UECPC Annual Competition

My friend Tierra and I joined the Urban Ecology Center Photography Club a few months ago. We're both amateur photographers who've recently moved into the digital age and are developing our skills and trying make a go at having photography become a source of income as well as a hobby.

As I've mentioned in a previous blog entry, my "Big Brother" from the Big Brother Big Sister organization gave me my first real camera when I was a teenager and I've been trying to be a "real" photographer ever since.

I'm not naturally gifted as a photographer. I don't have that natural "eye" that some photographers do. But I love photography and, like music which I also love but lack talent in, I've researched and studied it and what I lack in talent, I try to make up for with technical knowledge and understanding.

Tierra, who joined the UECPC with me, is one of those naturally gifted photographers who sees the world in a different way and is able to capture it. She has a natural eye for photography and composition. All my technical knowledge is useful for explaining why her images are so amazing after the fact, but does little to help me to see and capture things the way she does unconsciously.

It's no surprise to me then, that Tierra's submissions ended up winning first place in both of the categories that she entered her images in. One of those images ended up winning first place overall as well.

When I saw which pictures she had selected to enter (we were allowed to enter one image per category and only allowed to participate in two out of the four categories, so two images total), I told her that she was going to win. My technical knowledge of photography and told me so and I told her so. She didn't believe me, but I was right.

For the "People" category Tierra submitted a photo of her daughter on a beach at sunset. The photo was taken looking down at the toddler as the child was looking up saying, "Uh, Oh!" Tierra framed the shot so that her daughter's face fills the left side of the image with the beach blurred out on the right. You can see the colors of the beach, but no definition or detail so that negative space leads your eye to focus on the child's face which is exquisitely captured with striking detail. In the toddlers left eye, you can see a reflection of the sun setting and in her right eye, you can see a reflection of Tierra taking the picture. The warm glow of the setting sun is coming in from the right side of the image, across the blurred out sand, causing the left side of the child's face to glow. The right side of the face is just ever so slightly in shadow, enough to show the directionality of the sunlight, but not enough to lose any detail, whatsoever! It's a phenomenal photograph and deserved the win!

Her other image, submitted in the "Other" category was beautiful capture of a mare's eye. Tierra and I had been at a horse show earlier this summer that she was shooting for a client. I was there as moral support and to give technical advice on camera settings. My shots from that day are terrible. During some downtime, we were shooting random shots near a corral(?, I'm not familiar with equestrian terminology) when a mare and some babies came up to the fence. Tierra had my macro lens on her camera and snapped a picture of the mare's eye.

This is a gorgeous photograph! The mare's eye looks like a liquid sphere and shows a reflection of the fence warped by the concave surface. Each and every eye-lash is in crisp, beautiful focus. The eye is supposed to be a window to the soul and with photograph, I can believe it. The only thing that I would have changed about it is cropping out the rest of the mare's face which is blurred out in the right-side foreground of the image. The blurred out negative space on the left-side of the image is a perfect balance and directs the viewer's eye directly to the perfectly focused mare's eye. Even with my nit-pick about the horse's face possibly being cropped out, I knew that this image was going to win. This is the one that took first overall.

I'm so proud of her and so happy that her photography is getting validated in this way. She's also put in a bid for her first paying gig as a photographer and she so deserves this success!

My pride in Tierra and my happiness for her is tempered by my disappointment in my own submissions. One of my images, Faeries at the Renaissance Faire, took second place in the "People" category, having been beaten out by Tierra's picture of her daughter. The other, A Dog's Life, taken last week in Mexico, wasn't mentioned. The judge for the competition went through and gave positive and negative critiques and criticisms of almost every photograph submitted, except for A Dog's Life.

Don't get me wrong. I'm extraordinarily proud of having taken second. Knowing that it was Tierra's image that took first is a huge relief to me as I can look at it and see that it is such a better image. Given my competitive nature, second would have been untenable for me if the first place image had been anything of lesser quality.

My disappointment is in part that A Dog's Life was completely ignored, but also that the results for both images echo my frustrations. Tierra is a natural talent and I envy that! All of the academic knowledge that I've gained through hard-work and diligent study still can't get me on par with her natural talent. And please understand that I'm not denigrating how much work she's put into her photography at all! That's actually part of my point! With her natural talent for photography and the amount of work she puts into it means that I will never reach a similar level. With her eye, her pictures have heart and soul to them. My images are composed well and technically well executed, but are clinical and sterile looking.

I know that it's foolish to compare myself to others and that I should just focus on my own personal improvements and take pride in those. And I do that. For instance, a few years ago, I threw up when my pics were part of a gallery show of student work for the B&W class at Alverno College. Last night I entered pictures into a competition, stayed in the room as the photos were being critiqued and judged, and managed not to puke on Tierra who was sitting next to me. That's a big step for me! Not only that, but to have an image take second place in its category was incredible to me.

But there's still that niggling bit of disappointment. It's kind of like the moment that I realized that I was getting discharged from the Army because of my eye problems. I had more drive and desire and work-ethic than ninety percent of the other kids in Basic Training. I had aced the ASVAB. I was motivated and worked my ass off while I was there. I wanted to be a soldier. I still want to be a soldier. I can never be one, though. All the drive, desire, hard-work in the world will never overcome the simple fact that I am physically limited and disqualified from ever becoming a soldier.

In the same way, all of my love for photography and all the study and all the technical knowledge I've built up will never match what those naturally gifted folks can do with the same or less work, let alone the ones who are naturally gifted and work harder than me. It's just a little tiny black-cloud of disappointment that hangs over an otherwise great achievement by both Tierra and myself. And I am bit bitter that A Dog's Life received no mention, positive or negative, whatsoever.


Congrats to you both again! Are your photos on display at the UE center?


The prints were sent on to the WACCO regional competition. You can see the pictures on the UECPC website.