We've concluded the first round of our Reader's Print Offer search. We have five finalists from this round; we'll do two more rounds at some point in the future, looking for four or five finalists from each, and then we'll evaluate prints to determine the pictures in the final sale. Before I present the finalists I'd just like to thank everybody who participated in the first round—the approximately 600 people who submitted pictures, and all 20 semifinalists. Their names have now all been added to their pictures in the original post, so you can now see who took what.
I asked each finalist to write a few words about their photographs. Without further ado, and in no particular order—
Jim Tiemann of Denver, Colorado, is already known to TOP readers from this post (the little guy, if you're curious, is now two years old and thriving). Jim took this remarkable steam engine shot with a Leica M6 TTL and 50mm Summicron in North Platte, Nebraska, in February of 2004, on Ilford XP2 film.
Union Pacific railroad's Challenger class (4-6-6-4) No. 3985 was built in 1943 by the American Locomotive Company (Alco). It measures, with tender, 121 ft. (36.8m) in length and weighs 1.07million lbs. (487,000 kg). She was retired from active use in 1957, and sat unused until 1981, when she was restored to working duty for both excursions and regular freight. Of the 105 Challengers built, there are only two remaining, so it is a small miracle that this one is in service.
The photo was taken on a clear and very cold day. The temperature was about 15°F (–9°C), and windless. The locomotive had a stuck-open cylinder cock, so it was limited in speed as it passed the camera. Also, due to the stuck valve, it was blowing lots and lots of clean steam off the cylinders, which gave a beautiful contrast to the dirtier smoke-filled steam coming off the stack that you see in the upper portion of the image. The still, cold air gave the etherial quality to the billowing steam, as it was not dissipating—it just hung there.
Several readers thought this must have been Photoshopped, and they're partly right—the negative has a small scratch in the area of the train's boiler that has to be fixed. Other than that, it's a natural photograph. I originally assumed the smoke in the upper right must have been burned it, but Jim assures me it's not, and offered to send me the proof sheet to prove it! I took his word for it, of course.
Jim, who is married, is a commercial pilot.
Canadian Kathy Pickard worked long and hard to get this shot, which she took with a Nikon D300 and 18–200mm lens.
"Mosaic" is one of a series of photographs I shot on the eastern shore of the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, Canada. The waters of Georgian Bay are crystal clear, shockingly cold and, on a sunny day, remarkably animate. It took me a number of attempts over several years to make a photograph that I felt properly captured its spirit.
I shot with the Nikon tripod mounted and manually focused, while up to my knees in water. The challenge came in capturing a situation that was simultaneously stationary and dynamic while paring it down to three elements—rock, water, and light.
I'm one of those photographers who don’t feel that my work is done until I am holding the print in my hand. I've been working on improving my technique over the past ten years. I print with an Epson 3800 inkjet printer, with my preferred paper being Hahnemuhle German Etching, a textured matte paper. I've printed "Mosaic" at about 10.5 inches square on 13x19" paper, and it looks great at that size. I'm sure that it would look good in smaller sizes—say 7.5 inches square on 11x14 or 5.5 inches on 8.5x11. For that matter, the resolution would allow it to be printed larger too, though personally I prefer smaller prints.
Kathleen lives in Simcoe, Ontario. Here's her website.
Bernd, a resident of Sherman Oaks, California, made his quiet but pleasing landscape with a Fuji GF670, on color negative film. It's part of a series he made this last summer on a road trip through California with a good friend—the full series is called "American Road Trip" and can be viewed on his website.
I would like to say the following to my peers: I truly appreciate all the feedback my photograph has received in the Comments section on TOP. It is very valuable to see how people read my work and that some have such a positive emotional response to it, which is something that is difficult to know when you are making or submitting a photograph.
Some inspiration for this and a lot of my photographs comes from the poetry of William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens, which describes everyday things and places and reminds me to see and enjoy them more consciously. This particular photograph is untitled because I felt that any title I could give it would put too much emphasis on only one aspect of the composition rather than the photograph as a whole. That being said, Mike's descriptive title "Road with Telephone Pole" works just fine.
As far as a print is concerned, I would appreciate some input from others. I will probably print on 17x22 Baryta paper with archival ink if a smaller and more affordable size is the way to go. Otherwise I will experiment with some larger inkjet and lightjet prints with my local lab.
I hope that my photograph will prove to be one that grows on the viewer more as time passes.
Leigh, of Sydney, Australia, shot his minimalist masterpiece with an Ebony 45SU 4x5-inch view camera on Fuji Astia, his favorite transparency film, under "glorious fluorescent lighting."
The commenters who speculated that my photograph was a joke were right. It was conceived as a pun on the minimal seascapes I had taken before it. The idea gradually formed itself while I stood for a couple of minutes each day waiting for my car to come out of a car stacker. I eventually became aware that the carpark contained all the elements that would have attracted me to a composition on the coast in the early morning.
