2019 International Photographic Competition Winners Recognized

Congratulations to the 2019 International Photographic Competition winners. Earlier this summer, the top images were selected from the PPA District Sunset Print Award recipients:

1st Place – Brian Castle “Sins Broken Chains

2nd Place – Kimberly Smith “Owl Always Kneed You

3rd Place – Brooke Kasper “Solitary Journey

Each year, the judges award the top three prints that best embody the 12 Elements of Merit. This year’s district winners included everything from a rocky rush of water in Kari Douma’s “Just Around the River Bend” to a burgeoning chemist in Vanessa Longuski’s “Science.” As always, the talent at the district level makes it difficult for the judges selecting the National IPC winners.

Castle, who took third place in last year’s event, was once again inspired by a dream. “I dropped to my knees and prayed, this light came from above and Archangel Michael came and loaned me his wings to rip the chains apart so we could ascend to Heaven,” he says. What he didn’t expect was to be so personally affected by the photo shoot. “What did people go through back in Biblical days when they were chained like this? I teared up, it was emotional, I couldn’t hold it back,” he says.

Smith, who consistently finishes with district and national wins, had a most unusual image serve as the inspiration for her 2019 entry. “I had to have a knee MRI and they sent me home with the disk,” she says. “As I’m going through them, I noticed one of them looked like an owl.” She combined an image of a tree from a previous photography session and the base image from the MRI into an artistic image of an owl and her owlet. She won the PPA Southwest District award, subsequently leading to her second-place national finish.

Kasper says her award-winning image is extremely personal. While she may be on her own “Solitary Journey,” she has a strong faith in God, so she knows she is never truly alone. “We all have our own personal stories, and this one represents how I’m charting my course,” she says. “We may feel abandoned and alone at times, but we are surrounded by so many wonderful memories of people and things that have given us strength, even in solitude.”

Along with an engraved crystal trophy, the winners also receive cash prizes: $2,000 for first place, $1,000 for second place and $500 for third place. The awards for the winning photographers will be presented at Imaging USA – Nashville in January.

We want to thank all the participants in the 2019 Sunset Print Awards. You can see these and other winners on our newly redesigned Sunset Print Awards site. If you are interested in the 2020 Sunset Print Awards, have your chairperson fill out the application. The Sunset Print Award is offered to those competitions judging a minimum of 150 printed entries.

Prints That Win: Sins Broken Chains

Last year, Kingsport, Tenn., photographer Brian Castle not only won a PPA Southeast District award for his portrait “Heaven’s Hands of Hope,” but he also took third place in the 2018 IPC awards, in which he saw stiff competition from all of the District PPA Sunset Print Award winners. Because he had such a personal connection to his 2018 award-winning image, Castle wasn’t sure if he could surpass it in 2019.

As it turns out, he not only exceeded his 2018 accomplishments, he blew them out of the water. He once again took home a Sunset Print Award for PPA Southeast District Portrait with “Sins Broken Chains” and, after the judging was finished at the 2019 IPC, it was revealed that Castle would take first place in this year’s competition.

“I was a handler at this year’s competition, so I put each of the competition images on the turntables for the judges,” he says. “It was a neat experience to see the live judging, especially since my image received a ‘Unanimous Loan’ from all five judges.”

Like his previous image, “Sins Broken Chains” came to him in a dream. “In the dream, I was in a dungeon with a family member who couldn’t get free of the shackles,” he says. “I dropped to my knees and prayed, this light came from above and Archangel Michael came and loaned me his wings to rip the chains apart so we could ascend to Heaven.”

To recreate the dream for his photo shoot, he knew it was going to take the right setting, light, staging and props. The day of the shoot was a true family affair. “My whole family was helping: my wife, my mom and dad,” Castle says. “My dad taught me how to shoot on a film camera, so who better to have on-site than someone who has experience and who can set up the lights.”

Castle says the actual shoot took about nine hours from setting up to costuming and makeup, as well as additional action shots to get the chains breaking. “We rented the basement of an abandoned department store, originally built in the 1920s,” he says. “I borrowed the pants from a local theater group, I bought a brand-new white t-shirt, ripped it with a razor and dyed it with teabags. I took theater makeup and smudged it all over to give me a dirty look.”

As he was shackled for the shoot, Castle had an unexpected emotional reaction. “I had these big logging chains attached to me and I had this quarter-inch plate shackle around my wrist, all I could think was ‘What did people go through back in Biblical days when they were chained like this?’ I teared up, it was emotional, I couldn’t hold it back,” he says. “The chains were so heavy, and they wore my arms and shoulders out. I felt the pain a little bit.”

