This story is part of Newsday’s 2019 Extraordinary Seniors series on 16 high school students from across Long Island with the vision and determination to transform their corners of the universe — and perhaps beyond. Click here to read more.
Charles Mandell discovered his passion for photography by accident one day while playing with his smartphone.
Mandell, 18, a senior at Long Beach High School, said his curiosity for taking photos was sparked while taking a photo of a flower outside of his home when he was a freshman. He was fascinated with changing the depth of field, thereby altering the viewpoint of the photo.
Soon after, he got a professional camera and set to work teaching himself about photography, film and cinematography.
“I’m happy that I found it as my passion,” he said.
The next school year, Mandell enrolled in his school’s TV production classes and has since won accolades for his cinematography on the student film "Flip," including Best in Show in 2019 at the Long Island Media Arts Show and the Grand Prize at the Locust Valley Film Festival 2019. The film, written and directed by Mandell's friend James O'Connor, depicts a teen grappling with his mother’s alcoholism.
“I just love being able to capture a moment,” he said of photography and film. “One of the biggest things I would take away from starting all of this is beginning friendships with amazing people and getting to learn from them.”
In addition to working as a member of the school’s morning news production team to create a daily show, Mandell has helped film school events, such as the homecoming celebration and Class Olympics, for the school's YouTube channel. He has also done drone photography for Long Beach Middle School, last year helping to organize the student body in the shape of a surfboard for an aerial photo.
Beyond the school walls, Mandell volunteered to film a commercial for the Town of Hempstead's Operation SPLASH, a volunteer nonprofit that works to stem waterfront pollution, and then was hired to film a commercial for the Hispanic Civic Association of Hempstead.
Eric Krywe, who teaches TV and studio production at Long Beach High School, said Mandell constantly exceeds expectations. Krywe, who has worked with Mandell for the past three years, said he is always ready to help out.
“He’s always trying to learn as much information as possible to raise his craft to the highest possible level,” Krywe said.
Although Mandell was born with dwarfism, he said he has never let his condition be an obstacle. He credits his family, friends and teachers with always being there to support him.
"My dwarfism has pushed me to do things that other people with the same disability may not have tried to do," he said. "You can do whatever you set out to do, and size doesn’t matter."
Mandell, who plans to attend New York City College of Technology, in Downtown Brooklyn, hopes to become a TV news producer.
Meanwhile, he stays energized by trips to Manhattan, taking candid street photography and cityscapes.
“I’m always in the city, usually every weekend,” he said. “That’s where I find all of my creativity, when I’m just walking in the city.”
HIGHER ED: Mandell will attend New York City College of Technology, a CUNY school, and major in entertainment technology.
FRESHMAN YEAR: “I’m looking forward to being in a whole new environment, different from the high school . . . and getting to make new friends and interacting with professors.”
IF I RULED THE WORLD “I just wish that every kid had that kind of support to give them the confidence they need to be successful.”