Focus ’17: Black and white is a winner

Black and white appears to be making a comeback in photography. At least that was the case at the Wilton Arts Council’s Focus ’17 photography competition where black and white photos took best of show and first place in the adult division, with many other submissions also of that genre.

“Black and white was the real winner tonight,” said international photographer Daryl Hawk, one of the contest’s judges. Mystery, power, and timelessness are some of the qualities it can add to a photo, he said.

His fellow judges, Lisa Schneider, last year’s best of show winner, and professional photographer Dave Pressler, agreed.

“It adds more emotion,” Schneider said.

“It makes you concentrate more on the image. There is less distraction so you can focus solely on the subject,” Pressler said, adding it can add a “film noir” mood.

Best of show was awarded to Sandy Gennrich of Stamford for her photo, Stata Center. First place winners were:

  • Adults: Robert Sachs of Norwalk for Girl in wheels, Varanasi.

  • High School: Thomas Bogaev of Weston for Hungry.

  • Youth: Amanda Prather of Wilton for 33rd Lex Lights.

The show attracted 105 photographers from Connecticut and New York who submitted 174 photos. They are on display at Wilton Library through March 30. Prizes were awarded during a reception on March 10.

Gennrich’s photo is of the Ray and Maria Stata Center on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass., designed by architect Frank Gehry.

“I’m a big fan of his work,” Gennrich said. “I was going to Boston for a conference and realized my hotel was only a mile away … I packed my camera gear, took the train, and hoped for enough clouds to do a long exposure shot.”

She knew the exact shot she wanted, but her train was late and the clouds were disappearing when she arrived at her hotel. She raced down the street before the light disappeared.

“To get the streaks in the sky requires a longer exposure time,” she explained. She set up her camera, checked the exposure, and managed to get just three shots off before the light and clouds went away.

“This was the third shot,” she said of the image she entered, which required an exposure of about three minutes. “I knew I wanted a whimsical piece of architecture with a long exposure and motion of the clouds to give it some interest, instead of being a static shot.”

When asked about shooting it in color she said she did not think it would be as strong.

“It would have just been a metallic building against a blue sky with a white cloud,” she said.

Schneider was impressed with the perspective Gennrich took and Hawk complimented the tonal quality.

“The composition is wonderful,” Pressler said. “It’s very cutting edge.”

Despite getting just what she wanted, Gennrich said she was surprised and honored to be awarded best of show, which she also won at Focus ’14.

“Looking at the other images that placed and won honorable mentions, I think the judges had a tough decision,” the part-time professional photographer said. “There are a handful of photography shows that I very much enjoy participating in. Focus is one of them. I like that it has student and amateur work that’s also displayed.”

Hawk commented on the strength of the show, particularly the youth and high school divisions. “Ninety-five percent of the works didn’t get a ribbon, but that doesn’t mean they are not great,” he said.

Twelve-year-old Amanda Prather, a student at Middlebrook, took her first-place shot in Manhattan in January.

“My dad and I were just out walking and he said if I see something cool I should take a picture,” she said.

They were walking back from dinner at a restaurant and she was trying to catch a shot of the Empire State Building. “It was all cloudy and the fog kept hiding it,” she said. Then as the fog finally cleared she snapped it with her Nexus Google phone.

“I like the bright colors and how the glare comes off the stoplight,” she said.

“The composition is very mature for such a young person,” Schneider said of Amanda’s work.

Pressler agreed, saying “the Empire State Building is in black and white and pulls you right in through the canyons.”

“Everything leads you to the focal point,” Schneider added.

Wilton resident Isabelle Stone, a junior at St. Luke’s School, took third place with her moody image, Her Home. It was shot at sunset on Martha’s Vineyard, with the light streaming through a window as her friend reclined on a bed.

Isabelle, who took third place with an unusual portrait at Focus ’15, said what she liked best about the picture was the lighting.

“I like shooting at sunset, the golden hour,” she said. Isabelle, who has been entering the competition since seventh grade, said she mostly shoots portraits, but is trying to branch out to landscapes and other types of photos.

This is the arts council’s 19th photo exhibition and it was co-chaired by Beth Schneider and Anne Djupedal Gura, who said entries hit the 4,000-photo mark this year.

Sponsors were Alice Snyder Real Estate, Beardsley Traveling Art Framer, Milford Photo, Photographic Solutions LLC, and Rockwell Art and Framing. Reception entertainment was provided by David Arrazinni, Dennis Hyde, and Martha Lind.