One thing Castle has learned over the years is that it’s important to get every angle, light setting or version of a shot while the scene is set. “For example, to capture the broken chain, my dad whipped the chains and I photographed it several different ways to make sure I had enough for the image,” Castle says. “Newer photographers don’t know to get those extra shots. Through competitions, I’ve learned to think about editing before I’m through shooting, that way if I missed something, I can get it then and won’t need to redo it, later.”

Castle has accomplished quite a few things in 2019. Not only did he receive the top prize in the Sunset Print Awards competition for the first time, but he also completed his first two photography degrees: Master of Photography and Photographic Craftsman. “Now I am going for the Master Artist degree,” he says.

Castle says he uses the Sunset Bright Velvet Rag on his Canon PRO-4000 because the paper came highly recommended by fellow Sunset winner Kimberly Smith. “Kim told me about it, and I want every piece to be printed on Velvet Rag; I love it. I will never go to another fine art paper,” he says. “I know LexJet sells other brands, but that Velvet Rag produces more accurate colors, and it’s not as expensive.”

He also travels around the country for speaking engagements where he shares his experiences and success stories. “I travel from Memphis to Atlanta and from Florida to Virginia and I always mention LexJet and the papers,” he says. “I tell them ‘when you buy from LexJet, you’re not just buying the printer and the paper, you’re buying their customer service, too.’”

With another Sunset Print Award-winning image and a first-place finish in 2019, it seems that Brian Castle’s work really is the stuff of dreams.

10 Customer Print Projects that Inspired in 2019

From floor-to-ceiling murals to thought-proving graphics for a children’s art center, LexJet customers printed some awesome – and awe-inspiring – images in 2019. Here are a few examples of what our creative and innovative customers designed throughout the year:

University Brings Football History to Life with Extreme AquaVinyl When it was time for the University at Buffalo to celebrate 100 years of football history, Kris Miller turned to LexJet for help designing the 35-foot by 10-foot mural that was the centerpiece graphic. “I’m not a professional installer, so whatever I use has to be easy to work with and install,” Miller says. READ MORE

Mixing Up the Painting Process with Canvas & Coating Combining oil painting and wide-format printing, San Francisco photo retoucher Leonard Gordon has his Surrealist-style artwork printed on Sunset by Fredrix Canvas, then protected with Sunset Satin Coating. Then he added additional texture with oil paints. “That’s what’s giving the painting depth. It’s all about bringing out the color of the print itself,” he says. READ MORE

GeoJango Maps: Bringing the World (of Maps) to Everybody Debbie Dennison at GeoJango Maps is excited to share her passion for maps with the world. Using HP Everyday Instant-dry Satin Photo Paper on their HP printers, Dennison and the team did a tremendous amount of research before deciding which products to use. “We’ve done a lot of testing with different inks, printing methods, and materials, and we’ve found the right ones. The customers are thrilled with the results,” says Dennison. READ MORE

New Exhibit Takes Flight with Floor-to-Ceiling Murals Inspired by an over-sized book by James Audubon, Nel Fetherling at the Field Museum in Chicago wanted to “go big” for an exhibition showcasing Audubon’s 19th-century work. Fetherling and her team printed six 14-foot x 75-inch wall murals as well as one for the entryway using LexJet Print-N-Stick Fabric. “The colors were so brilliant,” Fetherling says. “Our designer was skeptical, but after we printed it, she said the colors were almost better than the actual illustrations.” READ MORE

What They’re Saying: HP Optimal Gloss Air GRP – ‘It Really Shines’ Husband and wife team Rick and Connie Rhind Robey, of SpeedPro Imaging in Silver Spring, Md., had the opportunity to use HP Optimal Gloss Air GRP and HP Gloss Polymeric Overlaminate on storage spaces of downtown Kensington, Md., businesses. “I loved the high-quality look of the images,” Connie says. “It’s important that the final piece looks great and the artist loves it. It really shines in the high-end market place.” READ MORE

C’est Magnifique! Turning Antique French Postcards into Wall Art Photographer David Humphreys was tasked with turning old French postcards into 5-foot by 8-foot canvas murals for off-campus housing at Louisiana State University. Knowing he would need a 60-inch wide printer to accommodate the width of the images. Humphreys bought a Canon PRO-6000 and he’s pleased with the results. “The printer is incredible. It’s user-friendly and did a beautiful job,” he says. “Now I’m doing a lot of larger images for other people because of the 60-inch capability.” READ MORE

Artist Jonathon Romain Creates a Colorful World for Children Jonathon Romain and his wife purchased an old school in Peoria, Ill., to build the Romain Arts & Culture Community Center where they hosted their first summer program where kids could talk about issues that affect them and then create murals to present to the local school superintendent. “Each one of the children received a smaller framed copy of images to take home to their family and friends,” he says. READ MORE

