Photo contest draws city residents

The concept of “determination” can be interpreted in different ways by different photographers, apparently.

James Higgins saw determination in the sign of a local shop that had been in business for over 100 years. Cari Strand and Mason Rabinowitz saw determination in a long line of kids waiting outside of Toad’s Place with blankets and chairs to buy tickets for a show. Aidan Moran saw determination in an employee-of-the-month sign featuring a picture of Frankenstein. And when each of these photographers saw their version of determination, they determinedly whipped out their disposable cameras.

Determination was just one of 24 topics given to participants in Gallery One Whitney’s “Film Speed” photography contest, which was held on Saturday. Contest participants spent eight hours taking photos of people and places around New Haven that they thought creatively represented each topic. A first-time event for the gallery, the contest drew a mix of semi-professional photographers and area residents simply looking to explore New Haven on a crisp fall afternoon.

Gallery director Jennifer Jane said the aim of the event was to promote the recent opening of the gallery by reaching out to New Haven residents with a low-key opportunity to sharpen their photography skills.

“We wanted to involve the community and share a passion for photography,” she said.

Jane said she was happy with the number of people who turned out for the contest. About half of the 18 entries were from individuals and the rest were in pairs, she said.

“We had a variety of people participating,” Jane said. “We had some people who were photographers, but there were also people who just wanted to have an adventure and didn’t really have a background in photography.”

Strand, a New Haven resident, said that although she was interested in photography as a hobby when she was a child, she participated in the contest mostly as a way to see her city in a new light.

“We spend a lot of time walking around New Haven normally, but we thought it would be cool to look at it in a different perspective,” Strand said.

According to the rules of the contest, entrants were required to photograph the topics — which ranged from “hesitation” to “delicious” to “light as feather” — in the order listed. Many participants agonized over photo opportunities lost because of the timing of the contest.

“There was this little child walking by before the contest started, and he was all puffed up and determined to do something,” Jon Marien said. “Then after we started, I couldn’t find anything [for determination].”

Grace Jeschke ’06 said she appreciated the challenge of interpreting each topic in a fresh way.

“The idea of having the set topics and having to do them in a specific order and in a specific time frame with a limited camera really alters your perspective on the world and on the interpretation of topics,” she said. “It makes you look at all the different associations of the topic word.”

Many participants said they felt more comfortable using digital cameras than the disposable cameras provided by the gallery. Jim Ayers, a teacher who is opening his first photography show this week, said using a throwaway camera posed the biggest challenge for him.

“I’ve never used one of these before,” Ayers said. “I’m not sure how the lens works.”

Jane said she decided to have participants use disposable cameras in order to level the playing field.

“This way, everyone has the same camera and the same capability as far as technology is concerned,” she said. “It’s really up to the person’s creativity, not the camera.”

After breezing through the first half of the contest, participants said they felt rushed for time in the second half, which began after they were given the last 12 topics at the 4:30 p.m. meeting point at BAR, on Crown Street.

“It got a little nerve-racking toward the end,” Ayers said. “It’s hard to work in the dark.”

As she collected cameras from participants at Anna Liffey’s Irish Pub and Restaurant on Whitney Avenue, the contest’s final meeting place, Jane said she might shorten the length of the contest in the future. Although other aspects of the contest might also be tweaked, Jane said she plans to make Film Speed a biannual event for the gallery.

The gallery, which opened in August, shows fine art photography, including digital, traditional and pigment prints. Jane said that because of the strength of the photography program at Yale’s Graduate School of Art, she thinks that New Haven could become a center for photography.

“We’re trying to create something that will draw people into the area and help it become a forum for photographers to share their work,” Jane said.

The participants’ interpretations of the topics will be displayed in the gallery at an opening exhibition and reception Oct. 12, from 6 to 8 p.m. A committee of photographers and photo enthusiasts will select the winning entries, which will be displayed along with the rest of the entries until November 4. But the identities of the judges have not been determined, Jane said.

“Let’s just say it’ll be a secret until the day of the exhibition,” she said, laughing.

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