From gardening to baking bread, quarantine has left folks with ample time to pick up hobbies. College students have been no exception. Here’s a look at two students — a 3D-printing guru and an aspiring Bay Area rapper — and the pastimes they’ve developed since the onset of the pandemic.
*This photo essay was shot primarily on Ilford HP5 black and white film with supplementary shots on color negative and digital mediums.*
Winn “Young Gonzo” Hartford
It’s been almost three years since Los Altos resident James Winn Hartford, 20, first started freestyling in the back seats of his friends’ cars.
“My friends would play a beat and be like, ‘Yo, freestyle over this … give us 16 bars,’” the University of Southern California sophomore said.
Before leaving the Bay Area for his freshman year, Hartford dropped his first official track. Months later and less than a week before the pandemic sent Hartford home, the artist found himself performing his debut, “Lord Knows,” in his dorm floor’s rendition of “Tiny Desk” — or “Tiny Dorm” — concerts.
“It was just euphoric. It was amazing,” Hartford said. “It was at that moment, I was like, ‘I want to do a live show, or I wish that the world wasn’t shutting down because I have so much that I want to do.”
With extra quarantine-induced time, the budding rapper launched into writing and producing in his bedroom.
“I’ve been able to stay inside and really perfect my craft and get better at rapping.” Hartford said, noting improvements from songwriting to structure. “Quarantine really has given me a chance to take extra time and a methodical approach to building up my career as a rapper.”
Born and raised in Los Altos, Hartford pulls grassroot influence and inspiration from the Bay Area rap scene.
“Vallejo and Oakland … even Berkeley, the city is such a great place and eclectic, and it’s almost flourishing right now (with) all these producers coming together and collaborating,” Hartford said. “During quarantine, there’s really been, like, this effort to keep making music and keep the spirit of the Bay alive.”
Hartford’s favorite artist, Michael Sneed, a rapper from East Oakland, honed Hartford’s love for Bay Area rap and its interconnected music community.
“These people aren’t getting many streams. … My favorite songs don’t break 20,000 streams. Not that numbers are everything, but the music deserves more recognition.” Hartford said. “That’s why I love the scene so much. It’s because, one day, it’s going to be so big, you know? I’m glad to be part of it.”
Bought online or sourced from another artist, all of Hartford’s song creations begin with a preliminary instrumental track. With a beat, he undergoes multiple writing stages, drafting regular verses and the song’s hook. Next, Hartford will mix his own audios or lease out his lyric recording and individual audio tracks to a producer to be mixed.
Final touches in the form of ad-libs and background vocals finish out the piece. From developing a beat to uploading to music services, Hartford can turn out a song in anywhere from two hours to a week.
Whether in car spit-takes or “Tiny Dorm” concerts, live performance is an infinite pull for Hartford.
“I feel so alive when I rap. I feel like I’m really doing something exciting and entertaining for other people. I really get to show who I am,” Hartford said. “It’s just so exhilarating to perform for me. It’s so rewarding when I play a song and people are like, ‘Oh my God, you did this, this is great.’”
“And then you start rapping the words — it’s rewarding. It’s exhilarating. It’s exciting. It’s collaborative,” Hartford said in reference to the swaths of support and friends helping him chase his dream.
UC Berkeley sophomore Ria Vora, 19, holds up her 3D-printed business card.
“My dad was playing some documentary on the TV, and it was talking about how you can 3D-print medical ears and organs with a 3D printer,” Vora said in reference to how she wound up in the printing world.
In quick succession, Vora saved up and bought a 3D printer, a purchase that would spur her own small printing business, Vora’s Hub. Originally, the operation blossomed out of Vora’s creations for friends, but later expanded to anyone and everyone, creating prototypes of pregnancy monitors, radios and even prints for a drone business.
Coming to UC Berkeley, Vora left her printer at home due to its size and noise. Finding herself back home since the pandemic, Vora jumped back into her hobby as she printed parts of 3D masks for a makerspace near her.
“You’re sitting at home and stressed about the COVID pandemic, and it actually felt like I was doing something.” Vora said. “Then, after that, it was just like, ‘Oh!’ I kind of missed (that), and I went back to printing dumb stuff all over my house.”
Prints start with an STL file, or a 3D design file, that Vora, using printer software, converts into something her machine can understand and utilize. From there, Vora experiments with various temperatures, filaments and infill percentages.
“The printer does all the work” Vora said. “So for me, it’s just (about) figuring out what print is going to turn out the best, the most durable.”
“It’s one of those passions that you need to have a product or an idea. So if you aren’t thinking of anything or there isn’t anything you want to build, something like a 3D printer is honestly quite useless,” the computer science and political economy major said. “Quarantine gave me more time to think about the things that I want to build with it, and it gave me access to the printer.”