In my quest to evolve as a photographer, the past six weeks have brought some affirmation that my vision is making connections to people.
First, images that I entered into the International Photography Awards (IPA) annual competition received honorable mentions in three categories. This competition is one of the worlds largest and among its most highly regarded in the general photography world. I entered seven images in various categories (one has to choose) and was delighted to receive the recognition.
I also entered work into a competition organized by the PhotoPlace Gallery in Vermont. I was unaware of this brick-and-mortar gallery until I read a blog by fellow photographer John Sanderson that mentioned them and their competitions. Liking what I read about the organization and the theme of a new competition, I entered five images to test my skills. Several weeks later I was blown away when the awards were announced and that the juror picked all five of my entries for inclusion in the show.
“In the eight years of PhotoPlace Gallery’s existence, it has never occurred that ALL of a single entrant’s images were selected by the juror, but that has happened with your submission to "Night Photography: Dusk to Dawn". Four of your images were selected by Lance Keimig for exhibition in the gallery, and one for exhibition in the Online Gallery. Your work is really wonderful, and I could not agree more with Lance’s selection. Congratulations is an understatement. One of your images was also selected as an Honorable Mention.” James Barker, Director, PhotoPlace Gallery
About the same time, the Monmouth Museum notified me that two of four images I submitted to their upcoming juried show entitled Winter Wonders were accepted and would be on display in the main gallery for about six weeks. This museum draws a respectable amount of people over the holidays as they organize many events geared towards families including a large model train display.
And finally, 15 of my images are on display in the Millburn Public Library Gallery in a small solo show that I entitled Conduits of Steel. This show, which lasts through the end of November, is the first time that I organized an exhibit of my own work and had to plan which images to show and how to hang them.
So you may be wondering if there is a point to all these announcements other than to toot my own horn?
There is… and it’s about getting my work exposed to a broader audience than the railfan and railroad photography community. This community already has an enthusiasm for almost any image based upon its subject matter, but I want my work to be viewed and evaluated outside of being a “railroad photograph”. To do so, I have to look beyond the choir and get my work in front of a general audience.
The conventions of railroad photography are relatively narrow and I don’t want to be restricted by the limitations that have been established to this point. Looking at photography at a whole, I see so many more creative and expressive possibilities being explored and accepted. I want my work to be viewed against this higher benchmark and not the narrow standards of the railroad photography genre.
Juried events, whether a competition or an exhibit, nudge me to expand my creativity and vision. While I don’t base my success as a photographer on gallery acceptance or an award, it does allow me to evaluate the caliber of my work against the evolving conventions of “the best”. When I enter work into a competition, I have to think about the judging criteria as well as the statement that I want to make. This starts to inform a constant vision-evaluation process that I bring into the field and results in me looking at prospective images differently. By challenging myself to be a better photographer, I can become a better photographer of the railroads.