
At that point, photography still wasn’t on her mind. That is, not until 2008, when she casually photographed a wedding she attended and received compliments on her images. “I started looking into it,” Zurchin says. “The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.” Internships and unpaid gigs quickly led her to start her own business, acting as the principal photographer at Lauren Zurchin Studios. She has been a fulltime photographer since 2010.
“My bread and butter for a few years has been weddings. Because of my relationship with the website for which I write, though, I have also done a photography calendar of fantasy authors for charity, all of which are New York Times best-sellers. Those have been the most interesting shoots I’ve done, having the chance to photograph some of the world’s best fantasy authors in a fantasy setting I created. It’s pretty awesome, working with some of the world’s most creative minds, and the best part, besides playing, is getting to hang out and chat with them.”
Past successes are not enough for Zurchin, however. She’s excited for new changes that the future holds. For example, this year, she has decided to shift to a more online business with classes and workshops, and to add in more ethereal portrait photography. “Since up to this point most of my income has been in weddings or the author calendar, I haven’t needed a studio. But in the new year, I’m going to convert part of my house into a studio, office and prep area for more inside shoots. I want to be able to offer more options to women who like what I do but maybe aren’t comfortable playing in the woods with me around.”
When speaking to the future generation of college students, Zurchin says, “I have had various careers, and I have used multiple elements of my degree. If there is something you know you definitely want to do, go do it. But, if you love everything and if you are pretty good at a lot of things … if you just don’t know what you want to do, Allegheny’s liberal arts education won’t let you down. Just go for it.”