The irreverent, sub rosa story behind my recent fair submissions.
The Sonoma County Fair is going on now, and for the third year in a row, my photography has won ribbons in the competitive exhibition. In 2015, I won first place in the amateur story sequence class. Last year, I won first place in the advanced amateur black and white division, portrait class. This year I took third in the advanced amateur black and white division, portrait class, but took home the blue ribbon for the amateur mixed media division, portrait class in the fine arts category!
I had never entered a fine arts competition before. In fact, the piece I entered was my final project for an intro to art and design class I took this spring at Santa Rosa Junior College, taught by Donna Larsen. I had seen her colorful circumspect abstract works in a gallery once and was so moved, that when I learned she teaches art right where I live, I was determined to take her class, even if I had to cut back hours at work! The piece is a cubist-inspired self-portrait that I mixed all the colors for. I finally got toning down by the end of the semester. Mz. Larsen, as she likes to be called, once told me something like I must like psychedelia, because I love using vivid colors. She's right! Though I do not use psychedelics, for the record!
The photo that won third place this year is of my parish priest holding a palm branch during the Palm Sunday procession on April 9th of this year. He knew of my photography pursuits and asked if I would shoot Palm Sunday Mass for an international liturgical blog called New Liturgical Movement. (My photos are captioned with "Cathedral of St. Eugene.") I jumped at the opportunity. I am a documentarian, after all. It's easy enough to document live music (my favorite subject!), but to document an event that even some priests consider inappropriate to photograph... I'm all about being inappropriate! As the inappropriate and irreverent artist and reverent Catholic Andy Warhol once said, "Art is what you can get away with." Thank you Rev. Jeffrey Keyes for letting me get away with shooting the mass!
This black and white portrait, however, I chose not to submit to the international blog with the other photos. A month later in May I quietly entered this photo in the Day Under the Oaks photography exhibit, an annual outdoor exhibit, literally under the oaks on the Santa Rosa Junior College campus. It was a rather sub rosa premiere, if you will. I wanted to show this piece, but not in a big-time way. I wanted to present it to the community, my community, my town, first at Day Under the Oaks, then maybe at the Sonoma County Fair, I thought. Although what this image represents is catholic (which derives from the Greek words for "universal" or "all-embracing"), and having the image first be seen by the world on an international blog (a Catholic one no less), would seem apropos, the image is intimate, and I wanted to share it in a more intimate way: in person, not digitally, to my community. (Now I share it to you, wherever in the world you may be! Thank you for reading!) Even if most people didn't get it or even walked by, maybe some would pause to look. I love art for that reason: it's an invitation to pause, observe, reflect--necessities of the human heart that cannot be ignored or reduced to the theoretical. "The heart is not a theoretical premise, but an existential one. In other words, it is at work, but its nature must be brought to light and recognized," says Julian Carron. And I think art helps facilitate this.
What makes this piece more meaningful for me is the fact that as I got up that Palm Sunday morning, I read a news report online of terrorist attacks that killed dozens at two Coptic churches in Cairo just hours before. This emboldened me to take up my camera as a nun would take up her rosary: a loving, devout gesture with a dash of defiance--at least as I see it--in solidarity with Christians in terrorist affected countries throughout the world who bravely enter their sanctuaries for worship, knowing the risks. I see these people as examples of what it means to live the Christian faith. Here I can go to church without fear of being killed. The fact that they go faithfully, knowing the risk, bowls me over. If they were going to mass just to get some piece of bread that symbolized Christ, and check church off the list, I would think them pretty insane. And most American Catholics are, no offense. But their dogged faith is grounded, not in symbolism, but it the actual presence of Christ, and in some way, I hope my photos, or painting, no matter the subject, depict that.
So on that theological tangent, go to your local county fair! Support your local artists, your local agriculturalists, and get yourself some cotton candy, or fried cookie dough if you're county fair is that cool!
Pointing to my first place self-portrait next to another beautiful portrait.
I just noticed my red bangs and thought of the color of the priest's vestments for Palm Sunday, which is red. Red vestments are also used to represent feasts of the martyrs.
A Latin title. I am quite nerdy.
My 2016 entry, a portrait I took as a volunteer photographer for New York Encounter, an annual culture festival in New York City.
My first photography competition ever! 2014! These photos document the band The Dollhouses backstage getting ready for a show.