Capture the Kenai — Photographers expose life on the Kenai Peninsula

Congratulations to all those who entered the Redoubt Reporter’s “Capture the Kenai” photo contest and shared their work depicting life on the Kenai. This regular contest is a good way for anyone who owns a camera, or phone with a camera, to receive some well-deserved exposure for their artistic endeavors. There was a wealth of striking images submitted, and we judges had a difficult time making selections. Below are the images chosen for placement, and as honorable mentions. We could easily have included many more! Thanks to all our participating photographers, and keep up the great work.

— Natasha Ala, Redoubt Reporter Art Seen columnist

Photographers were asked to submit their “Capture the Kenai” photos — images that represent life on the Kenai Peninsula, taken between Aug. 1, 2012, and Aug. 9, 2013.

Our judges:

  • Natasha Ala is a contributing writer, artist, photographer and local art champion who lives in Soldotna.
  • Local attorney Joe Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. He has published many articles about computer technology, law practice and digital photography in national media since 1990.
  • Ray Lee is a student at the University of Alaska Anchorage and has been accepted into the six most recent “Rarified Light” statewide juried fine art photo exhibitions since 2007. In addition, Lee has exhibited her photographs in two shared gallery exhibits and one solo show.

An exhibition of reader-submitted photography recognized in Redoubt Reporter photo contests will be on display at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center in September and October, with an opening reception Oct. 3. Join us!

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Judges’ comments:

Best in Show: “Waiting To Fly” by Mark Pierson, Kenai. “Many mornings on the Kenai are draped in fog. I enjoy the mystery it adds to the landscape. Here, the silhouettes of waterfowl seem to compliment the floatplane. Both the plane and baby birds are waiting to fly.” Judges’ comments:

  • Natasha Ala: This photo is unique in its strong composition, as well as excellent use of light. The way the photographer was able to capture the gesture of the swans gliding through the water with the floatplane in the background was stunning.
  • Joe Kashi: This photo conveys a strong sense of a peaceful early autumn morning along with juxtaposing two very different means of taking to the air.
  • Ray Lee: It depicts a rather enigmatic atmosphere. What I like most about it is the content — a rugged peacefulness and shadowy backdrop makes for limitless routes down which the imagination can traipse. It tells a story and captures raw life.

First Place: “All Eyes on Me” shows fish heads ready for compost in Kenai, taken July 29 by Ali Wykis, of Soldotna.

  • Natasha Ala: As an ex-slime-line cannery worker, this is an image that speaks to me. The subject matter in the photo is the key element that makes this image so intriguing. This image goes beyond the cliché concepts of Alaska and shows us something specific to life in Kenai.
  • Joe Kashi: This is my favorite but I have a hard time articulating why I like it. In part, the striking red of the salmon flesh contrasts nicely with the dark blue side. There’s a nice S curve between the light-colored ice and the darker fish heads that holds the composition together, while the many fish heads themselves provide texture and pattern within one side of the S curve that nicely contrasts with the softer pattern of the ice on the other side.
  • Ray Lee: What enticed me about this photograph is the sharpness combined with metallic colors. For an established pallet such as this, it’s ideal for artistic appeal that the details be outstanding where necessary. It’s so typical for a photographer to mesh a jumble of objects in a picture like this, but this person distanced him/herself appropriately and managed the shadows skillfully. You can tell where each part ends and begins. Even the border between the ice and fish is clear. And I found it especially appealing to see each individual fish eye.

Second Place: “Paddler Over River Grass, Fall” by Jessica Jemison, of Soldotna, taken Sept. 12 on the upper Swanson River in Sterling. “A paddler and canoe amongst aquatic plants, sedge and spruce trees. The air was crisp and the only sound that could be heard was the gentle scraping of the grass against the hull of the canoe.”

  • Natasha Ala: This is a standout image because of the photographer’s use of perspective. The way the photographer has framed the image essentially puts the viewer in the boat — the viewer can essentially see himself or herself as the person in the boat cruising down the Swanson River.
  • Ray Lee: I was rather taken by the vivid color and detail in this particular image. The content has been a common attempt in Alaska photography, but this is an example of that intent done right. It’s sharp, lucid and the angle is fantastic. It’s a location people so often try to capture in a photo, but this one has an inviting luminescence to it. It makes you want to experience the scene in person. It was either good fortune or good talent to have simultaneously established the detail underwater, on land and in the sky. It’s a well-rounded, vibrant photo.

