Meet alumnus John Garaventa

John Garaventa's self-portrait
John Garaventa’s self portrait Photo credit: John Garaventa

John Garaventa is prone to volunteering enthusiastically for something without knowing all the details. Unique adventures that resulted from this behavior were going to the Soviet Union during the Cold War era and being published in National Geographic. Here is some of what he said about his journey from an animal science student to a professional photographer.

What was your major in the College? When did you graduate? With what degree? I received a BS from UConn in animal science in 1977. After that, I got a MS in extension education at the University of Missouri and an associate’s degree from the Art Institute of Atlanta.

What class was most useful to you? I benefited from livestock management with Professor Nate Hale. In addition, what I learned about food preparation in meat sciences is still useful to me almost every day. My professor for that, Donald Kinsman, was also my advisor.

The mental process of taking classes is worth it. The sum of what I learned helped me be a Hampshire County, Massachusetts 4-H agent for three years.

Tell us some of your fond memories of UConn. I was on the UConn Polo Team and participated in the Little International Livestock Show.

My friends from UConn inspired me with their intensity for subjects like agribusiness. Now, many of these people are in high positions in the agricultural industry and academics.

Please describe your current job. As a professional photographer, I started with photojournalism and the Hartford Courant. Now, I own Garaventa Photography in Manchester, Connecticut. I do portraiture of families, school children and high school seniors.

I am back into commercial photography where I produce executive portraits and photos of products.

Are you doing what you imagined you would be doing at this point in your life? No, but I finally found the right path with photography.

The switch started in my senior year at UConn when two people in Connecticut 4-H leadership, Ronald Aronson and Nancy Weiss, wanted me to be part of a 4-H intercultural exchange program in the Soviet Union. I and eleven others from around the United States were chosen. We trained for the trip at the National 4-H Conference Center in Maryland. Our group had intense language study and learned about diplomacy, which was said to be three years of learning packed into three months.

John Garaventa Soviet Union
Garaventa went to the Soviet Union as part of the 4-H Young Agricultural Specialists Exchange Program. Image credit: John Garaventa

Meanwhile, National Geographic heard that we were going and had an idea of how we could help them. They wanted to do an article and take photographs of Soviet farms but were barred because the Soviet Union government was afraid that the magazine might be a front for American spies. So, members of our group were sent to be photojournalists in addition to our farm duties. National Geographic provided a photography boot camp before we left plus all the equipment and film we needed for our stay. We also kept daily journals of our experience.

I was in graduate school when the magazine approached me to write the article that accompanied the photos we took. I wasn’t sure if I had the time, but I knew it was a great opportunity. In 1979, I think I was the youngest writer to ever have his work published in National Geographic.

John Garaventa and National Geographic
Garaventa’s article about the Soviet Union trip appeared in National Geographic along with the photos he and his group took there. Image credit: John Garaventa

Do you have any advice for current students that will help them in the future? Listen to that little voice. I did. I said, “Sure, I will do that.” Raising my hand to go to the Soviet Union and volunteering to take photos for the magazine were the beginning of a path that fits who I am.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? Photography is the career for me, and I have adapted thorough many changes in the industry.

For example, when professional photography switched from analog to digital, the field became swamped with photographers. Because feedback is instantaneous with digital, it was easier to enter the profession. But, it is hard to stay in it unless you have the value. What I learned many years ago has given me the solid background for using newer innovations, like Adobe Photoshop. I have withstood the test of time.

By Patsy Evans