The man behind the lens

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Since Randy Darst was a young boy, he knew he had a passion for photography and design.

“I was in a lot of art classes, like even private painting and drawing,” said Darst. “I think my first class was with a lady in the neighborhood – it was like teaching piano – except she was an artist and she taught kids. I think I was 7 years old when I took my first drawing class with her.”

In junior high, Darst delved into photography, spending as much time as he could at the Indianapolis 500 tracks to shoot race cars.

“(Photography) was pretty much in my blood,” said Darst.

When he reached high school, he was able to take some independent study classes. At this time, computers weren’t part of the equation – everything was done by hand. His art teacher could tell Darst loved creating, and ended up steering him toward graphic design.

After high school, Darst attended Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. for photography and graphic design.

“I majored in graphic design and we had two photo classes that were required. I was a high school photographer on the yearbook and I actually had a darkroom at home growing up, so I was pretty into it,” said Darst. “I looked into adding (photography) as a second major, and it added a whole year of school, but it was worth it in the end.”

Darst’s first job after graduating from college was at a sign company for two years. From there, he spent five years at an ad agency working with Purdue Athletics and a year in California at a software development company. All of his experience landed him the job as the senior graphic designer and photographer at the University of Northern Iowa, where he has been for the past 12 years.

Although Darst spent his first 10 years immersing himself in design work for the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, he now spends 80 to 90 percent of his day working on admissions recruitment pieces and orientation projects for the Office of University Relations. When he isn’t designing, he also manages the university’s staff of photographers and fills in when he is needed.

“The cool thing about the combo design and photography that I can do is … it gets me away from the office and the desk and the computer,” said Darst. “The other cool thing is a lot of times I know what I’m shooting. I’ll know what a project is going to look like and the feel so I can kind of gear the photography towards that a little bit, or vice versa.”

Darst has had many great memories at UNI, but his favorite times tend to be when he’s simply “capturing moments with photography.”

“About two years ago, we hired a helicopter and I was able to get up in there – it was great. I shot all of (the aerial photos),” said Darst. “We did it in the summer and it was in between summer sessions. We printed a huge mural of the aerial shot in Gilchrist right in that admissions area.”

He has also had the opportunity to meet many artists who have performed at the GBPAC while he was doing photography work.

“I’ve shot a lot of artists at the Gallagher-Bluedorn, and that was pretty cool. Periodically, an author will allow a meet-and-greet with the donors and sponsors of the show, and when B.B. King was here, he did his meet-and-greet on his bus. I got on the bus first and met him and shook his hand. It was a neat interaction,” said Darst.

Darst was also the man behind the camera when the Dalai Lama visited campus in May 2010.

Whether he’s making sure memories aren’t forgotten at UNI through his photography, or drawing in incoming freshmen with his admissions work, Darst has had a major role in creating the look the university has today.


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