ASU doctoral grad Edgar Cardenas uses his own backyard to document the changes people can make
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.
“The objective is to teach the student to see the land, to understand what he sees, and enjoy what he understands”
— Aldo Leopold, from “The Role of Wildlife in a Liberal Education”
As a high school student in rural Wisconsin, Edgar Cardenas liked to draw. But after high school he stopped creating art, “because I thought I was supposed to be a grown-up.”
No one in Cardenas’ family had finished high school — not his mother and father, who were both immigrants from Mexico, or his stepfather, a devout Jevovah’s Witness who considered higher education a distraction from religion. Even the guidance counselor at the high school assumed Cardenas wouldn’t continue his education: When he expressed interest in a psychology class, the counselor told him that was for students who were going to college.
Cardenas took the class anyway. He got an A.
Years later he has earned his doctorate from Arizona State University's School of Sustainability as a photographer who brings an artistic view into the scientific world.
After high school, Cardenas knew, he was “supposed to” get a job. He said he tried, first building fiberglass semi trailers, then cellphones on the factory line at Motorola. But he couldn’t do work he didn’t enjoy, he said. He decided to go to community college. He also joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
Unaware that there was such a thing as financial aid, he worked as a night janitor for the Beloit school district to support himself while he took classes, sleeping when he could. After a few years, he transferred to Gordon College, in Massachusetts, where he received a bachelor's degree in psychology. From there, he went on to graduate school at the University of New Haven and earned a master's degree in industrial/organizational psychology.
It was only after his master's program that he found his way back to art by starting to take photos. At the time he was working as an organizational development consultant, once again doing the thing he thought he was “supposed to do.” But his heart wasn’t in it.
One day he walked into a gallery in New Haven and encountered the photographs of Walker Evans. He met the curator, John Hill, who had provided the work for the exhibition and knew Evans personally, and they started talking. One thing led to another, Cardenas said, and he began working in Hill’s studio and getting an informal education in the history of photography.