It was sometime in the mid-1990’s, when I was taking photography classes at Arapahoe Community College, that I decided to enter one of my photographs in a local contest. It was a color photo, and I only did my own processing in black & white at that time, so I had it printed out by a local printer, in a smallish size, maybe 8″ x 10″ or so and then I framed it. It was a photo I had taken while staying up in a mountain cabin with a friend. A mountain thunderstorm had come up one afternoon, which was a more frequent occurrence in those days, and when the storm cleared, an amazing rainbow appeared arching over the nearby mountainside. I ran outside as fast as I could to try and capture its beauty. It was an exhilarating moment, and it really made for a very pretty picture, and I was proud of it at the time.
All the photos which had been entered into said contest, were on display at the local library, and of course, mine was hanging up there too. People walked past by ones and twos and small family groups to admire the photography adorning the walls of the library. I was standing out of the line of traffic, but fairly close to my photo. As one guy and his wife walked by, they stopped to look at my photo, and I heard the guy say, “Well, somebody was in the right place at the right time.” For some reason, I didn’t take this as a compliment. The photo did place in the contest, but it didn’t win. It got some kind of “also ran award.” It was the photo contest version of every kid who shows up to play gets an award for something type of deal. I still liked the picture, and I still do, although I don’t know where it is at the moment. It must be out in the garage somewhere …
Anyway, fast forward to 2018. I had been living in The Grand Valley for only a few months and was busily exploring and photographing my new home area. My mom was living with us at the time, and one spring evening, the three of us decided to go out for a drive through Palisade. I brought my camera of course, John was the driver (roadie) and Mom sat in the back seat exclaiming about how beautiful everything was. And of course, Palisade is the home of the famous Palisade Peaches, as well as other fruit trees like cherries, apricots and pear trees. Spring bloom time around here is spectacular!
As we came around a corner somewhere in Palisade, we happened upon this lovely, bucolic scene of an old barn and farmhouse backed by The Bookcliffs and surrounded by a misty late afternoon light. “Stop! Stop! Go back!” I said, because by the time I’m able to verbalize that I’ve seen something really great, we’re long past it by then. So John turned around, and parked beside the road, while I jumped out with my camera equipment to try and capture the essence of the scene. I took a couple of shots of it, so I would have some to choose from later, and we went on with our drive.
I liked the picture when I first processed it; it has a real old-world kind of look to it I think. I would say some of that is the subject matter, and some of it was the weather conditions and time of day.
Not long after, I saw something in the local paper about a festival that is held in Palisade every spring called The International Honeybee Festival. As part of the festival, there would be an art contest. Photography would be allowed and was one of the specific categories. I thought it would be fun to enter the contest with my photo of the farm in Palisade.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this in past blogs, but my husband John, (my “roadie”) is also a lawyer. When I told him I wanted to enter the photo in the contest, he told me I wouldn’t be able to do it unless I got permission from the owner of the subject farm. I was on a deadline here, and I needed to get the photo printed and ready for the show, and now I had to add in the possibility that I couldn’t even enter the photo in the contest without the owner’s approval.
We drove back to the location and made a note of the address. While we were there, I placed a note on the door of the house, to let them know what was going on, and I included my name and a business card. My expectation for any response whatsoever was low.
But then, low and behold, a day or so later, the guy called! I was really surprised. He was a nice guy too, a local business owner, and agreed to sign the waiver which would allow me to show the photo and possibly sell it, or even more impossibly it seemed, to take the money I won from the contest. A whole $100 if I won first prize. (Now I feel like Steve Martin in LA Story. “A whole $100!”) Additionally, I gave him a digital copy of the photo he could use on his website. Fair enough.
I had the image printed on canvass at 20” x 30”, which I think is a good size for my photos: a good size to place in a human-sized living room or bedroom, without being too large. I dropped it off at the Palisade Community Center, where the art would be displayed, and the event was scheduled to take place a few days hence, in which the winners would be announced. Most importantly, appetizers and wine were involved. Mom and John and I traipsed back to Palisade for a fourth time. (It only takes 15 minutes to get there, so I’m not really complaining).
We got there in plenty of time, and walked around looking at all the beautiful paintings and other artwork that was submitted for the contest. Boy! They had quite a turnout for this thing! There were different categories of art that were judged: drawing, painting, photography, and maybe some other categories too, I don’t really remember. After we hung out for awhile looking at the art and eating appetizers, the awards were given out. At this point, I honestly had no expectation of winning anything, I was just there for the food, the wine, and the beautiful art. It was something to do with my mom and my husband. So, I was very surprised when the guy who was in charge of judging the photography category announced my photo as the winner! And the best part was I got to keep the $100! I don’t remember what I did with it. We probably went out to dinner with it or something. A good deal!
Oddly, I haven’t submitted any photos to any contests since that date. In fact, I hadn’t entered in any contests before then, since the one I entered way back in the 90’s. I’m thinking I probably won’t do it again, but you never know, if something appeals to me, I might. In any case, it’s not something I do routinely.
Ansel Adams once quipped, “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” There’s more to this than most photographers care to admit, and less to it than most people are willing to make the sacrifice for. Most photographers know by now, that there is so much more to making a good image than just standing in the right spot. In today’s photographic milieu, you must also be good at post-processing. Most people don’t simply drop their images off at Fotomat anymore and take whatever the machine spits out. By the same token, many people can’t or won’t take the time to stand in the right spot at the right time of day, in all kinds of weather conditions to up the odds that they’ll get the type of image they want. In spring and fall, the so-called golden hour also happens to be the dinner hour so you have to be flexible with your meals. Ditto with early morning shoots. I haven’t seriously gotten into astrophotography for the same reason, although I greatly admire those who do. It takes a certain kind of fortitude to stay up all night, travel some distance to a dark location, and possibly freeze your arse off to get that shot.
$100 notwithstanding, the best judge of your art, is you.
One reply to “On Photo Contests”
Live and love your truth.