CJric Zhou, a former student of mine, a gifted photographer and young friend, died on August 31, 2020 in an auto accident in China. Ric, as he was known, was only 32 years old and had been married for two years. He worked for CCTV shooting documentaries for Chinese television. When Ric first came to my principles of communication class at Harding, he was very quiet and introverted. He had a soft and warm smile and an inquisitive look in his eyes. I never really knew how much of what I said he understood. English was his second language, and at the time I first met him he had only been in the United States for a couple of weeks. Ric was well like and had a lot of friends.
Even though Ric was introverted he was very social. If there were a group of Chinese students walking across campus Ric was among them. He did his assignments without hesitation and stood to deliver his communication assignments quietly, and with confidence. I’m not sure I would recognize his voice if he were to have called me on the phone. Ric seemed to be at peace with himself.
Even though that never really changed much he found an amazing way to communicate without using words – through the lens of a camera. On one occasion visiting my office for some academic advising, he noticed my antique camera collection. We talked about my history with photography and he indicated that would be something he would like. I encouraged him to sign up for our college photography class. Ric informed me that he was a finance and accounting major and that was not a required class. After explaining the benefits of taking an elective class for the beauty of simply learning something that interests you, he was all in. He had hardly taken a photo before learning to do so while at Harding. He didn’t have a camera other than his phone, (a pet peeve of mine is that people think you have to have a high-end expensive camera to get started or even to take a good photo – but that’s another story). Ric was a very intelligent and savvy young man. He quickly did some research and purchased a camera on-line. He purchased a SONY. I was surprised at the brand selection, but as time went by, I realized that the SONY line of cameras had become the go-to camera of younger professionals. With a new camera in hand, and a seat in the photography class, he got started down this wonderful hobby, craft, and what turned out to be his career.
It was just a couple of weeks later that Ric came by to show me some of his first images. They were so good! Jeff Montgomery was his photography teacher and Ric just soaked up everything that Jeff taught in class. Jeff once told me, “Ric always called me boss. No matter how I tried to get him to call me Jeff- it was always boss.” Jeff also worked for the university as a photographer in their public relations office. Jeff would often hire students from his class for some freelance assignments when he couldn’t be two places at the same time for a photo assignment. Ric was one of those students that Jeff would send to a second location.
Ric was once given the simple task of taking photos of the buildings on our campus. These were iconic images that every student photographer had probably done before him. But he made the images come alive. The angles, the views, the dimensions, that he created made us wonder, "Where is that building", and "is it really located on our campus?"
But perhaps my favorite photo that he ever made was when I commissioned him to take some portraits of me and my wife in the Fall of 2014. He took lots of good photos but the one that really stood out was one that was made in a moment of unplanned candid creative genius. It’s still our all-time favorite photo of the two of us.
Ric graduated from Harding in December of 2014 and moved back to his hometown of Changsha, but soon took a job in Beijing as a photographer. From people, to architecture, to food and commercial photography, the images just seem to flow from his heart and spirit through the lens and into the eye of the beholder.
For the next couple of years we stayed in touch through social media and email. The last time I spoke to him was when I went to China in 2016. I was going to Hengyang and Xi’an to teach on an abbreviated lecture series. My first stop when traveling to China is usually Beijing. Before I departed I scheduled a two-day layover in Beijing just so that Ric and I could spend couple of days together taking photos of the city. His city-scape images were just stunning, and now I wanted to now learn from him. I was so looking forward to reconnecting with him. The night before we were to do so Ric called and said he was being sent out of town on an assignment and we would have to reschedule.
We never met for our photo shoot. Rest in Peace my young friend…
Here is a few sample photographs from CJric Zhou's portfolio:
Steve Shaner, also known as Xie Yeye, is a professional story teller that delights in traveling to meet new and old friends. He can be contacted at email@example.com.