Aug 05, 2020
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The Campus Lens


Joseph Hollak / The Collegian

Some people like to measure their life and accomplishments in chapters, as if they’re living out a book. If this were the case for Randy Vaughn-Dotta, his current chapter of life is 23 years long, so far.

Vaughn-Dotta’s official title on campus is Media Production Specialist, although hundreds of faculty members and students alike know him as the campus’ full-time photographer. If you haven’t seen him around campus with his white beard, wide-brimmed canvas sun hat and digital camera strapped around his neck, documenting the people and places of Fresno State, you can bet he can be found busy in his full-service photography studio in the middle of the Speech Arts Building.

“I love photography,” Vaughn-Dotta said. “The print [of the photo] is its own reward. There’s a wow factor there.”

That ‘wow factor,’ as he puts it, started when he was a child on his grandfather’s apricot farm taking pictures with the family’s film camera. Back then there was no immediate gratification of seeing the image come to life on the back of the digital camera’s LCD screen. Instead, after young Vaughn-Dotta finished the roll of film, his parents would take it to be developed at the local drug store, ultimately delaying for days and possibly increasing the surprise that the photo prints would bring.

Now, as the campus photographer, Vaughn-Dotta gets requests to document such historical events around campus, like the demolition and reconstruction of the Henry Madden Library. For the library assignment, the Facilities Planning Department contacted him and requested photos from every stage of the library’s construction process. According to Vaughn-Dotta, this project will result in months of work and approximately 10,000 digital images.

Back on his family’s Central Valley farm, the random pictures he would take as a child were unknowingly, and in retrospect, good practice for him.

Practice that would eventually lead to bigger assignments, like documenting the family get-togethers and vacation trips. It was these family events that resulted in more than sentiment from the physical memento of printed images; they allowed Vaughn-Dotta to hone his skills and love of photography, which he would later pursue in college.

After leaving Fresno State in 1979, he spent a brief amount of time shooting for the Madera Tribune newspaper in a traditional newspaper photographer role. House fires, portraits of locals to be featured in the paper and car accidents were some of the types of assignments he would cover while working for the Tribune. Looking back, these small-town assignments were perhaps more repetitious training for Vaughn-Dotta to ready himself for the role of college campus photographer, and happily so.

“Photography is me,” Vaughn-Dotta said. “Someone is willing to give me free film and pay me to take pictures.”

Now he is essentially his own boss, structuring his own day between capturing the weekly changes of the library’s construction progress, to taking portraits of professors or students in his studio for official university communications.

The campus photo studio is located in Speech Arts room 182 and when students and faculty schedule appointments for portraits, some come away with more than just a print.

Some might be subjected to the driest sense of humor imaginable. The collection of puns and jokes he shares in an unrequested fashion are trophies for Vaughn-Dotta. They help define him as a person and are unforgettable for those who spend time around him.

“He has this thing with cheesy bad jokes,” said Joseph Vasquez, one of the many students who have worked part-time in Vaugh-Dotta’s studio over the years. “Something like this… “two antennas got married, the food was bad but the reception was excellent.”

“Oh my God! They are so bad they are funny! He’s got a million of them.”

In addition to the puns and one-liners, visitors will find an extremely eclectic, yet small, collection of music CDs that Vaughn-Dotta likes to play as background music while editing digital images in Photoshop. The music might be more than some can handle though. It’s not that the collection is offensive in any way, the music just rarely changes.

“I once played Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits CD everyday, for four years straight,” Vaughn-Dotta admitted.

When asked why, his response was simply, “I like Patsy Cline.”

No one knows for sure when Vaughn-Dotta will retire and begin the next chapter in his life-book, not even him. For now, he’s happy. Happy to pass along the knowledge that was passed along to him and happy making pictures. Pictures, he guesses, that so far total more than a million archived images.

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