Picture of artistry — Subtle shapes show what it takes in quality photography

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

The Redoubt Reporter’s dual 2015 photography contests parallel the two major, occasionally divergent, strands in current photography — documentation and art. These photo contests are the result of a collaboration between the Redoubt Reporter, Soldotna’s new ARTSpace fine arts group, the city of Soldotna, Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, Soldotna Rotary Club and Kenai Peninsula College.

We welcomed entries from nonprofessional photographers and awarded cash prizes for first, second and third place in both photo contests, and also for a single image entry in the Fine Art category.
During the first century of its existence as a practical technology, photography concentrated almost solely upon documenting people, places and events, preserving that information for history. Any artistic merit was largely a secondary byproduct of documentation. Slowly, in the 1930s and 1940s, and then more rapidly, photography became a fine art in its own right, appreciated for its ability to provide a much broader, more democratic opportunity for everyone to express themselves personally and artistically.

In some ways, the artistic potential of digital photography is unique and distinctive, providing a more spontaneous, true-to-life depiction of our daily lives and the world around us. What’s required is not so much the equipment used, but the ability to quickly discern and capture strong images and the ability to later curate a large mass of images, selecting and post-processing only the best.

Fine Art Contest

This year’s Fine Art contest winners show that ability to see the unique in daily life and to capture it through a set of consistent photographs, a “body of work” that explores an idea or technique more fully through several related images. Due to space limitations, only a few images from each winning submission can be shown, but you’ll have an opportunity to see them more closely soon in a variety of new settings. Stay tuned.

In the Fine Art portion of the 2015 photo contests, first place winner Thomas Minelga’s images of smoke drifting upward against a dark background appears highly abstract at first glance. However, it’s an accurate depiction of a real situation, done very elegantly, with careful attention to simplicity and line. The subtle tonal quality is visibly better than what newsprint can reproduce.

Wade Wahrenbrock’s second-place entry, “Harpa at Sunset,” likewise appears highly abstract in its composition and use of color but, again, is an accurate rendering of a real building toward sunset. The building’s repeating shapes and Wahrenbrock’s use of intense natural color result in a gorgeous set of images. I’m sure that many more images were captured than submitted, and the quality of their submissions reflect good judgment by both photographers in choosing their best work.
Sue Biggs’ paint rollers and high school junior Liam Floyd’s close-up images of frosted surfaces are less abstract in mood and more obviously documentary, yet still hold attention because their close-up perspective again sees and depicts real situations in a distinctive way that transcends what we typically “see” in our usual quick, superficial glances.

Our judges were Cam Choy, associate professor of art at Kenai Peninsula College, Nathan Nash, adjunct professor of art at KPC, myself and my kid, Ray Lee, a UAF third-year student whose photos have often been accepted into statewide juried photo exhibits.

Local attorney Joe Kashi received degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. He has published articles about computer technology, law practice and digital photography in national media since 1990. Many of his articles can be accessed through his website, http://www.kashilaw.com.

Fine Art Body of Work

  • 1st place — “Ethereal Forms,” Thomas Minelga, $200 prize.
  • 2nd place — “Harpa at Sunset,” Wade Wahrenbrock, $100 prize.
  • 3rd place — “Frost Among Giants,” Liam Floyd, $50 prize.
  • Honorable Mention — Sue Lee.
  • Best Single Image (excluding images included in the first- through third-place bodies of work) — “Paint Rollers,” Sue Biggs, $100 prize.

Thomas Minelga, “Ethereal Forms” —

Thomas Minelga currently lives in Anchorage and works for the state of Alaska as an accounting technician. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in film production from Biola University in 2008, and while he ultimately chose not to pursue a career in film, his education led him to take up photography as a lifelong hobby.

“Ethereal Forms”

Having grown up in Alaska, I’ve spent my fair share of time sitting around a campfire. I remember as a child being mesmerized by smoke transforming itself into a variety of complex shapes, only to be dissipated seconds later. Those memories inspired me to try and capture those ethereal forms, which, like snowflakes, are unique and never the same. I used a single stick of incense to provide a consistent and controlled source of smoke without the need for an open flame in a darkened room with only a simple desk lamp as a light source.

