A Tale of Two Photos
Friday, April 26, 2013 2:54 PM
I brought two prints to the Cape Cod Camera Club competition last night. The one above, which I called “Fork,” was for the “Trees” category. I really really like this photo, but I’ve showed it at a review session a while back and now the competition. I worked it pretty hard in Photoshop before I printed it (the print looks better than the JPEG above, by the way), adjusting the light and shadows, trying a number of different croppings, and more. No one likes it. Oh, well. I like it and I know why I like it, but I also understand why so many others don’t.
But the real surprise was the other one I presented, Church Door. I took this last year at a church in Chatham. I was intrigued by the rounded, covered walkway leading up to the door, sort of dark and mysterious sitting back in the shadows. I took a lot of shots looking down that walkway. So it had been on my favorites for a long time. I considered submitting it to the Cape Cod Art Association “Doors and Windows” competition, but ultimately decided against it. But I resurrected the view for the Open category last night. I printed it out a few days before the competition, and it just sat on my desk until I was packing up the photos to leave. I took one last look and decided after I mounted it in a white mat, the whites in the photo blended into the white mat too much, so I put a thin black border around it and printed it out again. When that one came out of the printer I was horrified to see a major flaw--some really ugly gray smears and blotches. I figured that I had used the wrong shot, one where some clone-stamping I had tried had gone awry. So I looked at the one ready to go, already matted and mounted, and I saw the same thing. How could I have possibly missed that? I decided to cast my fate with Fork, and not submit anything for the Open category, since time was short. I was sure Fork would get a good score. Ha!
But I changed my mind. I called up all the other shots of the walkway, to see if there wasn’t another one I could use. The gray splotch in the mounted one, it turns out, was a banner the church had hung between two pillars. It was disruptive and ugly, and positioned in such a way that I couldn’t clone stamp it out. So I wanted a slightly different angle that didn’t show that banner. Fortunately, I found one, and the race was on to clean it up and present it as best I could. I brightened the whites, dodged the door so that it wasn’t so dark (even though I loved the mystery of the dark door back in the shadows), recropped it, put the black border around it, and printed it.
The judge for the night was Mary Moquin, a local painter from the Cape. She was a very interesting judge, I thought. She had the ability to verbalize her judgments about each photo, almost in a stream of consciousness. When confronted with equally impressive photos, which happens a lot, she verbalized her anguish and difficulties in separating photos by score. I appreciated that, and I got a lot of insight into a judge’s (and artist’s) processes. (She kind of blurted out, before she had a chance to carefully consider her words, that a particular tree was “lyrical.” Perfect description.) Her preferences and idiosyncrasies were apparent immediately. My Church Door was the absolute first photo of the night. She gushed, “I love that!” and scored it a 9 out of 10. She then went through the rest of the Open photos, telling us what she saw, and at the end of the category my 9 was the highest score.
As the evening moved on, however, I began to get a feel for her likes and I knew my Fork was doomed. Like most judges and artists in general, she has a serious aversion to symmetry, items centered in the photo, horizons or vertical lines that split an image in two, etc. In most instances, of course, that kind of symmetry and/or “bulls-eye” placement of the subject cripples an image, making it static and tidy. But my Fork, I thought, begged to be centered, so that’s how I presented it. I thought the strength of the photo was the colors--the greens and blues (which I heightened in Photoshop) seemed rich to me, and the light on the front forked tree, a late afternoon golden light that I caught at just the right fleeting moment that day, was, I thought, amazing. The photo, for me, was about that light on the fork. Mary’s focus was mostly on composition, not so much colors or light. (She did, however, catch the delicate green reflections of the shrubbery on the underside of the arches in my Church Door. I was glad to hear that.) So I knew that, compositionally, Fork wasn’t her cup of tea, long before it came up later in the evening.
So my “afterthought,” Church Door, got a first place ribbon, and one of my all time favorite photos, Fork, didn’t make the cut at all. I don’t know what to make of that, but there it is.