Of the many qualities one might want in an image—beauty, originality, skillfulness, and personal vision among them—I found myself looking for one in particular: is the picture memorable?
The quality and range of this year’s submissions made the job choosing which ones to include in the exhibition and which ones to award quite a challenge, albeit a delightful one. There was, for instance, an abundance of excellent color work, and I wish I could have recognized more than just a few. There were also many sensitively seen landscapes, made both here and half a world away.
One final note: it is always difficult to judge the merit of a photograph solely by its screen presence. Sometimes a picture turns on subtleties that can only be conveyed in a finely crafted print. But the fact is that we first encounter most images today in digital form, subject to whatever idiosyncracies or shortcomings our computers may have. With this in mind, I reviewed every submission on two different viewing devices—it seemed to me to as contemporary and democratic a way of looking as any other.
BEST IN SHOW Grand Prize
David Ottenstein “Picnic Table” and “Simkins”
At once elegant and surreal, David Ottenstein’s photographs of utilitarian structures are elevated by his technical mastery and taut, clear-eyed vision of the world. Calling to mind Walker Evans’s attraction to vernacular subjects and the silvery modernism of Charles Sheeler’s photographs, these pictures are worthy of this year’s grand prize.
Robert Sachs “Desert View” and “SoNo”
One a boisterous riot of color in an arid land, and the other an evocatively subdued scene closer to home, this pair of pictures depicts two very different landscapes, both distinctly American. Especially commendable is the photographer’s daring and inventive sense of composition.
Colin Harrison “Blue Reflection”
I had a strong emotional response to this piece, whose saturated color and evanescent light make the experience of lingering in front of it time well spent.
Andrew Lerman “Little House on Icelandic Prairie”
Stacey Cleveland “Indian Rock Wyoming”
B & W
Art Potts “Untitled 05 Cuba”
Plucked from flow of life, this charming scene of a boy whose tentative gaze locks with our own, is oddly arresting. The other students’ absorption in their own activities, and the looming likeness of Castro in the background, only add to the authenticity of the moment.
Yeefun Yin “Untitled”
I was struck by the freshness of this portrait, whose understated sophistication is matched by a beguiling sense of narrative ambiguity.
Sara Augenbraun “Swimmer”
Ron Lake “Little Energy”
Capturing the inexhaustible, ever-changing beauty of the sea with satisfying asymmetry, this picture possesses a bracing simplicity.
James Tautkus “Untitled”
We can only guess what this young man is really thinking, but this much is true: this photograph of him has about it the tense, unguarded quality of a confessional.
Olivia Donner “Tree Scars”