Bridge over hackneyed waters

May 17, 2006 at 12:00 am

We've crossed that bridge so many times here at Metro Times. It's difficult to count how many photos of the Ambassador and the Mackinac bridges — along with all the pets, babies, flowers and Goth girls — we've seen in 25 years. Most of the bridge shots are good, sure, and a few are grand. Such subject matter is so cliché that even calling it a cliché is cliché.

But do you know how to break that hackneyed cycle? By finding the "fight" in every frame, locating the real raw stuff, the tension and the grace, and then taking the picture as if it had to be taken.

Wait hours for the right light, and you can turn back the clock on a tired image without a bubble wrap filter or even a flash. It's about squinting and sweating, working to birth a baby.

The winners of the Metro Times 25th Annual Photo Contest chose simple subjects, such as a squatter's storefront, but with thought and an eye for subtle detail.

Nicole Marie Polec, our second-place winner in the color category, had enough know-how and originality to intentionally make her image look like a bad Xerox of a hyper-stylized teen magazine ad. She processed a negative as a positive to cast odd colors and used fast film to get her photo good and grainy. It hits because it misses.

And Don Jones' photo of the "Bibles Readers" store received an honorable mention in the color category, not because of its vibrant hues — quite the contrary. This photographer turned down the temperature. One MT judge, photographer Ryan Keberly, said the image has "such sad color."

Out of hundreds of entries this year, more than a few were captured with cell phones. You can't mistake these shots — they're awkwardly cropped and horribly pixilated, and it was enough to make a couple of judges cringe. We have to admit, we're suckers for presentation, be it a great matte job or a nice printout. Be bold, but respect the medium. Take mindful risks, and your camera will reward you.

Thomas Yang, Novi
First place, color

"I basically just waited for the light," says Thomas Yang about how he got a stunning shot of the Mackinac Bridge. Yang says he walked along the water for a while. Sometime around 7:30 p.m., he noticed the clouds started to break. The distance grew clearer and that gorgeous candy-colored light came about an hour later. He set his tripod up low, used a wide-angle lens and shot slow, for about three or four seconds. In Yang's image, the foreground is as clear as the background. Up close, the jagged, glistening rocks sink into the deep, murky soup of water. Printed on fine art paper, it resembles a pristinely painted watercolor. But what's new about this sunset over this bridge is Yang's inventive perspective, and how he made his way around the edge of the water and found the perfect place, where it looks like the majestic bridge falls into the water.

Joshua Band, Ann Arbor
First place, black and white

Nobody can explain better than MT judge Cybelle Codish why Joshua Band's photo wins top honors in the black and white category. Codish is a photographer that Metro Times knows and trusts to take black-and-white to moving and exotic levels.

"A lot of photographers will tell you that a silhouette does not give any insight into a subject," Codish says. "I disagree. In this particular image, I may not 'know' the subject in a traditional sense, but, rather, I appreciate the trigger finger of the photographer — their ability to capture that shot in that moment. It's rich and stark simultaneously; warm and haunting, with an honest intensity. The lack of information lends itself more toward an atmosphere. There is so much clarity in the detail of the profile, but you don't walk away with the memory of a pretty face. You walk away with a mood."

Allison Glenn, Grosse Pointe Woods
First place, experimental

Glenn, who just graduated from Wayne State University with a major in photography, shot digital photos of storefronts on Mack Avenue, printed them, and then used an acrylic matte medium and a small hand roller to transfer the top layer of the photo onto another surface, piecing together the image. The judges liked her photo because her technique worked well with the content. As she laid down the emulsion onto paper, it tore a bit, which further emphasized the worn storefronts. Glenn says she's inspired by minimalism and modernism, as well as graphic design. That must be why she has such a confident sense of space. She was gutsy enough to submit an image predominately featuring white space. The void pulls your eye downward, but not your spirit. Her art is modest and full of personality, just like her subject.

Spencer O. Kraft, Novi
First place, personality portraiture

Yes, we know, this is just some photo of a random kid taken in the '80s. Spencer Kraft snapped a shot of him down at the river during the boat races. It's definitely possible this picture is prized more because of the boy's almighty greatness than the photographer's skill. But come on, check him the heck out: With a sticky grip on a melting Popsicle and another fist ready for action, he looks like he's about to lay into some sucka who's stepping on his sand castle. He's got a personality bigger than his eyeglasses. You can feel his fullness, and the candidness of the photo supplies its own narrative.

Color photo winners

Black and White photo winners

Experimental photo winners

Portraiture photo winners


Opening reception for the Metro Times 25th Annual Photo Contest is 6-9 p.m., Wednesday, May 17, at CAID, 5141 Rosa Parks Blvd. Call 313-202-8012 or 313-899-CAID.

Rebecca Mazzei is Metro Times arts editor. Send comments to [email protected]