Sunset Photo Metallic Paper Beats Aluminum for Gallery Exhibit Hollywood director Blair Hayes wanted to create a new exhibit called Light of Future Past, from his movie-site images. He originally set out to print them on brushed aluminum for a sleek, modern look, but the bright gallery lights bounced off the aluminum and muddied the colors. Turning to Chris Glassman at Casual Graphics for suggestions, they settled on Sunset Photo Metallic Paper. “They stated to me that if it weren’t for Casual Graphics, the show would not have happened due to the lighting issues,” says Glassman. “I must state that if it wasn’t for the LexJet media, I wouldn’t have been able to provide a cost-effective alternative solution to aluminum prints.” READ MORE

Bringing Children’s Books to Life with Wall Decals John Etienne of Wall Adventure, offers activity books with matching fabric wall decals that are ideal for children’s spaces. He prints the decals on LexJet Print-N-Stick Fabric on his Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-Series PRO-4000S. “My customers love the products. The colors on the fabric are bright. The combination of printer and fabric is working well,” he says. READ MORE

Real Color Design Partners with EPSON for Marvel-ous Results Alex Costa, of Real Color Design in Torrance, Calif., works closely with Marvel, WB, DC Comics and other studios. With a customer base like that, there is no margin for error. To meet the demands of qualifying as an authorized print resource, Costa and his team work with a fleet of EPSON printers. “We’ve been with Epson since the beginning,” he says. “Currently, we use the SureColor F6200 (dye-sub), SureColor S80600 (solvent) and SureColor P10000 (aqueous)”. READ MORE

Do you have a story you’d like to share on the LexJet blog? Email us your projects and you could be featured in 2020!

Prints That Win: Owl Always Kneed You

Muskogee, Okla., photographer Kimberly Smith is no stranger to the Sunset Print Awards. 2019 saw Smith win back-to-back-to-back awards during the PPA SW competition. “I printed everything that I entered this year on Sunset Bright Velvet Rag, even the album that I created,” she says.

“Owl Always Kneed You” by Kimberly Smith

Having previously scored wins with portraits, this year, Smith’s image “Owl Always Kneed You” was tops in the Artist category and won second place during IPC. According to IPC rules, the purpose of this (Artist) competition is to allow the entrant to demonstrate his or her artistic skills.

Drawing inspiration from the most unusual of sources, the idea for Smith’s award-winning image came to her after a routine medical procedure. “I had to have a knee MRI and they sent me home with the disk,” she says. “As I’m going through them, I noticed one of them looked like an owl.” She combined an image of a tree from a previous photography session and the base image from the MRI into an artistic image of an owl and her owlet.

Not content to have seven individual prints in the competition, Smith also created an album, complete with a leather cover, a satin ribbon, and 10 lay-flat images, all printed on her favorite Sunset media, Bright Velvet Rag.

“The story was inspired by my daughter and our dog, Sophie, who’s nine now. One day, I noticed she looked so old,” she says. “I knew that I had pictures of Sophie from when she was a puppy and my youngest daughter went off to college last year. I was sobbing putting the album together. That’s my dog and my baby.”

Smith’s works continue to garner praise at the highest levels of competition. Some of her other awards include the ASP Gold Medallion, which is presented to the American Society of Photographers Loan entry, judged by a separate panel of jurors to be the very best image in exhibition. PPA has awarded her the Gold Medal and named her a Diamond Artist.

Between competitions, Smith continues to teach at the Texas School as well as conducting workshops at her studio in Oklahoma or traveling across the country. “I’ve had people fly me in to teach in private workshops,” she says.

With such an eventful 2019, what does Smith expect out of 2020? “I’m excited,” she says. “I think it will be a great year.”

Prints That Win: Solitary Journey

Plano, Texas photographer Brooke Kasper jumped into photography in the most unusual way. With a background in painting, she was spending her days working as a graphic artist. That is until her mother died. “I quit cold turkey and picked up a camera. It will be 15 years on Dec. 4,” Kasper says. “To heal, I went out and shot everything I could with the camera. It was an inauspicious start to a photography career.”

Her work often conveys a heavy message through symbolism and the somber technique known as low-key photography. “I use ropes a lot in my imagery,” Kasper says. “They represent the ties that bind.”

Kasper’s photograph “Solitary Journey” won the Southwest PPA District and placed 3rd in the National competition held this summer. Her award-winning image is rife with symbolism. “We all have our own personal stories, and this one represents how I’m charting my course,” she says. “We may feel abandoned and alone at times, but we are surrounded by so many wonderful memories of people and things that have given us strength, even in solitude.”

