From sports games to campus concerts, carnivals and convocations, there is always one familiar face in the midst of it all: the man behind the camera. Kyle Rivas has been William Jewell College’s official staff photographer for almost six years, but he has taken pictures for the College since he first arrived in 2004 as a student.
While Rivas is better known for his still images, his interest in photography originally started with his involvement in video production classes in junior high and high school. During his freshman year, he and his classmates created Kearney’s Bulldog Broadcasting Network, which covered the high school’s sports events. The group had a full broadcasting booth manned by two anchors, and they were able to feature commentary, graphics and videos in their segments. However, the students had to learn from their own trial and error, as this had never been previously attempted at their school.
“We didn’t really know what we were doing. We all just tried to coordinate ourselves and decide who would do what,” Rivas said. “The first time we tried doing the broadcast, we actually didn’t have any broadcasting equipment, just walkie-talkies.”
The growing success of the high school’s athletics program increased the need for more sports coverage. As the years went on, the network received more funding and better equipment, and by the time Rivas graduated, a local cable company had begun to broadcast it. To this day, the network is still a major source for sports news at Kearney High School.
It was also during this time that Rivas noticed particular moments in film that he wanted to capture in still-frames. So as a junior, Rivas joined the yearbook staff, but having never touched a photography camera until then, he again had to teach himself.
“I had no clue what I was doing. I really didn’t know any of the functions, so I just stayed with the settings that my teacher set up,” Rivas said. “But I wanted a camera in my hands and once they gave it to me, I went to town.”
Rivas began his first semester at William Jewell as a radio major. He admits that it was an awkward pairing given the fact that he did not like radio, but he did enjoy working with the people in that field. It was also how he met his future fiancée, as she had to monitor the equipment when he was in the radio room in Brown Hall. He later switched his focus to the communications department, which he said has continued to help him interact with his clientele. It also revealed his limitations and proved how much he was capable of acheiving.
“I feel like a poster boy for the communications department, but the major really tested me and pushed me to a breaking point that I didn’t even know I could get to. It taught me what I can do as a human being, what I can be pushed to do,” Rivas said.
Despite his initial uncertainty at attending William Jewell due to its then lack of photography or video outlets, Rivas was determined to make the best out of the situation and sought opportunities in the community. He set three goals, intending to complete them before he graduated: he would own his own camera, intern as a photographer at a local newspaper and get a summer job with a company that worked with photography and video.
“It was super weird because all of those things happened within a month and a half of me stopping myself and saying that this was what I wanted to do,” Rivas said. “I went from zero outlets to having no time to do anything else.”
After getting his camera, Rivas started worked for Eagle Vision Productions, a video company that was just starting to integrate more photography into their work. Rivas was also able to get an internship with the “Liberty Tribune,” where he saw the gradual deterioration of the newspaper industry.
“I saw myself working in the newspaper industry after college. I wanted to work for a major publication and put myself out there,” Rivas said. “But I ended up watching this whole situation evolve where there were fewer and fewer photographers. I finally recognized that the industry was not in the greatest of shape.”
Meanwhile, Rivas was also the photographer for “The Hilltop Monitor” and the Jewell marketing department. He started out doing between 70-80 shoots for the College, but by his senior year he was covering over 240.
“I didn’t realize that while I was here, I was monopolizing, as a student, all of the campus photography. It was all being fed through me,” Rivas said. “By my senior year, I was getting asked ‘What are we going to do after you leave?’ almost daily.”
Seeing this opportunity, Rivas submitted a proposal to work as the College’s staff photographer. Three weeks after his graduation in 2008, he was notified that the position was created and he could start in two weeks.
As he continues his job at the College, Rivas also does work for Getty Images and Cal Sport Media. He photographs all of the major sports in the area, including the Chiefs, Royals, Sporting Kansas City and local college athletics. This has given him the opportunity to network with other local photographers as well as to be published nationally and internationally. His images have been featured on “The Colbert Report” and in seven issues of “Sports Illustrated.” He even found his work in a Japanese newspaper during the 2014 World Series.
