Local photographer Ellie Brown was recently awarded first place at the Bethesda International Photography Competition for her submission, entitled “Emily and Zach.” The photograph depicts a girl in a facemask standing in the foreground and a boy in the background, leaning against a counter and looking at her.
The competition was hosted at the Bethesda, Md. branch of the Fraser Gallery, which also has a location in Washington, D.C.
This is the second year the competition has taken place, said Catriona Fraser, who owns the gallery. Before that, it was part of a larger competition which included all forms of art and was held at the gallery’s original location in Washington.
About 240 photographers entered the competition, according to Fraser, who said that the number was typical to past years.
Winners were selected by William F. Stapp, an independent contractor and appraiser of photographs who served as the National Portrait Gallery’s first curator of photographs. Fraser explained that the competition tries to bring in prestigious jurors every year, so that an award will help bolster the award recipients’ reputations.
“We try to find a juror who will be meaningful to the photographers,” Fraser said.
Brown’s photograph was selected as one of 41 photographs to be featured at the gallery’s art show. In addition to first place, prizes were also awarded for best of show, second and third places, and three honorable mentions. Brown’s award includes a $200 cash prize, display at the competition’s art show, and invitations to future shows and events, Fraser said.
According to Stapp, the element in Brown’s photograph that struck him was that there was an implied story behind it. He said that the photograph was part of a series of photographs Brown submitted which “were like observed moments,” adding that “there was a sense of something happening.”
What especially struck Stapp, however, was the ambiguity as to what exactly it was that was happening. He said that this conjured up a “viewer-generated” story.
According to Brown, the photograph is of one her sisters, Emily, and her brother Zach. It was taken after Emily’s bat-mitzvah but before the bat-mitzvah party and depicts Emily’s preparations for the party.
“For me, the interest was her statue-esq pose and the grooming ritual of the facemask, with the boy in the background,” Brown explained.
Fraser said that Stapp, whose decision was completely independent from Fraser or the gallery, chose pieces that she would not have usually exhibited. She described Stapp’s choices as more documentary-styled than photographs she usually displays.
“It’s not the type of photographs that we’d usually have in the gallery,” Fraser said, adding that she was very pleased at the variation that the competition affords her gallery.
Stapp said that all of the photographs he judged demonstrated “superior technical quality,” but added that he found some more meaningful than others. He said that he did not have specific, quantifiable criteria for photographs, but that he looked for those that struck him as having special “strength” or “resonance.”
“To me, the superior photographs at the competition were the ones that did express and exploit the medium the photographer used,” Stapp explained.
He said that photographers each submitted multiple works, which he considered together in context, but that he did not have any theme in mind for the competition as a whole. Fraser, however, said she did notice a certain trend in Stapp’s decisions.
“Clearly, he went for the works where you have to take a second look,” she said, noting that one might not notice at first glance that Emily is wearing a facemask.
Brown will be part of a panel discussion today at the Johnson Museum of Art entitled “Re-visioning Women’s Bodies: Three Points of View.” She said that “Emily and Zach” is a part of a series she has made which examines pre-adolescent girls and that the theme will be elaborated on in the panel discussion.
Archived article by Yuval Shavit
Sun Staff Writer