Commentary

Everyday BYU

To create a candid portrait of Brigham Young University, BYU Magazine photographers focused their collective lens on an ordinary day of campus life.

On Sept. 22, 2004, no major news events occurred at BYU. No one called unexpected press conferences, and no emergency personnel responded to medical crises; no natural disasters struck campus, and no football games clogged University Avenue traffic. Standing-room-only crowds did not fill large arenas for special lectures or national competitions or guest performances. People with distinguished titles did not go out of their way to visit Provo. Celebrities did not make appearances. Landmark donations were not made to BYU. Newspapers did not carry extra-large headlines. 

It was a Wednesday. No one was recovering from or leaving early for the weekend. The Wilkinson Center hosted no big dances or banquets. Sept. 22 was, by all standard measures, a fairly normal, run-of-the-mill, everyday sort of day. 

And that’s exactly how we wanted it. 

When the BYU Magazine staff set out to create a portrait of campus, we did not want a studio shot of the university in its finest clothes or a BYU family picture on a special occasion. We wanted a candid snapshot of Brigham Young University as it exists day in, day out, week after week, semester after semester. We wanted a glimpse of real life on campus in the early part of the 21st century. 

Julie Babbitt
Enjoying the afternoon sun on the Eyring Science Center steps, Julie A. Babbitt (’06) studies immunology – one of her favorite subjects. By Sept. 22, three weeks into the school year, BYU had settled into its academic routine. In 24 hours on that day BYU Magazine photographers snapped some 12,000 pictures of everyday campus life. Photo by Jaren Wilkey.

So we chose Sept. 22, 2004, a very ordinary day at BYU. 

By the third week of September, fall semester was duly broken in and building toward the first set of midterm exams. Deadlines for adding classes, dropping classes, and paying tuition had come and gone. New Student Orientation, Welcome Week, and Involvement Week had long-since made new freshmen feel amply oriented, welcomed, and involved. The first dances and parties had initiated budding romances. President Cecil O. Samuelson and Sister Sharon G. Samuelson had delivered their first-of-the-year devotional addresses. 

On Sept. 22, campus attention was focused on the business of academia, with world news providing interesting diversions. The Athens Olympics had recently concluded, and the U.S. presidential campaign was building toward the first debate, one week away. Two days earlier Dan Rather of CBS News had apologized for an errant report about President George W. Bush’s National Guard service. 

The campus community also followed developments in Iraq—facing increasing violence as its own elections neared. Late in the day Wednesday, BYU students from Florida may have listened anxiously as meteorologists reported on an Atlantic storm named Jeanne, threatening to become the fourth hurricane to hit their home state in six weeks. 

In Utah Valley, Sept. 22 dawned crisp and clear, the early light illuminating a thin covering of snow on Timpanogos, left by a recent storm. Before the first sunlight reached campus, some of our more than two dozen photographers had already put in a long day. Their work began at midnight, and as others joined them throughout the morning, the BYU Magazine “24 Hours at BYU” project gained momentum. At our Wilkinson Center command post, we fed photographers breakfast while they fed the first digital photos to our computer hard-drives. Images of all-night studiers and early-morning workers appeared on our screens, and our collective anxiety about the project melted into enthusiasm. Extraordinary photography began to reveal the ordinary happenings of a not-so-ordinary place. 

As the sun passed through its arc and disappeared behind western mountains, cameras captured an abundance of busy activity in all parts of campus. By midnight, photographers had taken some 12,000 pictures. 

Over the following months, designers and editors sifted the photographs time and time again, slowly narrowing the collection to what you now hold in your hands—183 photographs from one day in BYU‘s life. We hope this assemblage of images simultaneously reminds you of your time on campus and enlightens you to aspects of BYUyou never knew—either because they didn’t exist then or because you never saw them. For us, this portrait of the ordinary life of Brigham Young University has emphasized once again that there is much more to this place than meets the eye—or the lens—even on a very average day.