Every day, we are genuinely surprised with how terrific RITphoto students are.

I was born in Mexico and grew up in Cancun. I lived in Cancun for 19 years until I came to RIT. Cancun is not the paradise everyone thinks it is. It can actually be a little boring if you don’t like the nightlife. For locals there is not much to do. Through a series of lucky events, I found myself trying to learn  scuba diving when I was 14 years old. It was love at “first dive”. I quickly racked up hundreds of dives in my logbook and within a year I had taken up underwater photography. My dad always owned cameras so I was no stranger to photography. One night I went out for a night dive and another dive, i brought a huge massive rig for underwater videography, which was so exciting. My dad did not have to try too hard to convince me that photography was a good idea. Soon I bought a small point and shoot camera. Next thing, I knew I had sold about everything that I could and I bought my first DSLR camera. Fast forward approximately 7 years, I am still going at it. I don’t think I’ll ever stop.

Why did you choose RIT?
I decided I wanted to study photography about 3 years before applying to RIT. And at the time I had a mentor who had graduated from another college; however she knew of RIT’s reputation and suggested I come here. When I went to the website I found the photojournalism program. It caught my attention. With my mentor’s recommendation in addition to the New York  & Washington DC travel trips that the PJ program offered,  provided enough reasons for me to decide on applying to RIT.

Can you share other reasons why the RITphoto program attracted you?
The photojournalism program offers these two networking classes that have been important stepping stones for others. The travel trips to New York and the trip to DC really inspired me. I think that’s one of the strongest reasons  why I was attracted here. I couldn’t find any other schools with a similar opportunities. When i enrolled,  we visited the National Geographic offices and meet some of their editors. While still in college, to visit this organization I think something unique and very special. I also was –believe it or not– excited about the Senior Capstone project, a requirement all students in the program.

What has been your most challenging assignment as a photography student?
I think the most challenging assignment so far –besides my senior capstone– has been a portraiture assignment that I was given in my junior year. It consisted of shooting 6 portraits of interesting people, that included certain technical rubrics. But the hardest thing was that you had to identify  the second subject  by interviewing your first subject. And so it went. There were some other guidelines I don’t remember as to who the people had to be but I vividly recall the stress and process . In the end, it was a nightmare because scheduling the 6 sittings in 2 weeks which were completely dependent on someone else’ schedule is hard. I did not pass…

How is this community helping to shape your goals
I came to RIT knowing I wanted to be an underwater photographer. Though I came in with an open mind, I wasn’t expecting that goal would change. Three years later it has not. RIT has just made me more stubborn and confident about getting where i want to. My experiences here have also shown me the methods and opened doors to paths that can actually allow it happen.

What have been your experiences as a RITphoto student?
My experiences have been varied but way more than I had ever imagined. I have made some good friends that I’m sure will last a lifetime. I have met people who I don’t doubt will become great, successful photographers. I’m lucky enough that I won’t have to compete against any of them in my niche or I’d be in trouble. I’ve done things I didn’t really think I’d ever do, like photographing a funeral (that’s where the CPOY award came from). While at RIT, I have lived for more than 3 years constantly out of my comfort zone. So as I wind down my time here, I can say I’m ready for what follows next. BTW, I am especially ready not to experience any more freezing winters.

The other thing I’d like to add, though not school related. Is that being in Rochester has given me the opportunity to attend many concerts. Growing up in Cancun, you don’t get a lot of bands visiting. I think I’ve made up for that here, I’m going to miss that the most once I graduate (I won’t miss my friends, I’ll still see them).

What are you plans after School?
I’m not staying in the US, I’d like to go somewhere with ocean, of course. Home is in Cancun, but I don’t know if I’ll end up back there for now; I like La Paz in Mexico, and Australia. There’s no such thing as a staff underwater photographer, so I know I’ll be freelancing wherever I end up. So I’m just going to move somewhere where I think there are stories to tell, I’ll set up camp, and go diving; a lot.

Have you won any awards?
Last year I was awarded silver in the feature category of the College Photographer of the Year.

A favorite class or teacher story
I loved my marine biology class. I took marine biology the fall semester of my junior year. That semester was supposed to be the hardest of all semester in the PJ program, so there I went and signed up for a class that would keep me sane. The class was a lot of work, but I was just so happy to be having something that was not photo and one that I loved. I ended up doing great.

My drawing class was unexpected surprise, too. Everyone complains about having to take drawing. I did too, I did not want to at all, I sucked at it. The class nearly killed me and it was so much work. The professor kicked our butts, but it turned out I was actually good at it. After surviving the final assignment, I realized I loved it. Drawing became one of my de-stressing mechanisms, and now I’m taking Drawing 2. Who knew  🙂

You can see more of  Santiago’s work on his website: zurbiaphoto.com
or his Instagram @santiagozurbiafloresotero

Cave diver Manuel Allende swims into the cavern of Casa Cenote in Tulum, Mexico on August 18th 2015. The underwater cavern and cave are located in a lagoon so divers must make their way through the mangroves before reaching the site.