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.”

Prints That Win: Just Around the River Bend

Grandville, Mich., photographer Kari Douma can take ordinary moments and turn them into extraordinary images. Photographers know that capturing an award-winning moment means timing is critical and perfect timing is prevalent in much of Douma’s work. Last year, she captured a wintry Michigan sunrise – with just a hint of pink – over a blanket of freshly fallen snow and turned it into “Winter Pastel,” one of her two 2018 winning images.

“Many times, you have one shot to get a picture,” Douma says. That was especially true for her 2019 PPA Northeast winning photo “Just Around the River Bend,” which she printed using LexJet Sunset Photo eSatin Paper to help provide depth to her image.

While vacationing in the Porcupine Mountains in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (UP), Douma and her family were hiking along the river when she spotted holes in the riverbed.

“I took one look at it and absolutely loved how it looked. We went back at sunset and I photographed it,” she says. “There are so many things that have to be right: light, water level, angle. I’ve been back to the same location twice and have not been able to get the same type of image because the water levels were too high.”

The holes, known as kettles, are formed when stones and sediments get caught in swirling eddies, boring holes into river rock. “When the water is too high, they are underwater and you can’t see them,” Douma says. “If the water is not at the right level, the image is completely different.”

The notorious late UP sunsets also helped Douma capture the perfect image. “It had to be photographed from a wobbly suspension bridge. It was to our benefit that sunset was around 10 p.m. because there were no other hikers on the bridge,” she says. “I had to shoo my whole family off the bridge to steady my tripod to get the photograph.”

It’s that innate talent to read and capture the world around her that has helped Douma continually grow as a photographer. “I judged my first district PPA competition as well as judging IPC this year,” she says.

Judges are trained to look at things differently and understand how a photographer utilizes the 12 elements. She understands that newer competitors can find it difficult to think about the technical elements when they are still understanding the creative ones. “I know that it’s hard to learn it, remember it all, so it’s nice to be able to share insight from my experience,” she says.

Normally, Douma travels all over the country teaching photography, but this year she took a different approach. “I didn’t do any teaching this year; however, I spent two days providing recorded video critiques for members who wanted live feedback after PPA,” she says. “It’s really exciting to help people who are on their own photographic journey.”

For photographer’s who are nervous about entering a competition, Douma understands the nerves but says the experience is one of the best ways to improve.  “Feedback is the most important aspect of being a photographer,” she says. “The judges are there to provide feedback and help you grow.”

From competing to teaching to judging, Kari Douma is passionate about the beauty she creates and enjoys sharing her story while encouraging others to start on their own journey that could take them just around the river’s bend.

Prints That Win: Mother

When Shayna Lohmann first started experimenting with photography as a middle school student, she didn’t expect it to become a possible career option. “I was kind of bad at it when I was in middle school,” she says. “But as soon as I got my first roll of film developed, and it came out perfect, I thought that this is meant to be.”

Lohmann studies photography at the Antonelli Institute in Erdenheim, PA.  Recently, she won the Sunset Print Award for her winning portrait in the Contemporary Portrait category for the Antonelli Institute Print Competition.  Her portrait named “Mother” depicts her own mother looking intently into the lens.

“My mom was sitting there and I thought the whole composition was great in that moment, so I took the shot,” she explains. “It was so raw and powerful, and I think the judges felt that way, too.”

During the summer, Lohmann likes to experiment with different styles and approaches saying, “I have been asking my friends and family to model for me and I pick out the outfits I want them to wear.”

She finds inspiration for her work in vintage fashion magazines and photographs. One of her favorite photographers is Helmut Newton, a successful fashion photographer born in Germany in 1920. “His photos were so stark, but had movement in them,” she says. “They were very natural.”  His work has inspired Lohmann to pursue fashion photography in the future.

“Once I graduate, I want to be a portrait photographer or a fashion photographer,” Lohmann says. “I really like looking through magazines and seeing all of the portraits; I think there’s something that’s special about photographs of people compared to other forms of photography. The emotion you can capture is crazy and amazing.”

Lohmann’s experiences with submitting her work in competitions has been overwhelmingly positive. “I learned that anything is possible,” she says. “You should never doubt yourself or compare yours to other prints because you don’t know what will happen.”