Third Place: “Adrift in Lupine” by Mark Pierson, of Kenai, taken July 6. “I enjoy seeing pieces of history that made the Kenai into what it is today. This is an old mired fishing boat surrounded in beautiful lupine. I can only imagine all the adventures this old boat once saw.”

  • Natasha Ala: The image of the wooden boat is another that shows excellent use of lighting. The lighting on the boat and the purple lupine make the colors pop and contribute to the success of this photo.
  • Joe Kashi: The smooth dark tonalities, particularly of the lupine, in the original image (which, sadly, may not reproduce well in newsprint) attracted me to this photograph. One almost gets a sense of the derelict old boat sailing one last time in a sea of blue lupine.
  • Ray Lee: The lighting is phenomenal. The photographer was either very lucky or very talented to have achieved such a look. And the balance is great. Though the flowers are bold, they don’t outshine the boat, which takes on a more boastful appearance in the entirety of the photo.

Fourth Place: “Beach Bodies” by Vickie Tinker, of Soldotna, was taken July 16 of the Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing team going for a run on the Cook Inlet beach at the end of Cook Inlet View Drive in Kenai.

  • Natasha Ala: This image happily includes people doing something joyful on the beach. Perhaps they are a happy group of set-netters that finally got to put their nets in the water? I’m not sure what, exactly, the subjects are doing or why they’re doing it, but you know this is Alaska and I’ve seen people here do crazy things on the beach. That’s another reason I enjoy this image so much, because it is an example of life being a little different here then it is in most places.
  • Joe Kashi: I was attracted to this photo by its sense of abundant life and high energy. It’s also a good example of how backlighting can sometimes be very effective and dramatic. I would have preferred that the photo be slightly brighter without losing its sky detail, but there’s only so much you can do with a cellphone’s small-sensor camera function. Given that it’s a cellphone photo, though, it’s quite usable.

Fifth Place: “Spring Hoops, Alaska Style” was taken April 10 in Kenai by Pete Snow, of Kenai.

  • Natasha Ala: This was my personal favorite image of all those submitted. To me this image truly depicts what life is really like here on the Kenai. The image fell a little short in use of composition, lighting and color, but is close in all regards and the vibrancy of the moment captured makes it a true winner to me.
  • Joe Kashi: This photo shouts exuberant life and youthfulness to me, playing basketball during a snowstorm. I also like the punctuation of the red jacket and basketball against the otherwise monochromatic scene.

Honorable mentions:

“River Ice” shows Mount Redoubt through a hole in the ice, taken by John J. Vargo, of Soldotna, in April on the beach at the mouth of the Kasilof River.

“Russian Orthodox Church,” taken in Ninilchik by Jan Mishin, of Soldotna.

  • Joe Kashi: This photo is a good example of how selective focus can be very useful. The foreground flowers are very sharp, and that sharpness commands primary attention. However, the softly out-of-focus church in the background provides both context and a nice counterpoint. If the church were sharply in focus, it would have overwhelmed the flowers, rather than complemented them. The quality of the out-of-focus areas is often defined by the term “bokeh.” When trying for very shallow depth of focus, it’s usually best to use a large-sensor camera and a longer focal-length magnification. Small-sensor cameras use shorter focal-length lenses, which do not blur the background nearly as effectively.

“Russian Orthodox Church” was taken by Clark Fair, of Sterling, in Ninilchik on April 27, showing the church in Ninilchik and Mount Iliamna beyond.

  • Ray Lee: This photo is contrasted, darkened and desaturated, humbling a particularly bold scene in an artistically successful way. It reduces a potentially looming and overwhelming sight to something you feel comfortable with. It’s like taming a beast, and it has a homey feel to it. The content is well-placed and has a naturally reflective essence. I like that it’s not an imposing image, that you can easily detect the sensations of the scene but don’t feel as though you’re being thrown into it.

