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Liberty University photographer documents history, daily life

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Posted: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 12:30 am | Updated: 9:17 am, Thu Feb 6, 2014.

With more than 40 years documenting life at Liberty University, Les Schofer predates not only the school’s students, but most of the staff and even the buildings on campus.

Walking through the Hancock Welcome Center, he pointed out old photos of a sparsely-developed Candlers Mountain, explaining how the university has transformed the area and noting where barns and fields have been replaced by dorms and classrooms.

“I’m always aware of the way something used to be. … This was just a hunk of property waiting to be reborn,” he said.

Schofer enrolled at Liberty in January 1973, after a stint at a Santa Barbara photography school. At the time, he considered a career as a minister, but within a few months started getting requests to shoot campus events for the yearbook and school brochures.

About a year later, he began working full time as a photographer for the university.

Presently, his days may include shooting portraits of new staff members, taking photos of the school grounds to be shared with prospective students or photographing Flames sports — work he particularly enjoys.

Every time he goes out on assignment, his goal is to show his audience the world in a way they haven’t experienced before.

“You see a little differently when you get down in the puddle, or up in a ladder, or up on the defensive back’s shoulders, or on a boom lift or in a helicopter,” Schofer said.

“The only way [for a viewer] to see what you see is to look at your pictures. That’s what always drives a photographer — to see the world in a unique way. … [The photo] won’t look good from the bank of a river; it will look good about three feet out into the creek.”

When Schofer is not shooting new photos, he enjoys digging through his archives to spread more information about Liberty’s history.

Recently, he has turned his attention on Jan. 21, 1977.

In the mid-70s, the fledgling university looked to expand its campus on Candlers Mountain but was paralyzed with debt, Schofer explained.

The financially-strapped university was within months of being forced to close, so founder Jerry Falwell asked the community to gather with him in prayer.

Despite the snow and mid-winter cold, the student body followed Falwell. Shortly after, their needed funding came through, affording the university the opportunity to grow.

Over the years, the location of the prayer circle was forgotten. But recently, Schofer found some of his own photos of the event and used his knowledge of the area to determine the location.

He hopes someday the school will memorialize the site, found to be off University Boulevard near Williams Stadium.

Much has changed for Schofer since that prayer circle. The school has grown and the photographic technology he uses has advanced.

But his most fundamental job — showcasing the school’s character to alums, prospective students and families — has remained constant.

The students still are friendly and expressive of their faith, he said.

“Dr. Falwell didn’t want the Christian ideals of this place to ever leave,” Schofer said.

“You just shoot what goes on here. … You don’t drum that up. That’s just something that’s here.”

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