“I’m happiest with my photography whenever my images are getting out there and seeing a whole different mass. I really don’t care about the whole getting paid part, although that’s a necessity to do more things and obviously, to have a life, but I am much happier just seeing my images in these publications,” Rivas said.
Additionally, he has corporate clients like the Red Cross and KC Arts Counsel, as well as his own full time wedding photography company, Rivas Media Photography, which he manages with his fiancée.
“She’s also my second shooter. I’ve taught her enough of the basics, so she can hold-her-own behind the camera and put her vision onto different scenes,” Rivas said. “She’s been a substantial help. I couldn’t do it without her.”
Interacting in so many different environments with various people has led him to meet many diginitanies, like President Barack Obama, and celebrities like Kevin Bacon. Rivas met Vice President Joe Biden when he came to speak on the Hill during the 2008 presidential race.
“Within 30 seconds of Joe Biden coming into the Mabee Center, it looked like he and Dr. Sallee were old golfing buddies. They just started chumming it up for maybe three or four minutes before [Biden] comes up to me and starts shaking my hand and asking me who I am and what I do. I appreciated that,” Rivas said.
Regardless of all of his experiences, Rivas has no preference when it comes to genre.
“I like to shoot everything. There’s never been a particular thing that I enjoy more than another; it’s the environments that I like to shoot. I live in those moments,” Rivas said. “I like being in the center of something crazy without being the center of attention, to blend in and capture it as I go. It’s when I’m at my best, when I can be there to do my work without disrupting anything.”
Rivas has also received recognition for his work. With “The Hilltop Monitor,” he won the Missouri College Media Association’s Photographer of the Year award back-to-back in 2007 and 2008, and he has also been the recipient of rewards by the Missouri Press Association and a five-state photography contest hosted in Hayes, KS. He credits the critiques and advice he received in his earlier photography days for his current success. A photography convention he attended as a sophomore in college was especially influential for him.
“The people who told me that I sucked were the people that I appreciated the most,” Rivas said. “When I put my portfolio out there for the first time, I got shredded to pieces. I left that convention almost in tears, but it made me start thinking, and I adapted to the things that these people said.”
It was through his openness to criticism and willingness to learn that Rivas, through a friend at the “Liberty Tribune,” picked up the technique of approaching an image at multiple angles.
“Ever since then, it’s been the philosophy that I take with a lot of my photography. I’ll shoot a couple of images of what’s in front of me and then I’ll try to move and change my lighting,” Rivas said. “I try to work in an almost three-dimensional way and think of things much more dynamically instead of just taking what’s in front of me.”
Just as these people helped him along the way, Rivas also strives to assist the aspiring photographers that work for him.
“I love to teach. The thing about photography is that I’ve learned by doing. I’ve sat in on classes and picked some things up, but most of my photography experience has come by multiple forms of working with different people or learning off the Internet or watching what other people are doing. That’s why I think it’s very important that I verbalize and give the reasons why I do things when we’re on shoots,” Rivas said. “I also like it when they ask me questions, too. That tells me they’re interested and that they’re willing and wanting to learn.”
While he may give pointers, he is not very strict in his instruction. He is very flexible with his own work, believing that the best expectation is the unexpected.
“I can get behind the camera and feel comfortable in most situations but the times when I’m doing the best is generally when I feel uncomfortable, when I’m in a unique environment,” Rivas said. “You can have the greatest plan in the world, but if you stay by those rules then you’re inadvertently putting yourself in a box, so I see it as a good thing when things change and go differently. It’s the things that you don’t think about that can really shape and change you.”
As Rivas thrives with a busy schedule, he has no intent on slowing down anytime soon.
“I get into these lulls and boring points in my life, and then I know that I’m going to regret it when I say that because I know that something crazy is going to pop up,” Rivas said. “But when I’ve got a whole bunch of things going on, for some reason, I stay more motivated. I think I work in reverse from most people; I do my best work when I’m under stress. I just stop thinking after a certain point and just start doing.”
This article is the second installment of the Monitor’s alumni feature series. Each week, a staff or faculty alumnus/alumna will be highlighted for their contributions to William Jewell College when they attended the institution as students and now as employees.