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Thursday, March 31, 2016 12:11 am

Images of Illinois

Fifth annual photography contest winners

BEST IN SHOW and Amateur – People FIRST PLACE “Final Act”


The annual contest sponsored by Illinois Times and Prairie Art Alliance, now operated by the Springfield Art Association, to find the most captivating Images of Illinois continues. This year’s submissions led jurors along the sidewalks and into the skyscrapers of the Windy City, down the Giant Slide at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, around the barns and buildings dotting our prairie landscape and deep into the floodplains of southern Illinois’ Horseshoe Lake.

This year’s contest yielded 277 eligible entries (up from 215 in 2015) submitted by 93 photographers in three classes: Professional Adult, Amateur Adult and Youth. Each class was broken into two categories: “Things” and “People and Places.” In order to qualify, photographs had to have been taken within state boundaries of Illinois or upon its waters between Feb. 1, 2015, and March 12, 2016. While the bulk of entries received were submitted by Illinois photographers, contest organizer and Prairie Art Alliance Gallery Director Corrin McWhirter reported submissions from Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Wisconsin, thus recasting Images of Illinois as a national, as opposed to regional, art contest.

Three local professional photographers donated their time and expertise as jurors. The trio spent a mid-March afternoon scoring entries and writing feedback for entrants. The first-place Professional and Amateur winners, plus the “Best in Show” winner, will receive cash prizes, while Youth first-place winners will be awarded gift certificates from CherryBerry and the Springfield Art Association. All winners will receive a photo-quality print of their work, courtesy of PSC Digital, to take home at the conclusion of the corresponding Images of Illinois gallery show March 25-April 21.

277 entries received
by 93 photographers
from six states

For the second year in a row, jurors were wowed by the volume and quality of work submitted to the Amateur “Places and Things” category, which contained 149 photos submitted by 57 photographers. The large number of photos, combined with the broad theme of the category, did not make for easy judging. “That was tough. Sometimes it felt like we were comparing apples to oranges,” remarked one juror, after all photographs in the category had been viewed and discussed (with some photographs receiving several rounds of discussion) and finally scored. The other jurors nodded in agreement. One added, “It can be difficult to compare photographs that show such a high level of potential and creativity against photographs that may be less adventurous in the creative sense, but very [technically] advanced.”

Ultimately, the winning image in the Amateur “Places and Things” category, titled “Barns in the Field,” by Melinda Garner of Mechanicsburg, was a landscape photograph that was beautifully composed, followed the rule of thirds, and offered a unique vantage point on a typical Midwestern scene. Said one judge, “I don’t normally like barn photos, but this image has all the elements of a good photo. It is a powerful image that is impossible to ignore.”

Judges were impressed by the skills and talent brought to the table by the Youth entrants, especially within the “Places and Things” category. Submitted photographs favored the fauna of Illinois as subject matter – squirrels, deer, rabbits, prairie dogs and the like. Kyle Jones of Morton took home the first- and third-place prizes for “Springtime in the Forest” and “Peeking in the Window,” plus one honorable mention for “Dawg.” The jury praised Kyle for having the necessary patience to wait for the right moment to snap the shot, and marveled at the young photographer’s ability to avoid scaring away young, skittish wildlife.

On the whole, jurors found the judging process to be trying, because all submitted images were worth consideration. “There honestly isn’t a bad photo,” remarked one juror during one of the many rounds of debate that occurred on the afternoon of March 16. “There’s no wrong choice. It’s just a matter of getting us all to agree,” voiced another.

There was one image that wowed all the judges. The “Best in Show” award, with its corresponding $300 cash prize, was awarded to a submission from the Amateur People category. The photo, entitled “Final Act,” by Marcia Mahoney of Sandpoint, Idaho, was taken during a recent visit to Chicago. The shot features a haunting black-and-white silhouette of a custodian vacuuming center stage in the ballroom of Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel. According to the photographer, “I looked through the door … to see the custodian silhouetted at center stage. His steady, unhurried movement captured my attention. He was doing his job, the final act of the day, and I was honored to be his audience.”

The public is invited to view the winning photographs on display at the Prairie Art Alliance’s H.D. Smith Gallery in the Hoogland Center for the Arts now through April 21. An opening reception featuring an awards ceremony, a slideshow containing all submitted entries, drinks and hors d’oeuvres, will be held Thursday, March 31, from 5:30-7:30pm. Both the gallery event and the ongoing exhibit are free of charge.  

For more information about the Prairie Art Alliance and the annual Images of Illinois photography contest, visit http://prairieart.org.

Contact Nan Bulli at nbulli@illinoistimes.com.


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