Amanda Mollindo didn’t set out to become a photographer.
Even though she loved taking photos in high school – of her family, her friends, the landscape around Yuma, Arizona, where she grew up – the Barrett, The Honors College student came to Arizona State University to study digital culture.
One of her first digital culture classes was taught by Betsy Schneider, faculty in the ASU School of Art in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, and a renowned fine-art photographer.
“I got to know the photography program really well really fast,” Mollindo said, “and I fell in love with it.”
Mollindo tried double-majoring for a while, but she noticed that all of the classes she was signing up for were photo classes.
“I love photography too much,” she said, smiling. “It got in the way.”
A brief mention of teen mothers, in a women’s studies class her sophomore year, gave Mollindo the focus for her thesis project.
Mollindo’s own mother was just 17 when she gave birth, after which she left to attend ASU and didn’t return. Mollindo was raised in Yuma by her grandparents, who took guardianship of her.
“All of a sudden it clicked and I knew,” she said. “I immediately went to Betsy, because I had worked with her and I knew she had done a lot of work with family. I knew she would be a really great thesis director, and I also worked with Dr. Aviva Dove, in the honors college.”
“Young Mothers: Exploring Life After Teen Pregnancy” took several years of research, interviewing, writing and photographing – 17 families in all, including Mollindo and her mother.
“What was interesting to me was the media portrayal of teen pregnancy,” Mollindo said. “Growing up I knew my mom had me at a young age, I was aware of the fact that it was a little bit taboo and that it was something that wasn’t supposed to happen. I got that from the community and the fact that there was no real media representation that I could relate to.”
Through her job at a preschool in Mesa, Mollindo’s mother helped Mollindo find families to photograph.
“She’s always been really supportive of the project,” Mollindo said of her mother, “and she agreed that there wasn’t a whole lot that really explains what [the experience of teen motherhood] is like. It’s more like how to prevent it.”
As supportive as she was, Mollindo’s mother was reluctant to give her own interview for the project, Mollindo said, “because we both knew it was going to be really difficult. Once I finally did interview her, I realized that this was really a project to understand our relationship a little bit better. That was a really important experience for me.”
Mollindo is quick to point out that the project wasn’t “just about me. I was really interested in other people’s experiences as well. It wouldn’t be as effective if it wasn’t both.”
Mollindo mounted her thesis show at Modified, a gallery in downtown Phoenix. The day she began installing the exhibition, she said, she knew she needed to produce a book, too.
“We were like halfway done with installing, and I came back to school to make the book,” she remembered. “It was finished the morning of the opening. It wasn’t a pretty time in my life. I was exhausted. I was fortunate enough to have some really supportive friends to help with the install and get me through it. When I talk to other people in other majors, it’s really clear that we have a very special community in the School of Art, within our programs.”
After graduation, Mollindo has an internship lined up through the middle of September, at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, Colorado, where she will help out with workshops in photo and new media.
After that, she said, “I don’t know. I do want to go to graduate school in the next couple of years, but I want to know what it’s like to be a working adult for a while.”
Her mother would like her to continue making art, she says.
“She’s really glad that I’ve chosen to pursue something that I’m really passionate about,” Mollindo said. “And my family is really supportive of me choosing to go into photography. They’re proud of what I’ve done so far. They think that I’ll be ok, that I’ll do fine in the arts.”
So does Betsy Schneider, the professor with whom Mollindo worked on the “Young Mothers” project, who describes Mollindo as “self-motivated and ambitious, but also aware of how much she doesn’t know and eager to have the help to progress.”
“She’s soaked up the best of Barrett [The Honors College] and the School of Art,” Schneider said of Mollindo. “I’ve watched her grow so much over the past four years, and I can’t wait to see where she goes next.”