“Heart Grandma,” taken by Barbara Waters, of Kenai, of her grandkids JessiAnna McDonald, 14, and Mickinzie Ticknor, 12, and their sandy artwork on the Kenai beach May 25.

  • Joe Kashi: Although the bare trees tell us that it’s not yet warm weather, the heart in the sand and shivering swimmer make this photo a wonderful family memory.

“Walk this way” was taken near Anchor Point in May by Michael Fastabend, of Soldotna.

“Beach Grasses,” taken off the end of Cannery Road south of Kenai in July, by Michael Fastabend, of Soldotna.

“Mount Spurr” was taken July 31 from the North Road by Linda Fox, of Soldotna

  • Joe Kashi: I’m a sucker for fireweed in all of its changing colors. I mostly like the rising and dipping band of brilliant color in the middle of the photo.

“Fireweed Ridge” was taken by Mark Pierson, of Kenai, on July 31, near the Kenai Dock. “Spectacular fireweed blankets the landscape all over the Kenai. I welcome its arrival every summer. It coats the countryside in hues of pink and purple. Here, I used a flash to illuminate the flowers against the evening sky.”

  • Ray Lee: The lighting in this image demonstrates proper contrasting, where it not only makes the colors appear more vibrant, it sharpens the textures and tastefully defines each object within the image. And even without the contrasting, every object is visibly distinguished and appealingly placed. I especially enjoy this photo because it’s not obvious what time of day it is. It’s a tricky lighting, to which I again say well done. Even the contrasting in the sky is detailed and artfully distributed, a feat that many photographers find difficulty in establishing a satisfying balance.

“Whitewash Flower” was taken by Mark Pierson, of Kenai, of fireweed close to the Kenai Dock. “The prevalent and persistent fireweed adds a great deal to the splendor of the Kenai. Fireweed is also a wonderful subject to photograph. Here, I took a picture of some fireweed, then took a picture of the same fireweed’s shadow on a white screen. I put the two pictures together in the computer, making an interesting composite.”

  • Joe Kashi: Usually, I’m not particularly attracted to significantly manipulated photos, but this one is well done and has a nice sense of semiabstraction to it.
  • Ray Lee: I took a liking to this one the longer I examined it. I’m still not entirely certain what makes the colors appear as they are in the reality of the photo, and that’s what interested me. It’s ideal for an artist to present something that makes an observer wonder. There are obviously many types of wonder, but in this particular image, it’s born from obscurity. The color is intermittent, as though it was singled out in certain places, and the geometry makes for an interesting spectacle.

“Sharing Secrets” of a mama moose and yearling calf was taken Oct. 8 in a front yard on Cannery Road, in Kenai, by David Reese, of Kenai.

  • Ray Lee: The clarity in this image is phenomenal. It’s sharp and the colors are balanced and even. Though there’s no blur, which I also found amazing, an instant of definite movement was captured. It is a simple subject and the action isn’t esoteric, but it’s like a heartbeat — so much definition and intent. It’s not a photo that will enrapture you if you’re simply browsing, but will pull you in if you analyze every fraction of the textures and contrast. There are so many colors the anxious eye won’t register if you don’t stop to look, because they’re all natural pastels. But what makes this photo particularly outstanding is that you can appreciate the sheer abundance of detail with a single glimpse. It makes you want to look closer.

“Good Morning, Mr. Winter,” shows an early dusting of snow and hoarfrost on trees along the Sterling Highway, taken by David Reese, of Kenai, Oct. 23.

  • Ray Lee: The geometry in the scenery is great. The highlights and shadows are well-placed and proportioned. It’s not too dark or too bright. It almost elicits an amalgamation of serenity and anxiety. If you place yourself within the scene, the sounds are muffled and few, but you feel like something’s watching you from the shadows. It just depends on how deep you immerse yourself in this image. With scenery photographs such as this, it’s recommended to place yourself within that scene and see what you get out of it.

“Reach” was taken in May at Captain Cook State Park by Jennifer Brannen-Nelson, of Soldotna.

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