Being Judged

“Some of us will do our jobs well and some will not, but we will be judged by only one thing—the result.”
   Vince Lombardi

In late 2011 I was asked to judge an annual invitational photo show at a gallery in Hot Springs, MT. The judging took place in February, 2012. I wrote about the experience the same month. The show ran for a couple of months after that.

This year (2013) I received an invitation to display up to three pieces in the show. I was quite busy when the invitation arrived, but it wouldn't be difficult to select and prepare only three pieces, so I accepted the invitation. Hot Springs is about 45 miles (72km) from where I live. The drive on US Highway 28 takes one through beautiful rolling hills rimmed by mountains and rocky cliffs. For the most part these hills are large ranches of pasture and grazing land for cattle. Human population is minimal; there are perhaps more abandoned barns and shacks than occupied homes.

A massive old barn near Lone Pine, MT

A large, crumbling barn near Lone Pine, MT, on US Highway 28, my route from home to Hot Springs.

I made the trip to deliver my pieces on a raw, blustery morning with a dark, threatening sky typical for the first days of March. I left home early, to take advantage of opportunities to stop along the way to photograph some of those derelict old buildings. In the waning days of a long, cold but fairly dry winter, there wasn't great color. Things seemed rather gray—the sky, the mountains, the local hills, even the light itself. These weren't bad conditions for black & white photography, which often suits these old buildings very well. However, the southern faces of some of the old wrecks had wonderful color, a patina burned in by decades of harsh summer sun. I decided on compositions somewhat close to the buildings to show off the color and texture in the old wood. Despite the cold and wind, I had a great time photographing on my way to Hot Springs. I suspect the color would really pop in morning sun; I'll be returning soon to check that out.

Selecting the Images

Yellow rental boat on Glacier National Park's Lake McDonald

Yellow Boat #2. This is one of the rental boats on Glacier National Park's Lake McDonald.

I've written about choosing pictures for portfolios and other purposes, where it's necessary to select the best, or most appropriate images, from a larger collection. It's no different when selecting just a few photos for an exhibit. Once a dreaded task, selecting images is something I've come to enjoy. The show's “theme” (it seems necessary for exhibits to have themes, for some reason), “Takin' a Break”, could be interpreted any number of ways, which is probably why it was chosen. I decided any photo of a tranquil, relaxing scene would be suitable; I have a lot of those! Being familiar with the On The Wall Gallery, and knowing it's a fairly small space, I wanted one large print and a couple of smaller ones. For the largest print I chose a photo about which I wrote earlier this year (you can see the picture in that article).

For one of the smaller prints I chose a picture of one of the rental boats on a dock on Lake McDonald, in Glacier National Park. This boat, the only one in the small fleet of rentals that's neither motorized nor red, has long been a favorite subject, something I study each time we visit the park during the summer rental season. It's a very “graphic” sort of image, making use of the strong color and contrast in the scene. The details are extremely sharp—the wood grain and bolts in the dock, the boat's hardware, etc. The photo was published on the cover the the (local) Sandpiper Art Gallery's 2011 exhibit schedule brochure.

Both of these photos are somewhat dramatic in their own way; I hoped they'd catch the judge's eye.

I included my third photo, a small black and white image, only because I wanted a B&W in the show. I fully expected it to more or less disappear into the exhibit because of its small size, and because it was black and white. In fact, it did exactly that.

The Juror

Trevon Baker, the judge for this show, is a local photographer with a studio and gallery in Somers, MT. I've not visited his gallery, but as it's on the main north-south highway between where I live and Kalispell, MT, I've driven past it periodically. One day soon when I drive by during business hours, I'll stop in. You can learn more about Trevon and view some of his work on his Web site.

Opening Reception/Award Presentation

I couldn't attend the opening reception for the show I judged in 2012; I didn't want to miss this one for several reasons. Hot Springs is a tiny town. On The Wall Gallery is a tiny gallery. Who goes to the openings there? Where do they come from? Do they purchase art?

As I'd judged this show there last year, I knew it drew quality work in quantities sufficient to fill the small space. Is this consistent, is the show typically as good as it was in 2012?

The reception was the evening of 22 March, a cold and snowy day. I arrived shortly after 6:00 to find the small gallery full of people. The building has a lobby area that's roughly the same size as the gallery, also jammed with people. Of course, the food and drink were in that space. The crowd consisted of local people, and folk from Kalispell, Whitefish, and Plains. I saw people I knew from as far away as Ronan, MT, more than an hour's drive from the gallery.

Quality of the work? A mixed lot. Most of the photos were good, and nicely framed. A few of the pictures were outstanding. As always, a small number of pieces were fairly ordinary snapshots in cheap plastic frames, but these were in the minority. From my own experience last year, I knew Trevon hadn't had an easy time judging this show.

HSAS Photography Show awards

The award ribbons and checks. The ribbons seemed a bit silly, but added to the fun of the event. There's nothing silly about the checks!

At 7:15 Marla Robbins, president of the Hot Springs Artists Society, quieted the crowd and announced Trevon's picks in various categories. I was surprised and delighted when my name was announced as the winner of Best in Show, for the large photo. I was even more surprised at the cash award that came with that. The next award was for Best of Theme, meaning the photo that best interpreted, in Trevon's opinion, “Takin' a Break”. Once again my name was read, and once again there was a cash prize. As mentioned earlier, I had hoped my pictures would draw the judge's attention, but it never occurred to me that I'd win any award. It simply never crossed my mind.

There were a half-dozen other awards in various categories. Congratulations to the winners! When the room cleared out later and I could have another look at the photos, I found I mostly (but not entirely) agreed with Trevon's selections.

I've had some success selling gallery prints; I've learned a bit about what people like, and while I rarely make a print simply because I think it will sell, I think it's useful to know what “works” for the buying public. I'm always happy to make a sale, to know someone likes one of my photos well enough to part with some cash to own it. But it's especially gratifying when one's work is vetted by a skilled and experienced photographer, and judged to be best in show. Thank you, Trevon, and thank you HSAS for hosting the show!

April, 2013