The memories grip the wall of her apartment bedroom — row after row of snapshots. More than 400 in all.
There are photos of friends, plays, tai chi, a cup of coffee, a slice of pizza and even a professor skiing to class. They were taken by Megan Valle, a senior musical theatre major at Wright State University who has become known as “The Girl With the Camera Usually in Her Hand.”
Valle has taken a photo at Wright State nearly every day since Aug. 27, 2015, when she arrived on campus to begin her sophomore year. As a result, she has a colorful, growing photographic tapestry of her final three years at the university staring back at her.
“A lot of times I think that we as humans isolate ourselves on purpose — always tell ourselves ‘Nobody understands’ or ‘I’m alone,’” Valle said. “No. I have all of these incredible friends and memories that a lot of people might not have. I’m very fortunate.”
The 21-year-old Valle began taking photos her freshman year as part of a class project designed to help students unleash their creativity. That gave her the idea to begin taking a personal photo every day to document her life.
Valle’s Fujifilm instax mini 8 instant film camera does just what it says — instantly produces photos. She pays about $30 to buy film that gives her 50 shots.
The first photo on her wall is that of Valle and her mother sharing a cup of coffee as they arrived at Wright State from their Maryland home at the beginning of Valle’s sophomore year. The second photo is that of Valle moving into her apartment. And it goes on from there.
“If you’re feeling kind of stressed or sad about something,” she said, “you can just look at your wall and say, ‘Hey, that was a good memory.’ …I’ll remember myself taking that picture and how I felt at the moment.”
There are photos of Valle highlights at Wright State such as her playing Golde in “Fiddler on the Roof” or taking a selfie with actor and producer Tom Hanks. And there are the more mundane.
“There was a day where I was so busy and life was so crazy that there is literally a picture of a white wall,” she said. “And I put what my day had felt like — a blur.”
Valle writes a personal message or quip on each photo to strengthen the memory.
A photo taken on Day One of her senior year shows Valle at a piano looking cross-eyed into the camera. “Last First Day of School and I’ve Already Gone Crazy,” it reads.
Valle will take photos spontaneously, often of things that just catch her eye. Sometimes she misses a day or rushes to take a photo late at night. And she’s had to toss a few photos that didn’t turn out or got stuck in the camera.
Valle once misplaced her camera on campus and put up posters asking for its return. Two weeks later, someone turned it into the School of Music, but six of the 10 shots on the film had been taken.
“So someone enjoyed themselves,” she said.
Valle grew up in Bel Air, Maryland, northeast of Baltimore. Her grandmother enrolled her in dance classes when she was 4, and as a young girl Valle and her siblings would put on Christmas shows at family gatherings, sometimes rehearsing for up to two months.
When she was 7, Valle and her family went to New York City and saw the musical “Wicked” on Broadway. Valle’s dreams of being in the theater were born.
“We had front-row seats in the balcony,” she recalled. “I was thinking I need to be doing that.”
At Patterson Mill High School, Valle sang and danced in theater productions and after graduating in 2014 auditioned for seven college theater programs. Her final audition was at Wright State.
“It was my favorite one; just the energy and vibes I got from all of the professors and all the students I talked to,” she said. “…After I auditioned, I walked out of the room thinking I really hope I get it. It just feels right.”
Valle said she is drawn to the theater by its storytelling power and because it draws her out of her shell and gives her an escape from everyday worries and pressures.
“When it comes to theater, I’m able to just flip the switch, give myself completely to a role and just delve into that character’s circumstances and find so many different colors and flavors,” she said.
At Wright State, Valle has performed in about a dozen productions, including “Peter Pan,” “Chicago,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Miss Mayor,” “No, No, Nanette!,” “Children’s Hour,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” She has taken dance and acting classes, done some directing and choreographing and wrote her own one-person show.
“I’m really grateful just to come to Wright State and be able to do what I love every day,” she said. “…I couldn’t have asked for a better four years in college.”
Valle is scheduled to graduate at the spring commencement ceremony on April 28. Eventually, she wants to pursue a theater career in New York City. In the meantime, she has auditioned for several summer theater jobs and internships, including ones with companies in St. Louis and Memphis.
After Valle graduates, she plans to take the photos off of her wall and put them in albums. But she intends to keep taking photos. She says her wall of photos gives her joy and enables her to reflect on how she’s changed over time.
“It’s really helped me put into perspective my time here at Wright State,” she said, “all of the amazing friends I’ve made, the connections, the experiences.”