I am not a photographer. Ask my good friend and frequent contributing photographer Mike Morgan and he will concur. Even my thumb, when it covers the lens, is out of focus.
What I do have, however, is a damn good eye. I can easily separate good photography from the bad.
From any collection of photos, I can deduce the ones that tell the best story (every good photo tells a story) from the ones that say very little. This skill comes from years working in magazines, looking at photographic works and figuring out how to place them in a story to share something unique that is engaging for the reader.
So, when Andy Vick, executive director of the Allegany Arts Council in Cumberland, Maryland, invited me to be the sole juror for the annual Tri-State Photography Exhibition in February, I agreed based on this comfort level.
But when I arrived at the Saville Gallery on Centre Street, what stood before me were more than 150 framed and matted photos – black and white, color, special effects – in no particular order.
I was one man amidst a sea of imagery: landscapes, children, foreign countries, architecture, psychedelics, and more. My confidence was quickly replaced with the acknowledgment that, well, I’ve never juried a photographic contest before.
At least I had the foresight to wear comfortable shoes.
It started out easy, reviewing all the works and eliminating those images that didn’t share much of a story. The hard part was studying what remained to make sense of the images, the stories, and yes, the exhibit as a whole – how all the images worked together to make a show that works for the Allegany Arts Council and its patrons.
But this was also the most enjoyable part of the task.
What impressed me most from this body of work was the diversity of imagery. From a black and white image of someone walking in the rain (first place, black and white, Guy Hinebaugh), to the in-your-face color of Mardi Gras (first place, color, Annie Lasher), to a unique and convincing interpretation of lichen (first place, special effects, Ginger Squires, pictured above), to my personal favorite, a slightly unsettling and other-worldly shadow of a bottle (best in show, Paulette Hose), there was so much talent to behold that making the final selections was very, very difficult.
But, also, extremely rewarding, personally. So, thank you, Andy, for the invitation.
Want to see the winning photos up close and personal? Head to Cumberland and visit the Saville Gallery; the Tri-State Photography Exhibition will be up through March 2.
When visiting the gallery, make sure to buy some tokens for the Art Council’s Art-o-Matic, which happens to be the coolest art dispensary anywhere in Maryland (see related link).
And while you’re visiting Cumberland, make sure to indulge in some of the best frozen custard anywhere, at Queen City Creamery. It’s simply another form of art – frozen, tasty, high-caloric art, but art nonetheless.
Dan Patrell is the publisher of Maryland Life – and occasional contest judge.