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Sunday, April 21, 2024 — Houston, TX

Zeisha Bennett sees the world through her camera lens

Kelton Keck / Thresher

By Noah Berz     2/27/24 10:35pm

Zeisha Bennett was shocked when her Myers–Briggs personality test labeled her an extrovert. She had always considered herself an introvert, but something had to change for her to go from bedroom self-portraiture to fashion shoots in Prague. 

“I realized that I had to talk to people to get things that I wanted,” Bennett, a Baker College junior, said. “If I see random people [and] I’m like, ‘Hey, I really like your outfit, can I take your photo?’ I have to say that. I have to fake it till I make it. So that ‘fake-it-till-I-make-it’ became real.”

From Rice Magazine to the Moody Center for the Arts to the Czech Republic, Bennett’s fashion photography has been shown all around campus and the world. But according to art professor Geoff Winningham, her recent work is leaps and bounds above the assignments of hers that he once graded.

Winningham was Bennett’s first photography teacher at Rice. As a freshman in Winningham’s introductory photography class, Bennett already knew she wanted to be a Visual and Dramatic Arts major with a concentration in film and photography, and Winningham says her enthusiasm was obvious to everyone in the class. 

“I remember going to the Museum of Fine Arts on a field trip with our class, and I remember she asked more questions and seemed more involved than anybody,” Winningham said. “She was all there.” 

Bennett had a penchant for clothing long before she held her first camera. Her obsession began in second grade, when she set her eyes on a fashion stencil book at her school’s annual book fair. Her passion for fashion reached new heights when she got to high school. Forced to wear a uniform to school every day, Bennett took every chance she got to dress up and get creative. These days, Bennett favors pantsuits, neckties and knit vests, and she said her personal style is inspired by ’90s sitcoms.

“There’s always certain particular characters that I really gravitate towards,” Bennett said. “Like Hilary Banks from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” I love her style. It’s really preppy and really put together and elegant.”

Bennett’s interest in photography began on a visit to her home town of Tempe, Ariz., after having moved to Maryland for high school. Then, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she took advantage of isolation to experiment more with her camera. Taking photos of herself and her sister helped Bennett hone her skills and brought fashion photography to the forefront of her interests.  

Bennett now serves as president of Rice RAW Photography, works for Rice Magazine’s art department, is a photographer for the Thresher and shoots for 6100Main, Rice’s premiere fashion club. 

“[Bennett] just approaches everything with a lot of joy, a lot of curiosity and optimism, and I just feel like I can always count on her,” Alese Pickering, the director of creative services, said. “She’s a great communicator, and I think she’s an exceptional person.” 

Bennett started working with Pickering in Rice Magazine’s art department in the spring of 2023. As the department’s first-ever intern, Bennett helps with research and shadows Pickering in her work, and recent issues of the magazine have featured some of her own work as well. For the fall 2023 issue, she photographed students around the Inner Loop with eclectic personal styles. Photos she took in collaboration with BIOS 386 can be found in the most recent issue. 

Bennett has also had the opportunity to photograph events at the Moody Center for the Arts, including “New Art/New Music,” a collaboration between featured artists and students from the Shepherd School of Music. According to assistant curator Molly Everett, Bennett’s talents extend beyond the studio. 

“When [Bennett’s] doing event photography, she’s really great at working the crowd,” Everett said. “She’s in the room, talking with people but also taking photographs, both candid and also asking people to come together … I think her photographs really do a good job of reflecting the spirit of an event.”

During shoots, Bennett said she makes sure her subjects feel comfortable in front of the camera by chatting them up and playing bossa nova in the background to ward off awkward silences. According to friend and collaborator Avalon Hogans, Bennett’s shoots are always a blast.

“I really love working with Zeisha,” Hogans, a Sid Richardson College sophomore, said. “She’s very encouraging, very empowering, and she always makes sure that me or anyone else in the shot feels comfortable and that we’re having a good time.”

Despite her busy photography career, Bennett still makes time for her family and her faith. 

“My biggest supporter and guide has been my wonderfully amazing and loving Lord God,” Bennett said in an email to the Thresher. “It’s one of the most important relationships that I have that’s helped me develop into who I am today.” 

Bennett’s twin, Zandria, said Zeisha is always there to lend a shoulder to cry on, a Spongebob joke or an outfit idea. 

“Zeisha’s just my best friend, honestly,” Zandria Bennett, a freshman at the University of Houston, said. “She is a great human being, always there to help with absolutely anything … She always helps me with my outfits because I will wear some sweatpants and a t-shirt in a heartbeat.”

For Bennett, fashion photography has not only been a bridge between two interests; it has served a deeply personal purpose as well. By bonding over outfits and favorite TV shows, Bennett forms lasting relationships with her subjects, and through her camera lens she has been able to find a home in the world around her.  

“Fashion photography works as a little key that opens the door to all these different places and things and different people,” Bennett said. “It helps me find a place in the world in many places.”

Confident, thoughtful, ebullient, expressive — those who know Bennett describe her in many words. But her ability to use photography to connect with the people and world around her is what stands out to others the most.

“Zeisha’s a complete joy,” Everett said. “There’s something reflected in her photos of not only her beautiful spirit, but the ability to bring out the best in other people and capture that in her images.”

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