A boy with haunting eyes, a Russian girl spinning yarn in slanted light, vivid sunsets, moody sunrises, a flower petal zoomed in on to create a landscape of veins and droplets — languid dreams and visual punch lines covered eight vibrant walls in the exhibition tent at the 2011 Northern Gila County Fair.
Judging the photographs, Payson Roundup editor Tom Brossart gave each photo his undivided attention. Brossart has taken photos professionally for more than 30 years.
He received his original training under James Mancuso, who was his photography instructor at the Gephardt Institute of Art in Cincinnati. Mancuso was a portrait, wedding and commercial photographer with studios at various times in New York, Hollywood and then Cincinnati.
Brossart’s mentor started him out carrying heavy equipment in hot, humid summers to take wedding photos.
Only someone who loves the art would continue after that apprenticeship.
Brossart now teaches photography at Gila Community College in addition to his work at the paper. He had no idea if any of the photos came from former students.
“The names were hidden from me. I simply judged the photos,” said Brossart.
Four classes of photographers, juniors (aged 17 and below), seniors (aged 70 and above), amateurs and professionals entered up to 10 color or black and white photographs.
Greg McKelvey, a member of the Rim Country Camera Club, volunteered to help with the exhibit.
A geologist by trade, McKelvey started making photos in earnest five years ago when he worked for a photographer in town.
“I bought a Rebel. When you bought a camera at Ritz back then, lessons came with it,” said McKelvey.
He now takes Arizona Highways photo trips with his wife to hone skills for their hobby.
This year his wife won a Grand Champion ribbon for her black and white photo of a cowboy and his hat in the amateur division.
McKelvey explained what he felt made a good photograph:
“See how in this photo the foreground accentuates the Grand Canyon?” said McKelvey.
Other traits he likes include the “rule of thirds” and cropping the photo so that if a subject stares into space, the photo gives the eye room to move off where the subject looks.
Most photographers use Photoshop or some other imaging software to enhance the color and shadows of their photos, “… just like Ansel Adams did in the darkroom,” said McKelvey.
As the years have progressed at the fair, organizers have expanded the photography categories to encourage creativity.
The themes of pictures entered could be of nature, the man-made world, the human condition or a different way of seeing, which included night shots of city lights, abstracts or digital manipulation.
Some of the photos stood out, even to the untrained eye.
A close up of flowers looked so real, one could see the veins in the petals.
Another photograph of a young boy emphasized his eyes so that the viewer felt like they were falling in. Another captured the intensity of a Russian girl spinning yarn in the ethereal light of the early morning.
Each photo that won a blue ribbon told a story.
The organizers also wanted to support the juniors who felt bold enough to enter, so each junior photographer received a ribbon.
However, by the time Brossart came around to the professional photographers, the blue ribbons were few and far between, said McKelvey.
Rounding a corner of photographs, Brossart continued to judge, “Red, blue, red, blue, white …” he said as a volunteer quickly marked the correct color on the tag.
Brossart moved onto the next category.
“Now I’ll look at the black and white amateur photos.”
Brossart stares at a photo, “Blue,” he says before moving onto the next photograph.