|August 12, 2010|
SMC Alum Photographs “Relays for Life” in Memory of Mentor
He has photographed 25 Relay for Life events for the American Cancer Society in the last four years, and will soon cover his eighth relay of the year. Most relays last up to 24 hours because “cancer never sleeps.”
He stays throughout these events for hours, carrying heavy equipment on aching knees that have had multiple surgeries. And he asks for no payment and no credit.
Morgan Genser, an SMC alumnus and professional photographer, is on a mission. He photographs these relays in the memory of Bryan McLellan, a faculty photo adviser at SMC who died of leukemia in 2004. And all Genser asks for is that his photographs be used to spread the word about the cause.
“I do this because I lost my photo mentor several years ago to leukemia,” Genser said. “When I found out about these relays, I knew this is what I have to do.”
Genser’s mother introduced him to the camera when he was 10 – ironically, after she took a class at SMC.
In 2001, Genser, then 27, started taking photography classes at SMC. Photography professor Christina Gregory encouraged him to contribute to The Corsair, SMC’s award-winning student newspaper. He was warned that his photos may not be published, but soon his sports shots were a Corsair staple.
Enter Bryan McLellan. McLellan – once a student at SMC and a member of the photo staff of the Corsair in 1992-93 – returned a decade later as a faculty adviser in photojournalism.
“The students were crazy about him,” said retired journalism professor and Corsair advisor Barbara Baird. “ I loved working with him. Morgan, like all the other students, was enchanted with Bryan because he was a charismatic teacher and an accomplished professional.”
McLellan was not only a teacher, he also had a career as a photojournalist for the now-defunct Santa Monica Outlook, Daily Breeze and the Los Angeles Times Community News, and he served as the president of the Press Photographers Association of Greater Los Angeles in 1999-2000.
“His confidence rubbed off on me,” Genser said. “When I was near Bryan, I felt like I could do anything.”
And the confidence did rub off. The Corsair’s student photographers produced award-winning work under the guidance of McLellan and won statewide honors from the Journalism Association of Community Colleges (JACC). Genser was devastated when he did not win at first, but McLellan encouraged him to “hang in there.” Genser would later go on to win awards at subsequent JACC regional and state conferences, in addition to his numerous awards from the Corsair.
In November 2003, devastating news came – McLellan was diagnosed with leukemia.
Friends, family members and students donated blood and platelets, and rallied around him. Members of the SMC campus community donated their sick days to help preserve McLellan’s medical benefits. Genser wanted to donate blood but came down with the flu and that meant his blood was unusable. McLellan was in isolation, and many of those who loved him could not visit him for fear of infection.
Genser said when he learned of McLellan’s death after a six-month battle, “I was heart broken. I still get shook up when I talk about it.”
Genser walks gingerly, having had arthroscopic surgery twice on each knee. A shy person who was once diagnosed with dyslexia, Genser says interacting with people does not come naturally to him.
“Being on my feet 24 hours is putting myself through hell – my knees are sore and I get stiff, but it is nothing compared to what cancer patients feel,” he said.
But why cover event after event for free?
“I don’t make too much money anyway, so I can’t donate money, but I can donate my time and talent,” Genser said. “I get requests from people who’ve been at these relays for photographs, even months after, and I send them copies. Anytime somebody offers to pay me, I ask them to give the money to the American Cancer Society instead.”
Genser currently works as a staff photographer for the Santa Monica Daily Press, and also as the team photographer for the UCLA Bruins ice hockey team.
“I am so impressed with Morgan’s talent and dedication,” Baird said. “He has been so generous with his time and talent and has always gone that extra mile. He has what it takes.”
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