Winning photos in Wilton contest display strength

WILTON — Although Wilton Library is closed right now, the ribbons have been awarded for the Focus ’20 photography exhibition that has been extended until April 24 in the hopes the library’s doors will open before then.

Presented by the Wilton Arts Council, this year’s event drew 199 entries from 116 photographers — 86 adults, 13 high school students and 13 youths representing 21 cities and towns in Connecticut and New York.

Selected as best of show was “Fortitude,” a sepia-toned closeup of a dahlia submitted by Amy Bates-Garone of Danbury, which judge Daryl Hawk described as “a perfect example of a photo with everything you look for: uniqueness of concept, truly original, clarity of expression — in my opinion, very creative and it had the wow factor.

“When I say wow factor, first it had beautiful technical quality combined with emotional impact,” the adventure photographer said. “It drew an emotional response from me. That’s the key for what rises to the top.”

Primarily a flower photographer, Bates-Garone said she usually shoots at an angle looking at the texture and curves of the petals, but this particular flower — a dinner-plate dahlia — “was just so gorgeous the way it was that’s how I photographed it and printed it.” The flower was yellow with red tips but she decided to print it with a sepia tone.

“I was able to acquire some beautiful dahlias from a flower farm — Sweet Earth Co. — in Pound Ridge, N.Y., owned by Xenia DeAmbrosia,”Bates-Garon explained. “This particular flower had so much expression and ultimately changing the overall piece to a sepia tone was unusual for me because it was such a beautiful image in color.

“Xenia had explained to me that farmers call the last stage of dahlias in the field — when the frost turns the leaves black — dead soldiers. So in this final image, while petals were literally falling from the stem as I was photographing it, became ‘Fortitude.’”

While she took a few darkroom classes in college, Bates-Garon, an admirer of Ansel Adams’ lesser-known works “Dogwood Blossoms” and “Rose and Driftwood,” is mostly self-taught.

Years later, she said, “a dear friend, who is now my husband, asked me to take images for a book he would write about shrines, religion and the people in India and Nepal. So in 2014, I found myself on a ghat, next to a cow, watching Hindu rituals that I had only read about during my studies at ASU —never imagining I would see that part of the world, in that way. It was a truly enriching experience.”

Black and white

Another photo with the wow factor Hawk was looking for is “NYC Easter Parade 2019” by Robert Sachs of Norwalk. This black and white photo of a little girl clowning around at the annual event earned Sachs a fourth-place ribbon.

While he has made many trips to India and Vietnam, where he says it’s easy to photograph people, Sachs said that’s not true in New York. At age 80, traveling into the city is still a big deal for him and when you have a festival like the Easter Parade, “people want to be photographed,” he said.

He was about to leave the event when he saw the girl dancing around. With her mother nearby, he asked her to stop, he wanted to get a photo of her and the buildings.

“Just as I’m taking the picture, a guy is riding by on a bicycle and shouts, ‘You just made your day!’

“Some pictures you take and people really love them but they’re not your favorite, but this is one I really like,” Sachs said.

So did Hawk, who said, “It’s something we hadn’t seen before and the black and white was exquisite,” he said. “There’s something about black and white that really grabs you a little more than color. That picture succeeded in every way possible … it definitely had emotional impact.”

Hawk said there were quite a few winning black and white images this year. “There were just some really striking images that had the wow factor that all ended up being black and white,” he said.

Sachs entered a second shot in the contest — a landscape of a man walking along a path at Bell Island in Rowayton that won an honorable mention. He likes black and white — although there are plenty of color shots on his Instagram page ( — for the texture it brings out.

“I tend to default to black and white because I’m an old guy,” he said with a laugh. “I come from a period when all my heroes were black and white.”


While it’s not a black and white photo, the subjects of “We’ve got your back” are. They are zebras and the photo earned Wilton photographer Joyce Andersen a fifth-place ribbon.

