Billboard in New York's Times Square
<p>Many professional photographers dream of having their work featured on the electronic billboards of Times Square in New York City. Marco Gutierrez, an undergrad at SPU, already has had an album cover he photographed displayed in Times Square last November. </p>

“I wanted to go to New York to see it, but it was a few weeks into the winter quarter, so I would have had to miss school,” Gutierrez said, ruefully.  

Gutierrez, who will be a senior at SPU this fall, did the photoshoot and the album cover artwork for his friend and frequent collaborator Adrian Milano, a rising R&B artist from Tacoma, Washington. The work was just part of the freelance portfolio Gutierrez has been building for years.  

“I’ve always been into photography and video since I was little,” Gutierrez said. “My family had a really small Canon Powershot camera that I used to steal all the time to take photos.”  

When he reached his teens, he waited tables at a restaurant all summer to save up enough money to buy his first DSLR camera, a Canon 70D. Gutierrez scoured the internet for videos to teach him how to use the camera, and then, every day he went out to practice shooting photos and videos, imploring his neighbor and best friend Mason to be his model to practice portrait photography. In high school, Gutierrez earned money taking senior portraits and shooting videos and photos of events. 

In his small hometown of Lynden, Washington, Gutierrez didn’t know anyone like him who was working professionally in the visual arts. His father works at a dairy farm. His mother worked at a food plant until the COVID pandemic started. When both parents worked, Gutierrez was there to care for an older brother with special needs as well as his younger brother.  

“I have a love/hate relationship with where I grew up,” Gutierrez said. “You could tell that a lot of teachers, and even my own high school counselor didn’t have a lot of expectations for people in my demographic. They just expected us to go into agricultural work. It gets to the point where you don’t expect much of yourself either.” 

Gutierrez’s parents, however, always hoped he’d be able to attend college, even if it meant shifting roles for everyone if he wasn’t there to contribute as much around the house. “For parents who immigrate here, it’s like, ‘This is why we’re working so much, and it’s why we are here so that our kids will have better opportunities.’” 

Gutierrez enrolled in Washington State’s running start program that allows 11th- and 12th-grade students to take college courses at local community and technical colleges. By the time he graduated from high school, Gutierrez had the equivalent of two years of college coursework completed when he enrolled at Pacific Lutheran University as a media communications major.  

Adrian Milano was Gutierrez’s advising counselor at PLU. When Gutierrez found out Milano was a musician, he gave him his Instagram and told Milano to hit him up if he ever needed photos or video work done. “I didn’t hear from him for a few months, and then he contacted me on Instagram to take some photos for him,” Gutierrez said.  

Even before Milano’s album cover reached New York’s Times Square, Gutierrez started to think about changing majors and schools. “I was taking a bunch of upper-division media classes and I was like, ‘These are way too easy because I had taught myself so much in high school,’” Gutierrez thought. What he needed was to learn the business and marketing end of running a business. 

He reached out to SPU’s transfer counselor Stephen York, who took the time to ask him what he wanted to do after college. “When I was applying to college, people asked, ‘What do you want to study?’ but no one was asking about what I wanted to do after college.”

“At SPU, they care not just about your time here, but they care about what you’re going to do after college as well.”  

Marco Gutierrez, a business and marketing major, will be a senior at SPU this fall.

Since transferring to SPU, he’s been thinking about starting his own video production company one day. Maybe moving beyond the technical work to do more creative direction on projects, but for now, as a student, Gutierrez has been able to earn enough through his work to cover his rent, food, and living expenses while a Falcon-bound scholarship covers his tuition.  

Gutierrez switched majors to business administration and marketing and says his business courses have helped him think about how faith can be integrated into ethical and sustainable businesses.  

“I’ve met photographers and videographers who do not care at all about their clients. They just want to get paid, and they might not take the time to edit their photos or even take the photos themselves. With some, it’s just a brand or name. For me, it’s an ongoing conversation all the time, thinking about how I can implement meaning into my work and build genuine connections with those I work with.  It’s about how I can integrate my faith with business and be an ethical person.” 

You can see Marco Gutierrez’s work on Instagram. 

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