With the ongoing pandemic, campus life has changed drastically the past year at Cal Poly Pomona –– from the empty, eerie hallways to clubs and sports events ceasing activities. For University Photographer Tom Zasadzinski, who has captured the campus for more than 20 years, it has been the biggest change he’s seen at CPP since the turn of the century.
Serving as the university photographer allows him to witness, preserve and record how the campus changes over time. Before 2020, the biggest change for him was having to move his office out of the CLA building with other faculty and administrative staff where he was stationed for 18 years; but when the pandemic resulted in online instruction, his regular photography routines that he maintained for the past 19 years ceased as well.
“One of the worst things for the last year is that Cal Poly Pomona has become a ghost town, and it’s just really sad to me because that’s how I tell time. I don’t really use a calendar,” he said. “I go by the start of the baseball season, when basketball playoffs are coming, when it’s time for commencement and when they’re moving the Rose float. For the past year, my calendar has been all messed up.”
Before transitioning to Zoom meetings, his favorite thing to shoot on campus were the athletic programs and their star athletes.
“Shooting athletic events are just a kick for me, and I really enjoy it,” Zasadzinski said. “I get to know athletes on a personal level, and so I know how hard they work and how difficult it is for student-athletes to compete on that stage and still go to school.”
Launching his career with the university in 2000, Zasadzinski has seen five generations of students graduate in about 160 commencements. Throughout the years, he observed the campus undergo major transformations, including new parking structures, dorms, BRIC, University Library and the College of Business Administration building getting built. Witnessing these changes, he documented campus life by photographing students at multiple events and activities, including BroncoFusion and Rose Bowl float preparations.
After attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as a student for a year Zasadzinski transferred and graduated from the University of La Verne with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in photojournalism in 1983.
After graduating, he worked at four different newspapers in the area, including The Daily Bulletin where he worked for 13 years, and was the sole photographer at three other publications. Given his vast experience, a colleague suggested that he applied to work as the university photographer at CPP.
“I kind of got recruited by a fellow Daily Bulletin convert who was doing stories for our Strategic Communications Department, which was public affairs back then,” Zasadzinski said. “And he said, ‘Hey you know, we’ve got this photographer opening, and you should come do it.’ So, I applied to get the job and I’ve been here ever since. It turns out it was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.”
As the university prepares for in-person classes and activities next semester, the first event he hopes to shoot is an athletic event where he can capture the joyful return of both the athletes and fans in the stands.
“I would love to have that feeling again of just being out there and watching them run around,” Zasadzinski said. “It’s a lot of fun, but almost anything that would get something interesting in front of my camera is what I miss the most.”