Prints That Win: The Chosen One

When Laura Wagoner’s son wanted to dress up as Harry Potter for a “character day” at school, she wasn’t planning on capturing a winning photograph from the event. “We were just having fun,” she says with a laugh. “My son was Harry, my daughter was Hermione Granger, and my little one was Draco Malfoy.”

Avid fans of the series by J.K. Rowling, her three kids were thrilled to portray their favorite characters. Wagoner did individual photographs of them, but this shot of her son immediately caught her eye, prompting her to enter it into the Minnesota Professional Photographer Association and Twin City Professional Photographer Association competitions, where she won the prestigious Sunset Print Award.

Wagoner has been photographing for years, ever since she took a class in 11th grade. “I knew I wanted to do something with art,” she says, “and after I took that class I just knew that was it.” She completed another five years of training and ultimately opened her own studio.

Prints That Win: La Petite Mademoiselle

About four years ago, Massachusetts-based photographer Andrea (Andy) Joliat came to a creative standstill. She felt stuck in her artistic endeavors, unable to create as she had in the past; the writer’s block of photography. In the hopes of overcoming this, she turned to her fellow photographers, interviewing them about their creative resources, and even writing an article (pg. 34-36) on the subject that was published in Professional Photographers Magazine.

As a photographer with three decades of experience, Joliat was determined to overcome the creative obstacles. “I’ve thought a lot about creativity and where people get ideas from,” she says. “They come from different places… I might see some colors that I like, and I’ll remember those colors and want to create something in that palate.” In her article, she discusses her methods of finding inspiration, many of which come from literature. Discovering and exploring these outlets of creativity – whether it’s color palates or Robert Frost – is imperative to developing one’s style.

The exquisite, Sunset Print Award-winning photograph, “La Petite Mademoiselle,” beautifully portrays Joliat’s knack for creating aesthetic, touching images. The viewer is immediately struck by the little girl’s expression of curiosity and reticence, paired with the light, pastel composition of the color palate.

Joliat became interested in photography after taking a course in college. “I just fell in love with it my senior year,” she says. After she graduated, she continued to the New England School for Photography, and she’s been a professional photographer ever since.

She photographs a wide variety of subjects, but portraits of children are among her specialties. “I feel like I can connect with them in a quiet way, and it brings out a good expression in the child that is usually thoughtful,” says Joliat. “I’m a fairly quiet person and I feel that they are comfortable around me.”

La Petite Mademoiselle_ Andrea Joliat_Her portrait of this little girl is both precious and impressive in technique. Joliat adjusted both the lighting and complexion of the girl, painting her cheeks and lips to create the effect of a little doll. “When I think back to that session, her personality was very observant. She watched things,” she says, “Maybe that’s why her eyes came out so much in the picture, because she was a curious little girl.”

As one can tell from her winning photo, Joliat successfully found her way through the creative block, delving into her past along the way. “When I was young, I used to explore my grandmothers garden, and it felt like a journey to walk through and discover things and not have anything in mind, but to just go in and look for something” she says, “And I think this ties back to creativity. I felt like I had to have a specific idea or goal each time when I went out to take photos. And I got to a point where I could just go and be open-minded, explore, and come across new things.”

Joliat, who has been entering her work in completions since the late ‘90s, has won many awards over the years. She highly recommends that photographers of all skill-levels participate in such events, though she has unique advice for them.

“I think people should take the constructive criticism that they get from the experience, but still do their own thing,” she says. “I see a lot of people thinking that their work has to look a certain way, or look like an image from someone they admire. So listen to the criticism, but always maintain your style.”

Prints That Win: Departing Flight

While stalking birds in the Everglades, Seymour, Wis.-based photographer Steven Kemp captured a Brown Pelican in mid-departure. Birds taking flight aren’t typically viewed as spectacular, noteworthy moments; however, the photography veteran has a knack for capturing the simple moments of life and transforming them into amazing ones.

The Sunset Print Award-winning photo, “Departing Flight,” was naturally exquisite and only needed minimal editing to be a winner. Kemp cropped out the trees and the shoreline in the background and smoothed out the rippled water. He printed the image on LexJet Sunset Production eSatin 250g photo paper, and it was ready for competition.