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Student Spotlight: Zlatka Burtis

Student Spotlight: Zlatka Burtis

Zlatka Burtis
Major: Photography

Pursuing her passion in the arts is a dream for Zlatka Burtis. But it wasn’t that way when she first graduated from school in her native Czech Republic.

“I grew up in a big house with a lot of land, and my mom said I should study landscape,” she said. “In Europe, you decide at 15 what major to study. But after I started working, I began thinking, ‘Is this it?’” 

Burtis always wanted to travel and made plans to visit a friend in the U.S. After two weeks, she entered the lottery for her green card but for six months wrestled with whether to stay or return home. She decided to accomplish at least one goal during her time in the U.S. and learned English. Then she found a photo enlarger in the basement of her friend’s home and began dabbling in photography.

She received her green card and stayed in the U.S., later marrying and giving birth to two daughters. At that point, Burtis wanted to return to school and selected the Fashion Studies program at College of DuPage. However, she ended up going in a different direction.

“My husband said I should study photography instead,” she said. “I took my first class at COD with Frank Jackowiak, and I began creating my own path in terms of what classes I wanted to take. For example, I love working with film. Digital photography never did it for me and I struggled with that class. Professor Glenn Hanson arranged an independent study opportunity to learn large format photography with 4-by-5 inch negatives, which made me really think about taking photos that way.

“I love College of DuPage and the Photography program because it’s small and like a family. The teachers are so helpful and you know they care.”  

Burtis now fuses her love of fashion and photography by showcasing dresses created from newspapers. She came up with the idea while taking a COD portrait photography class in which students were assigned to shoot fashion.

“I’ve always been into fashion but I didn’t want to photograph professional models because they come with their own look,” she said. “I thought about making a dress and played with plain wrapping paper, but it didn’t work. Then I used wrapping paper with a pattern, but that didn’t work, either.

“When I tried newspaper, it started to look good, so I found a model. When I finally showed her the finished dress, she was doubtful and said, ‘That’s what I’m wearing?’ But when she put it on, she was glowing. When I processed the images after the shoot, I thought, ‘Wow!’”

The project turned out so well that her work was selected to be part of the Student, Faculty and Staff Art Reception hosted biannually by College of DuPage President Dr. Ann Rondeau. Reaction was so positive that her work was displayed at the College’s inaugural Community Breakfast and then in the Wings Student Art Gallery, where the opening reception drew a capacity crowd. Click here for photos from the reception.

Although Burtis has thought about attending an art school, she is happy with the quality of education at College of DuPage and the diversity of classes, which allows her to take what she wants and expand her skills. 

“With every course I take, I get an idea and apply it to my next project,” she said. “I also ask myself, ‘What do I need to learn to make this project work?’ and then look for a class that will help. When I took all of the photography classes I wanted, I began working on independent studies and taking other art courses, mostly drawing and painting.

“I believe in following my dreams. They may not always work out but I have to try. College of DuPage is amazing, and most likely I’ll retire while still taking classes at COD.”

More about the Photography program

More about Zlatka Burtis 

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