My equipment consisted of a Nikon D5100 with a Micro Nikkor 60-mm lens shooting between 1/160 to 1/250 shutter speed at f/7.1 to f/11 aperture. No tripod was used, so I could quickly reposition myself and the lamp around the constantly shifting stream of smoke. I was very pleased with the variety of forms I was able to capture.

Wade Wahrenbrock, “Harpa at Sunset” —

Wade Wahrenbrock is a forester with Kenai Peninsula Borough, and previously a North Slope worker. He has been accepted into many Rarified Light statewide juried fine art photography competition/exhibits.

“Harpa at Sunset”

Harpa is the namesake for the concert hall and convention center in Reykjavik, Iceland. My flight to Reykjavik was an all-night trip, arriving early morning July 11. Touring through the city that day, I was intrigued by Harpa’s architecture. Some glass panels reflected light like small pieces of ice.

By late evening I kept noticing the strong evening sunset and thinking about how this might play out on the glass exterior of this structure. Although tired from a long travel day and jet lag, at about 11 p.m. I set out on a trek across the city to see the light on this glass building. Surprisingly, the building was still open to the public, and these images were my reward.

My equipment included a Nikon D-800 camera with a Nikkor 24- to 120-mm zoom lens. Only a modest amount of digital post-processing was used on these images.

Liam Floyd, “Frost Among Giants”

Liam Floyd is a junior at Kenai Central High School and an emerging photographer in the Kenai-Soldotna area.

“Frost Among Giants”

I am inspired by thought-provoking and visually stimulating images. I have rather eclectic tastes and find interest in many forms of photography. I have a passion for macro photography, in particular, and a strong desire to capture a realm smaller than our own. When I was shooting “Frost Among Giants,” I looked at the frost granules as though they were people and thought about how I could relate the images to real-life situations and instances.

Fine Art — “La Popa Monastery” by Susan Lee

Fine Art — “La Popa Monastery” by Susan Lee

Susan Lee — Susan Lee was born in California but moved to Alaska in 1969. She considers that more than enough time to be considered a true Alaskan. She attends Kenai Peninsula College and is set to graduate with her associate of applied science degree in digital art in spring 2016. She has traveled to many areas in the world but still has many more on her long list of places to visit. One of her current portfolios is titled “Globe Trotter” and showcases some of her images taken during her travels. She calls one of her other recent works “Vectography,” combining photography with vector graphic images. This artistic style combines realism and fantasy in a colorful and fun way. Most days you can find Sue outside with her camera or at her desk, cursor in hand, designing in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

“La Popa Monastery”

My photographic works become a part of me — my past, present and future. I have always been fascinated with capturing an alternative view. What some may see as ordinary, I see as extraordinary. When photographing the view from La Popa Monastery in Cartagena, Columbia, one might think I would have focused on images of the architecture or the artifacts within La Popa’s walls. I found the view outside the walls more interesting, the city and birds that beckoned in the early morning fog.

Fine Art — 

Fine Art — “Rollers” by Sue Biggs

Sue Biggs — Sue Biggs is a retired music teacher and community musician currently dabbling in the art of photography. Her work has been accepted into several statewide shows, and she just had a solo show, “The Art of Personalities.” The painting implements in “Rollers” were captured when working on sets for Nikiski High School’s production of “The Sound of Music.”

Picture Greater Soldotna

The documentary photo contest, Picture Greater Soldotna, sought striking images of the people, recreational opportunities and daily life in the Soldotna area. You’ll likely see some of these images in the near future on banners hung along Soldotna’s highways, on city and chamber of commerce websites, and in their promotional literature. It’s worth noting that Minelga also won first place in this documentary category for his image of several moored float planes at dawn, demonstrating nicely that documentary and promotional photographs benefit from a fine art flair that makes such photographs much more attractive and effective.

  • 1st place — “Start of an Adventure,” Thomas Minelga, $200 prize.

  • 2nd place — “Centennial Campground,” Shun Adachi, $100 prize.
  • 3rd place — “Sunset over the Kenai River,” Brian Moore,  $50 prize.
  • Honorable Mention — “Moose,” Sue Biggs.
  • Also Recognized— “Eagle,” by Sue Lee.

The Redoubt Reporter and photo contest organizers and judges thank all who participated. As always, the most impressive element of these photo contests is how many talented photographers live and photograph in the Kenai Peninsula. Keep shooting!

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