Hawk said wildlife is a familiar subject in the Focus exhibitions but this one “is a perfect example of originality.” He especially liked the way it was composed.

Andersen explained how she got the shot and how she cropped it. It was taken two summers ago in South Africa while she was on safari. Their truck had stopped to repair a flat tire.

A herd of zebra crossed the road in front of them “and gathered around this zebra,” she said, noting the animal had a big gash. “They were looking at us furiously as if to say, ‘what are you doing here?’”

She originally printed the photo showing the zebra’s wound, but after receiving comments from other judges and photographers she cropped it out.

“To me it’s a different photo,” she said, “but the name evokes the idea that the others are protecting him.”

Andersen travels a lot and that’s when she does most of her picture taking. But she has also gotten into sports photography and she was scheduled to shoot the NCAA Division III women’s competition until it was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

She has a large body of work but has not found the time to make it public. The mother of five sons, she does a lot of volunteer work for St. Luke’s School in New Canaan and Filling in the Blanks in Norwalk, which provides backpacks of food for children to take home from school for the weekend.

Taking care of community brought her back to the photo.

“When I cropped out that wound, that photo was now appealing,” she said. “It was disturbing. To me, that was the photo. Now it looks like a National Geographic photo but before it was real life.

“They’re all wounded animals but how do they survive?” she said. “They have families just like we do. That’s what I was trying to capture, they were really kind of sheltering him. You can see that in the way the guys on his back are looking right at me.”

Receiving awards were:

Best of Show: “Fortitude” by Amy Bates-Garon of Danbury.

Adult Division:

 1st Place — “Death Valley” by Edward Simmons of Danbury.

 2nd Place — “Elephant Tough” by Ronald Lake of Stamford.

 3rd Place — “What You ‘Steering’ At” by Erik Landegren of Bridgewater.

 4th Place — “NYC Easter Parade 2019” by Robert Sachs of Norwalk.

 5th Place — “We’ve Got Your Back” by Joyce Andersen of Wilton.

Honorable mentions: “Fleeing in the Sand” by Nancy Breakstone of Westport, “Wings” by Margaret Harris of Norwalk, “On the Road, Bagan, Myanmar” and “Young Monk” by Emily Kelting of Norwalk, “A Splash of Red” by Erik Landegren of Bridgewater, “Misty Morning at the Farm, Grace Farms, New Canaan” by Danielle Pearson of Weston, “Bell Island Memories” by Robert Sachs of Norwalk, and “Deep Red” and “Before the Storm” by Sergio Villaschi of Warren.

High School Division:

 1st Place — “Between Water and Land” by Harrison Gordon of Fairfield.

 2nd Place — “Night Eye” by Connor Golden of Weston.

 3rd Place — “Pathway” by Connor Golden of Weston.

Honorable mentions: “Blue” by Sarah Case of Wilton, “Backstage” by Emma Scanlan of Bedford, N.Y. “Sunny Days” by Audrey Maco of Shelton, and “Vortex” by Amanda Prather of Wilton.

Youth Division (through eighth grade):

 1st Place — “Mid Air” by Jack Ericson of New Canaan.

 2nd Place — “One of Many” by Damien Pichardo of Ridgefield.

 3rd Place — “Love This Book” by Lyla Micola of Redding.

Honorable mentions: “Rhode Island Grandeur” by Cashier Brooks of Ridgefield, “Galapagos Girl” by Callie Harper of Stamford, and “Peck, Peck!” by Ella Loughran of Wilton.

In judging the photographs, Hawk was joined by Focus ’19 Best of Show winner Jacquelyn Etling of Trumbull, and Wilton artist and photographer Joyce Seymore.

Two mosaic photos of Zita Mercurio, who was an active member of the Wilton Arts Council and a member of the Focus organizing committee from the beginnings of the photography exhibitions, are on view “in memorium” as she lost her battle with cancer on April 26, 2019, at age 89.