Student Spotlight: Dolly Avenue

Published on Sep 27, 2016
Behind-the-scenes photos by Orel Chollette / chollette.comBehind-the-scenes photos by Orel Chollette /

By Neal Steichen

Red Bull’s Illume Photograph Exhibition is going to take control of Millennium Park from September 27 to October 9, and center-stage of the competition is current Television student Dolly Avenue who won the Paddle Boarding category.

“I have never shot sports/action photography. I had been shooting various genres from live musical performances to fashion editorial and I was really interested in challenging myself to create out of my comfort zone,” Avenue explains.

Avenue soon found herself immersed in not only a new style of photography, but also in Lake Michigan. Out of the sixteen students competing, she was chose to dive headfirst to capture a professional athlete in a unique and challenging environment. 

“I was assigned Stand-up Paddle Boarding at 7 a.m. with only a half an hour time slot to shoot on North Ave. Beach. I had never used water-housing equipment and I couldn't even imagine what the weather would be like or the temperature of the water. I had to really think of how I could get creative with the sport. As a portrait photographer, I wanted to get close-up and personal, so that's when I came up with just sitting on the paddleboard myself and shooting upward.”

Dolly Avenue shooting Paddle Boarding

Avenue’s creativity ultimately led to her success. She went on to win the Paddle Boarding category out of a number of other photographers and her work will be on display in Millennium Park, blown up to over six feet tall.

“My initial reaction was a breath of relief. The whole time was stressful with all of the brainstorming, shooting, and editing, so it was great to know that the tough part had passed. In terms of winning, I honestly didn't quite register it. I am so happy and grateful for the experience that I knew regardless of the result, I would've left feeling like a winner just being able to learn and challenge myself, as well as being surrounded by an insane amount of talent.”

Winning the competition was a humbling, challenging endeavor and Avenue was quick to thank all of the people who were instrumental to her success. 

“Columbia has always been extremely helpful in providing a sense of community and opportunities for their students. Jordan Chollette, a student and Red Bull Illume competitor, was the main person that really pushed for me to enter and compete,” says Avenue.

“Faculty members, like Mark Anderson from the Television department, helped me with providing gear and equipment. And Ryan Taylor, my mentor and professional sports photographer, was very enthusiastic and helpful during the process. His guidance was so valuable for me.”

Dolly Avenue Immersed in the Water

Reflecting after the competition, Dolly Avenue is looking to the horizon to see what the future holds in her photography.

“After this, I feel as if I there are no restrictions. I came into this sports competition as a portrait photographer and found out that my ultimate love is telling a story. I know that, moving forward, I'll be very open to going above and beyond for a shot—whether that means jumping out of a plane or getting up and close in water. Red Bull has opened my eyes to what you can do with a camera, and I'm so excited to see what images are left to capture.”

You can see Avenue’s work at and her award-winning work will be on display in Millennium Park starting September 27. 

Dolly Avenue's Winning Image

Dolly Avenue's winning image.