Award-winning prints are subject to any number of objective criteria, such as composition and color balance, but there is often a subtle and subjective emotional element that resonates with the judges, even if they can’t quite put their finger on the story behind that emotional element.

For the Sunset Print Award winner at the Professional Photographers Association of Massachusetts (PPAM) convention, Cathy Broderick, her award-winning print, entitled A Slow Decline, had great emotional significance.

Broderick, who owns Cathleen Broderick Photography in Whitman, Mass., captured this wilting flower in her studio while her mother was in the hospital with a terminal illness.

“I had been fooling around with flowers in the studio before my mother went into the hospital, trying to come up with something apart from my usual portraiture. When she got sick I left the studio and forgot about them,” recalls Broderick. “A few days later I came back to the studio to take care of some details in the evening after I had been to the hospital. The flowers were very wilted and for some reason I felt the need lose myself for a few minutes in photographing them. As I was thinking about the image I shot I noticed the flower was leaning and dying and that’s where the title A Slow Decline came to me. My mother had been ill for a long time, so it was appropriate; it was this strange thing that happened. I don’t normally photograph flowers in the studio; it just seemed like a therapeutic thing to do.”

Broderick’s mother passed away shortly before the PPAM competition, and though the judges didn’t know the story behind the image, it scored a 91 (highest print score at the competition) and won several awards, including the Sunset Print Award.

While the judges may have connected on an emotional level, they recognized it for its objective qualities, particularly the texture, tonality and lighting.

“It was lit by a Larson 4×6 very close to it with a silver reflector in front. I was moving it around and experimenting, because it’s not something I normally photograph. I’ve photographed flowers outdoors in natural lighting, but not in the studio,” says Broderick. “I did some processing with Nik filters and decided to enter it. I didn’t know if it was good, and I didn’t really care if it was good. It’s who I am and what was going on in my life at that time, so it was kind of emotional.”