I sound like a broken record, but this was the hardest month I have ever judged for these contests. There is so much soul and depth that goes in to so many of these pictures, and while I think the images listed below are exceptional, I think that all are worthy of recognition and praise. So if you are in need of inspiration, to broaden your photographic horizons, or just want to see some really awesome pictures…take a spin through the entire series of images submitted to the contest. I guarantee you will find new photographers to follow who will continuously inspire.
Listed below are the contest winners. The first place winner will receive a prize of props in the mail from me as well as a Phlearn Pro Tutorial from Aaron Nace and the Phlearn team! The guest judge this time around was Ashley Lebedev aka Bottle Bell Photography, who I know was overcome with that warm feeling of inspiration while looking at the entries too. We both agreed that decisions in this capacity are hard to make, and that talent is everywhere. And if you are looking for inspiration, follow Ashley for some really heartfelt and moving imagery and text.
1st Place Winner: Katarina Gaj for “Well My Heart is Beatin Slowly”
Brooke: This picture, while not being as obvious a match for the theme of “Rebirth / New Beginnings”, strikes a chord with me that won’t stop ringing. It is in the details and more subtle hints that the theme comes alive: the water, the branches, the drowning while still floating, the open eyes…All of this speaks to me about someone who is struggling but still living, breathing yet nearly drowning. There is amazing juxtaposition here between the elements. The water conflicts with the branches, little bit of skin showing through an otherwise submerged subject. Those branches seem to strangle her. Everything works against her. Yet still she floats, still her eyes are open, and instead of this being a death scene it can be scene it can be one of rebirth and awakening, much like a baby being born. Such struggle, only to breathe life.
Ashley: First of all, just want to note that I appreciate this picture being such a die hard portrait artist, myself, because of the level of commitment it often takes to do anything with an element like water.
Moving along, I really enjoy that there are several elements within this image that all work together to convey the message of rebirth and new beginnings. I think the open eyes hint very strongly at the process of dying, especially having the subject partially submerged, but staying afloat. I like this contrast as a metaphor for things like hope. Hope can be, simply, staying afloat.
There’s also a strong message of giving in, but not giving UP. The subject’s eyes are open which shows strength and courage. I think courage is essential for any sort of rebirth. Further, I just love the tones of this image, those cold blues, which I feel are a palpable addition and work well with the concept of something a bit daunting. I even found myself turning my laptop sideways to see the image in a different perspective which I felt really added to the slightly disheveled confusion that one might expect from such a transformation.
2nd Place Winner: Ingrid Endel for “Resilience”
Brooke: I have long been a fan of this image for so many reasons. It has “trickery” involved, but it isn’t about that. It is about the theme of rebirth to the fullest. It is a human being grown from the earth, and it is done so in the most beautiful way. The body position is elegant and elongated. The tones of this piece are muted, not saturated, very earthly and true to the concept. It is not overdone, and as such feels natural even though it is a rather surrealistic piece. The trees mimicking her position in the background are a wonderful touch, and I think this is a truly divine image.
Ashley: I just love the optimism of this image. What could be a better representation of rebirth and new beginnings than a woman coming up from the earth, like a perennial in the spring? I love the absolute vulnerability and seemingly wholehearted trust she’s putting into the stance, falling so faithfully backwards and into the vine. I love how her hands seem to be extensions not only from her, but like little sprigs growing from the vine. She seems to be working with it, midst of a new spring, in a mutual sort of collaboration of blooming. I love, again, the youthful optimism that this image immediately conveys. It’s lighthearted, and trusting, which is so important in such a process.
3rd Place Winner: Katja Kemnitz
Brooke: The contest brought about a fair amount of imagery in a similar style to this with people being connected to nature, but this picture stood out because of it’s ties to the theme of rebirth. She lays in the earth, a sodden green wasteland of branches, and curls up in fetal position. She is of the earth, born of the earth. What I like most about it is the way that the green floor contrasts so greatly with the skin. This might say that she is not of the earth, but still everything is neutral in tone. That one fern growing is the kicker for me. It obscures the face which gives this a very anonymous vibe. The fern also allows the subject to be connected to the growth around. It does not touch her necessarily, but it appears to be moving towards her.
Ashley: This image is a bit more simply processed than I’m use to, but I like it for that reason exactly. The simple color palette really allows her to pop in the midst of so many small details and natural textures. The pale skin color is a nice fragile addition. This image feels fresh and vulnerable, much like the process of a new beginning. She might as well be an egg in a giant nest of moss, ready to hatch, just as all of that foliage and greenery is growing (hatching, so to speak) around her.
If that’s not literally a rebirth, I don’t know what is.
Additionally, I also really enjoy the few small sprigs of foliage that pop as pieces of green against her almost porcelain skin. It all works together to present a nice, completely simple, but poignant message of this process.
Regretfully, I will not be holding a February contest (which might be a good thing with the theme of “love” looming over our heads for Valentines day) ;-) I have a very heavy travel and work schedule the last week of February and the first week of March (teaching in Dallas, celebrating mine and my husband’s birthdays, shooting my best friend’s wedding, doing a day of family portraits for charity, attending the Project Imagin8ion film screening in my hometown, and more) and I foresee not being able to take a day to wrap up a contest. However, I will announce a new contest at the beginning of March, so if you have ideas for themes or if you want to be a (or know someone who would make a good) guest judge, let me know over on Facebook or Twitter!
Thank you SO much, endlessly, to those who have submitted photographs. These contests are a constant reminder that inspiration is everywhere.