The photograph is typical and atypical of my work in equal measure. I've always been obsessed with symmetry (as a kid, if I stubbed a toe, I'd have to do the same on the other foot!), and this reveals itself in my compositions. You'll see from my other portfolios on my website a consistent obsession with geometric layers splitting the frame into halves or thirds. I can't ascribe any credit to Gursky, although I am a fan of the Düsseldorf School. Sugimoto, however, was an influence on the seascapes of mine that morphed into this.
Although most of my subject matter involves landscape, particularly on the coast, I don't particularly consider myself a landscape photographer. I just shoot what is to hand here in Sydney.
It's a little ironic that some commenters thought that "Barbershop, Detroit" was staged, given that Roy, who shot it with a Panasonic GF1 and Lumix 20mm ƒ/1.7 lens, was so worried about the possibility of being obtrusive that he shot from waist level! I'll let him tell it:
This picture was taken in the Russell Street industrial area of Detroit, an extremely "urban" area. I used the GF1 on shutter priority with multi-point focus chosen. I shot with the camera around my neck but not raised to my eye as that would have called attention to myself and destroyed the ebb and flow of the interaction in the picture. Exposure comp was –1 to avoid blowing out (overexposing) the windows. Some commenters asked if it was set up: trust me, a fat white guy is not going to set up anything with the folks in this neighborhood. Many times when shooting around this area of the city I praise myself for having the foresight to wear brown trousers. Remember we are #3 on the list of the world's most dangerous cities. (No. 1 is Cape Town, South Africa; no. 2, Karachi, Pakistan; no. 3, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.)
As Cartier-Bresson suggests, I tip-toe around the picture and never intrude.
Roy, the only professional photographer among the finalists, says he intends to take Ctein up on his offer to print the picture for him. He envisions it looking best as an 11x14 with one- or two-inch borders, probably on Ilford Gold Fiber.
Here's a link to Roy's blog.
That's all for now
Congratulations to Jim, Kathy, Bernd, Leigh, and Roy, and thanks again to everyone who participated in this process—including all of you who commented and voted. I enjoyed it a lot, even though it was a lot of work. We'll do the other two rounds before too long—I'm thinking maybe one before Christmas and one after. We'll see.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Scott Kirkpatrick: "It's fascinating to note that four of the five finalists so far were shot on film, and mostly quite a few years ago. Does that say something about TOP's readers?"
Mike replies: Well, it might have been fascinating, but you've miscounted—two of the five are digital. And I don't know how you get to "mostly quite a few years ago." Roy's EXIF says 2010; Bernd states in his write-up that his picture was taken last summer; Kathy's can't have been taken earlier than the summer of 2007, because that's when the D300 came out; Jim's was taken in 2004, and Leigh's website dates his "Primitive Markings" portfolio, from which his picture here comes, from 2007 to the present.
Even without knowing more, I don't get "mostly quite a few years ago" from the available information.
In fact, the finalists accord pretty well with TOP's demographics, or as well as any five pictures can. One-fifth B&W, 4/5ths color—check. One woman, four men—check. (Our female audience is somewhat smaller than 20%, but that's as fine as you can dice a sample of five.) Three Americans, one Canadian, one from elsewhere in the English-speaking world—again, as close as you can get to actual site demographics with this sample size. One-fifth view camera, 1/5th Leica—not exact, but pretty fair. The three film shots are split nicely between 35mm, medium format, and large format. Even the split between a DSLR and a mirrorless digicam among the two digital shots is an adequate representation as far as it goes.
Note that I made no effort whatsoever to spread the results this way or any way. I wasn't paying any attention to it. The way it came out was just the way it came out.
In fact, the only stat here that doesn't accord with site demographics is the film/digital split. Our surveys would predict only one or two of the five using film, rather than three. But that, in turn, accords with the fact that a higher percentage of photographers who make and/or exhibit prints and/or who sell their work use film compared to amateur photographers in general.
Featured Comment by mbka: "Strangely, with the descriptions I enjoy and understand some of these pictures much better now. And even more strangely, Leigh Perry's garage picture that really didn't touch me otherwise, now makes complete sense in the light of his seascapes on his webpage. I find his seascapes absolutely marvelous. They are the kind of pictures I generally like making myself too—a little different in slant but somehow in that vein: smallness of people in the face of space, and space itself."
Featured Comment by Ed Hawco: "What a difference a bit of story makes. I too thought that Jim Tiemann had burned-in the steam in the upper-right quadrant. I have an aversion to the current trend of over-emphasizing billowing clouds that you see so often in over-processed HDR shots and other cases where people go overboard with the 'Clarity' tool and all that. It seemed odd to me that someone would do that on this, such an excellent photo, especially since the steam at the bottom is so clean. Now that I know the truth I can happily boot my prejudice out the window and appreciate the photo all the more for what it is."
Featured Comment by Brian Small: "It's a bit geeky but I think some clarification is in order. In Mr. Tiemann's photo the white billowy stuff near the ground is pure steam from the cylinder cock. The plume in the top of the frame that everyone is worried about is a combination of steam and oil smoke from the stack."