Student Legal Services head an award-winning photog


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Four years ago, Greg Bal picked up a camera thinking it would make a great hobby.

“I bought a camera and just learned on my own,” he said. “It’s something I always enjoyed doing for the fun of it.”

Today, he is an award-winning photographer with pictures appearing in the New York Times and displayed in prestigious institutions.

By day, Bal serves as the University of Iowa Student Legal Services supervising attorney, defending students in landlord-tenant disputes and those who have consumer problems, alcohol offenses, and misdemeanor crimes, for instance.

But on occasion, he takes his digital camera on walks where he may see an image that captures his attention.

“There are many surprises when you photograph,” Bal said. “The more photos I take, the more I become aware of light and composition. It has changed my perception of the world.”

Bal was recently granted approval to take students to India over the winter break to study interaction between their legal system and social-justice programs.

The native of India wants students to gain a better knowledge of the culture and learn how India handles universal human situations. He noted that he also likes using his traveling time to capture and document local situations.

“You never know what you’re going to see when you’re traveling,” he said. “I want to document the people and culture of India and my students’ interactions with the population as well.”

Despite his hectic schedule, he finds time to showcase his photography. His snapshot titled “Alley Cat” received win the award “Best in Show” at the 2010 Snapshots of Ames exhibit at the Octagon Center of Arts. The art center is hoping to have a solo show of his work in a couple of years.

Center Executive Director Heather Johnson said the black-and-white image of an eerie fire escape next to a brick building was selected above others because of its dramatic but simple elegance.

“Considering the fact it is hobby, not his career, I think it’s fantastic,” Johnson said. “It’s phenomenal he’s only been a photographer for four years because his understanding of the camera is incredible.”

Bal feels a level of satisfaction when sharing his photos with friends and family and now the world.

“It’s sort of like sharing a meal with friends,” he said. “Submitting artwork or having someone purchase it means you get to share your life with them. It makes it a common human experience.”

Kelly Soukup, an assistant director of the UI Center for Student Involvement and Leadership and a member of the Fine Arts Council, originally encouraged Bal to show his artwork to the public.

“The first time I saw it was really amazed at how nice it was and thought at that time it would be good enough to be in art shows,” Soukup said. “Right off the bat, you could tell, ‘Wow this is good.’ ”

Bal’s work is so good in fact, the New York Times chose his photograph of President Obama for the slide show “Documenting the Decade.” Starting in August, the picture will be in the permanent collection of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Political Science Department.

“He has a tremendous eye for photography,” Soukup said. “I am very pleased to see the work he’s done being shared with others; it has been very gratifying.”

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