The portrayal of a Phoenix rising from the ashes is not only a Sunset Print Award winner for Enid, Okla., photographer Dawn Muncy, it’s also an indication of the state of her career: on fire. A member of the high school yearbook staff, Muncy says that’s where the decision was made to work in photography. “I got to see life differently, looking through the lens. Not to mention, the darkroom was an escape for me,” she says.

Out of high school, Muncy attended the Colorado Institute of Art for a year, but she didn’t feel at home. “Initially I wanted to be a commercial photographer, and they did allow me to focus on that,” she says. “However, after I photographed the same cereal box for weeks, I realized I needed people. I needed conversation. Commercial photography wasn’t for me.”

After leaving the art institute, Muncy decided she was going to take it upon herself to learn about photographing people, so she started doing photography on the side. She says it was her marriage that really moved things forward. “When I first started, it was before digital cameras, then my husband and I got married,” she says. “He knew I had the bug and it wasn’t going away. I finally got my first digital camera in 2001.”

As she delved deeper into her craft, Muncy says she found inspiration everywhere, especially from local photographers. She remembers walking by one studio with a picture of a beautiful brunette in a red sweater and the photographer used a red gel for lighting. “It was very striking and all I could think about is one day, I want to create something as striking as that.”

With the support of photographers like Karen Moore, Jackie Patterson, and Dwaine Horton, who helped her with technique, she became involved with the Professional Photographers of Oklahoma and then PPA where she then found inspiration in photographers like Tony Corbell and Kristi Elias. “Once the floodgates open and you meet that kind of talent, you realize there’s so much more out there that you need to learn,” Muncy says.

It was meeting Corbell and Elias, along with others, that helped her realize she was on her “Competition Journey.” When it comes to competing, Muncy says there are three stages: “When you first start out, your only feedback is from your family or spouse and everyone tells you how wonderful you are. Then, when you go through judging for the first time, you have to think ‘What did I do wrong? What can I do to fix this? How can I clean it up?’ It all comes down to learning and embracing the 12 elements.”

As the journey continues, Muncy says photographers focus on the 12 elements and the importance of slowing down and paying attention to the details. She says, “somewhere in the middle is when we really get a sense of confidence, especially after receiving some merits. I know as long as I keep the details in the back of my mind, I’ll have merit-worthy work.”

Muncy says that the final stage of the journey is when everything comes together, and the details and elements become second nature: “When you get to be yourself and let your creativity flow, that’s when competition becomes powerful. I know the rules, now I want to show the world who I am.”

It is that desire for creativity that led to her Sunset Print Award-winning image “From the Ashes.” Muncy’s daughter was a dancer for 13 years, so she spent plenty of time in a dance studio photographing dancers. She had a session with a dancer where she wanted to try something different and that’s how the idea of the Phoenix was born.

“They (dancers) have such a level of commitment, and I didn’t want to do just another pretty girl in a tutu for this shoot,” she says. “We actually talked about how we could make her look like a statue. I covered her in clay hoping it would help her look statuesque. We tried some different ideas and poses, none of which you would expect from a typical ‘pretty ballerina.’”

As she was looking through the images, inspiration struck, “as soon as I looked at the original capture, I just knew something big was about to happen with this image. I saw it in my head, she needed wings.”

Muncy had reached a point where she felt the need to reimagine herself and her business. A rebranding, of sorts. “From the Ashes” was the perfect way to make the announcement. “With the Phoenix wings, I was now an artistic photographer, doing what I wanted,” she says. “That image is very personal.”

It seems that Muncy made the right decision to leave commercial photography behind and rise – like the Phoenix she created – in the world of artistic photography. Of her Sunset Award, she says “this is one of my all-time favorite images, and for it to be doing so well is exciting and fulfilling.”