Kasper adds personal and tangible items to her photoshoots. “If it’s not on the set, it doesn’t get added,” she says. “The lantern is in the center and represents God, who is an important light at the center of my life. My mother’s picture is also in it, as are other things that are important to me.”

Studying the image closely, the story begins to unfold of just how lonely the journey of life can be. “Above my mom’s photo is her old bible and a compass that is pointing to true north, which is what God represents to me,” Kasper says. “Then you have the ropes. I put in the mouse as an homage to my husband. There’s another lantern but the light is out. There’s only one light that guides me ever since my mom died.”

Many photographers may find it unnerving to enter such a personal piece into a competition. For Kasper, it was about healing and finding peace. “You can’t always verbalize your woes, but you can find an outlet, and that’s what I’ve done,” she says. “The greatest honor is when someone wants to know the story behind the image, and they are moved when they see it. If I’ve reached someone, what better compliment is there?”

Jumping into photography like she did, Kasper relies on the Dallas PPA and Professional Photographers of America (PPA), as well as her mentors for support and guidance. Her merits and degrees include Certified Professional Photographer (CPP), Master of Photography, and Photographic Craftsman.

Through it all, she’s been inspired by – and learned from – David Edmondson. “David is a good friend and one of the most phenomenal people, inside and out. He has taught me how to be an artist and keep those characteristics in my life. That’s the most important thing to me,” she says. “There were times when I wanted to quit, but David is the one who encouraged me to go on. We share a strong faith and it means so much to know he has my back.”

Kasper is adamant that all photos should be physical, not just an image on a computer screen. “I don’t think it’s really completed until you print it,” she says. For her low-key images, Kasper prefers a satin photo paper, like Sunset Photo eSatin 300g, to ensure the fine details are captured with every print.

The popularity of local, state and national PPA competitions isn’t slowing down and Kasper believes that is because photographers are pushed to be better. “You have to keep moving forward, keep reinventing yourself. If you’re not getting better, you’re stagnant.”

Real Color Design Partners with EPSON for Marvel-ous Results

Real Color Design, in Torrance, Calif., has been printing fine art reproductions for years. In 2008, it became an authorized print house for Warner Brothers Studios and they also hold the licenses to print images for Marvel, DC and other well-known studios in California. “Ninety percent of what we do today is related to the studios. Our customers are licensed with Marvel, WB, DC Comics, Dynamite studio,” says print manager, Alex Costa.

With a customer base like that, there is no margin for error. To meet the demands of qualifying as an authorized print resource, Costa and his team work with a fleet of EPSON printers. “We’ve been with Epson since the beginning,” he says. “Currently, we use the SureColor F6200 (dye-sub), SureColor S80600 (solvent) and SureColor P10000 (aqueous) and on occasion, we still use our old 9880.”

Given the wide breadth of Epson technology available, Costa and his team can offer diverse prints to their customers. “We do archival fine art on Hahnemühle, Sunset Velvet Rag and canvas, for dye-sub, we do aluminum prints on Chromaluxe as well as wood and sometimes fabric,” he says.

One of Real Color Designs’ largest customers is Sideshow Collectables. When they got their license to print, they realized right away that they couldn’t just use any printer, they had to find an authorized resource. “They came and met with us, and we helped them build from nothing to getting their print program up and running,” Costa says. “From mock-ups to introducing them to new materials, we’re there with them from conception to design to print.”

It’s that partnership with their customers that has helped Real Color Designs work with some of the most renowned high-end art gallery and collectibles companies around the world. “We were approached by Castle Fine Art, a gallery that is part of a major chain of over 50 galleries in the UK and Europe, that includes Halcyon Gallery which displays great artists like Picasso,” he says.

Relationship building and delivering results has helped Costa and the team create a name for themselves in an industry that demands perfection. “When Castle came to us, they said, ‘We want to start working with you because we’ve seen your work with Marvel.’ We are getting into the high, high-end fine art,” he says. “Right now, we are working with artist Domingo Zapata. They’re going to release a whole new line of prints and we’re working with them the same way we do with Sideshow.”

Costa says that they treat their customers the way they are treated by LexJet. “We see the customer as a partner, the way LexJet has worked with us since we started our business relationship in 2011. Stuart Haddow [LexJet sales specialist] sees us as a partner and tries to work stuff out, figure out our needs.”

The partnership relies on trust. Costa puts his trust in EPSON because he knows the quality that his customers and licensees demand. He puts his trust in LexJet to work with him on existing products and help him find new products that will excite his customers. His customers put their trust in him to create high-end art pieces that look like they stepped right off of a movie set or just out of a comic book.