Second sight

Emily Satern

SN&R Photo By Larry Dalton

The display of black-and-white photos at the Starbucks at 15th and H streets isn’t typical corporate art. It’s an exhibition of the work of manager Emily Satern. When she’s not organizing baristas, making drinks and learning customers’ names, Satern spends some of her down time looking at the world through the lens of her Nikon D-70. Eight prints of her photos are currently on display along the walls: arresting, intense images of jellyfish from the Monterey Bay Aquarium; a snake’s curvy shape; work-worn hands; a board game. They invite contemplation. But Satern has no intentions of quitting her day job to follow the artist’s way. A graduate of Sacramento State with a degree in economics, she’s convinced that business is an art form, too.

What led you to major in economics?

It’s a really great kind of foundation to be able to see the world I live in. It’s not so much about understanding the economics of money as being able to understand the economics of people’s behavior. One of the most useful classes I ever took was economics of racism. It was fascinating.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter what your degree’s in, just as long as you get one—it shows you have some discipline and can stick with something. And the economics degree is a critical-thinking degree, so it works for everything. I deal with human behavior: working with people and making them happy.

When did you start taking photographs?

I started during my senior year in college, about four years ago. I was always the more analytical type of person, but I sucked at every form of art possible. I write, and for a while I was going to be “the writer that changes the world,” you know. But that was so much responsibility! The thing with photography is you don’t have to create the beauty, you just have to capture it.

I took a black-and-white regular film photography course, and learned a few darkroom tricks. I went digital after my camera was stolen out of my car, so I don’t need a darkroom any more, which is cheaper in the long run. But I do probably the worst technical photography in the world.

What keeps you doing it?

I feel really proud of it. We all see the world through whatever color glasses we’ve got on, and I just like to try and share a little of what I’m seeing. It’s also practice to try and see the world in a different way, too—to kind of step outside your own assumptions. It makes me more willing to take risks with my vision.

What’s your favorite photo?

I like the one of my grandma’s hands. It’s not the most technically “good” picture. It’s kind of grainy and blurry. But it has a lot of meaning for me. We spent the weekend in Monterey, which is when I took most of those photos, and I was determined to take a photo of her hands. It’s the young artist seeing the beauty in age, I guess.

Any long-term plans for a career in photography?

I’m just doing this for fun. I take some photos for friends, and I’ve done a couple of weddings. It’s good practice for me—and really cheap photos for them. I may work on it some more, but I don’t see myself making a living at it. I love my job and I love the company that I work for, so I can’t see myself anywhere else. My future, for me, is really wrapped up in family. That’s what I know for sure.

What is it that attracts us to photographs?

Photography is really popular right now. Look at the blogs. Eighty percent of 20-somethings have a camera and they’re a photographer. That’s great. That’s what I am. If it’s going to help people see better, I’m all for it. I think that we don’t make enough time to really look, instead of cruising through life. If we can slow down and take a look, even while we’re working 40-plus hours a week, it’s a good thing. Take the camera and shoot a few pictures. Even if they’re bad, you might see something that will surprise you.