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College of Education and Human Development at The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

Sarah Brooke Lyons

Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Brooke Lyons

The woman behind the 1005+ faces of San Antonio and the world

They are the “photos heard ‘round the city.” Black-and-white portraits of city leaders, sports players, entrepreneurs, educators, mothers, fathers, and children, each brandishing a small white board. Some use the board to offer up friendly advice or a catchy quote while others use it to show off their doodles. Each one is as different as the next, but all of them provide a glimpse into their personal stories. They are the people that make up the fabric of San Antonio, all 1,005 of them. And the photographer, Sarah Brooke Lyons, is the one who weaves their story.

Five years ago, Lyons graduated from The University of Texas at San Antonio’s (UTSA) College of Education and Human Development with a degree in early childhood education. In the years that followed, Lyons began using her degree in an unconventional way, through her business, Sarah Brooke Photography.

“My original intent was to go into teaching,” she said. “I went through the early childhood education classes and I really enjoyed the program. What was so wonderful to me about the early childhood education program at UTSA was that there was a strong focus on human development, brain development, and cognitive development. The information is applicable in all kinds of fields, including photography.”

And it was in the midst of tragedy that Lyons discovered her love of photography nearly 12 years ago. Armed with a Kodak disposable camera, Lyons set up an impromptu photo shoot for a close friend who, she said, hadn’t had his picture taken in many years. A few days later, he passed away unexpectedly. The photos she captured in his final days became a testament to his life, and in turn, changed hers.

“The photos I took became this lifeline; it became a way that he lived,” she said. “His family hadn’t seen him in a really long time and I was able to share the photos with them. He sort of lived on through these photos. It became really obvious to me the emotional impact a picture can have.”

Soon after, Lyons moved back to her native San Antonio to grieve, and it was not long before she was back behind a camera, this time as a student.

“I decided that I wanted to go back to school,” she said. “When I took a photography course at San Antonio College, I was hooked. Photography became a therapeutic healing process for me.”

Before she knew it, Lyons had received her associate’s degree in photography from San Antonio College and had embarked on a new adventure as an education student at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).

“I was a non-traditional student,” said Lyons. “It had been many years since I completed my associate’s degree and I was a single mom of a two year old. UTSA was a really welcoming environment for me as that type of student. There were a variety of classes I could take at different times and there was this understanding with the administration and the staff of the situation I was in.”

Lyons transferred her credits and began pursuing her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education while taking side jobs as a photographer to make ends meet and maintain her schedule as a full-time mom and full-time student. She graduated summa cum laude from UTSA in 2009 in addition to establishing herself as an up-and-coming professional photographer in the community.

“By the time I had graduated from UTSA, I had really been doing a lot more work in photography and had a little bit of a foundation in the photography business,” she said. “I decided that I would try it for a few more months to see what happens and the few more months turned into years, and now here we are.”

Four years after receiving her bachelor’s degree and starting her photography business, Lyons was approached by Shokare Nakpodia to be the official photographer of the inaugural 2013 Dream Week San Antonio, a 12-day summit celebrating the diversity of the city. Over the course of the nearly two-week celebration, Lyons had taken thousands of photographs and attended more than 30 different events. Lyons had, Nakpodia said, at least a thousand faces of San Antonio; a comment that birthed the 1005 Faces project. Why 1,005?

“Because nobody thinks about 1,000,” she said. “One thousand comes and goes out of your mind. One thousand and five is a little bit more interesting.”

Lyons began the project from scratch, and over the course of a year captured all 1,005 faces of San Antonio, finishing the project in early 2014. Her photos were as diverse as the city itself, ranging from Nakpodia to Spurs player Tim Duncan and everyone in between, including Lyons.

“I was really intent on documenting what diversity looks like in our community, not only in what people’s faces look like, but also in what they have to express and vocalize,” she said.

Now, Lyons is working on humanitarian photography projects. This summer, she spent two weeks north east of the Ivory Coast in Burkina Faso, West Africa with Infants in Crisis, a program within the Streams in Burkina Faso organization. The program provides infants and their families with formula, baby bottles, and other necessary resources in order to reduce the numbers of infanticide, or when an infant is wrapped in a blanket and left to die if the mother cannot produce milk or has passed away.

Although this was the second time Lyons traveled abroad with the program, it is the first time she came bearing gifts; portraits of the people she met during her first trip with Infants in Crisis to Burkina Faso in 2012. “What I was most excited about was being be able to give people their portraits,” she said. “This is an area where no body has a picture of themselves.”

No matter where in life her photography takes her, she said she will always use what she learned as an education student at UTSA to help relate to people around the world.

“All of what I learned relating to education, like early childhood psychology, plays a role in human behavior in all kinds of environments,” she said. “It has helped me to be able to relate to people better, to be able to approach people with more understanding, and to be able to understand where people are coming from. So I think that I am very comfortable traveling in multiple environments and working with lots of different people. The UTSA Early Childhood Education program gave me a really broad view of people in general and I really appreciate people because of the knowledge I have about the way we grow and develop. I think that knowledge will stick with me forever.”

So, while you may not find the COEHD graduate educating a room of 20 or so five year olds, you can find her educating San Antonio, and the rest of the world, about the beauty in diversity through her photographs; photos that are worth way more than a thousand words.

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