Yaro Zabavskiy says he made two important discoveries at Earlham.
He learned the true meaning of friendship, and he found out that it is OK to do what you love for a living.
“Earlham gave me permission to do what I love to do,” he says. “I became an art major which is not a common or usual goal, especially in Russia. Here at Earlham I saw others who were making art their life’s work. They were normal and they weren’t rich, and that has inspired me to know that maybe I can do the same.”
Zabavskiy, who is a United World College graduate from Russia, says he knew he had an interest in photography prior to coming to Earlham.
“When I came to Earlham I wanted to save that for my dessert, so I tried to take a very diverse scope of subjects. I took astronomy, horseback riding, American history, psychology, but there was an Earlham Seminar (But is it Art?) that fit well into my schedule and the professor was the photography instructor (Walt Bistline). I couldn’t escape it, and I was hooked straight away.”
Having worked only with digital photography, Zabavskiy’s eyes were opened to something entirely new.
“I had never dealt with film before, and I found it to be magical,” he says. “You go into a darkroom with paper and chemicals and the image appears right before your eyes. I fell in love with the process of photography.”
Three photography related internships during a semester in the New York Arts program cemented his passion. He worked with New York photographer Robert Whitman, CLM fashion photography and the International Center of Photography.
“Overall, the program was a challenge, but a really good and useful one,” Zabavskiy says. Interning for Whitman turned out to be exactly what he needed.
“Robert is a very talented artist and a very warm person,” Zabavskiy says. Whitman, who served as a creative mentor, asked Zabavskiy to help organize his archives, which represented 30 years of photography.
“During that process I created a series of cyanotypes, an alternative photo process, using his images from the past,” he says. “It was so much fun, and Robert was amazed and wanted me to make more and more.”
An equally important discovery, Zabavskiy says at Earlham he has learned the meaning of friendships.
“When I first got here I wasn’t a good friend because I didn’t value friendships as I should have,” he explains. “Now here I am a senior, and what am I going to say? Earlham has given me friends. I value friendship now because of Earlham.”
Zabavskiy became close with his first-year roommate, who is now one of his best friends.
“He is someone that I have shared my troubles and happiness with through these years,” he says. “From this experience, I have developed different friendships here with students, faculty and staff, where before they would only have been acquaintances.”
These friendships have proven especially true at the beginning of this year as Zabavskiy’s wife of two years, Anastasia, has accompanied him to the U.S. for his senior year. During his first three years at Earlham, he and Anastasia had a long-distance relationship through daily Skyping and weekly written letters.
“Those three years were difficult,” he says. “But they made our love stronger.”
The friendships Zabavskiy developed at Earlham have proven especially true at the beginning of this year as the couple needed help settling in an off-campus apartment.
“Friends began bringing furniture and this, and this and all of that,” he says. “They helped us move boxes, and they offered their cars to help us move boxes. People asked, ‘How can we help you?’ My wife asked, ‘What’s up and where are we? Why are all these people helping you?’”