Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tony Mindling - Prize-Winning Photographer?

I had mixed feelings about entering a juried show. Rejection is no fun, and I didn't like the idea of needing to fight feelings of ill will toward judges too lame to recognize my brilliance. I was about 18 when I last entered a show - some sort of camera club exhibit in San Rafael. My image, star trails with the superimposed track of the Echo I satellite taken during a family camping trip in the Sierra Nevada, was rejected in favor of a horribly trite image of a ballet dancer tying her slippers. I have avoided contests, and especially camera clubs, ever since.

But I had learned of this show, a celebration of the Centennial of the Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge, through the folks of Art on the Divide, a cooperative gallery I recently joined. The Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge is more commonly known as the No-Hands Bridge, a name applied by equestrians in the time before guard rails for reasons only they can fully appreciate. It was built in 1912 to transport limestone from the Cool Cave Quarry. At that time the limstone was used as part of the refining process of Sprekels Sugar. Now the bridge is part of a fine hiking, equestrian, and cycling trail along the river within the Auburn State Recreation Area State Park.

A few others in the AOD group were entering paintings and photographs. So what the heck, it was an opportunity to print and frame a couple of photos. Putting aside my anxiety, I went to my photo archives to find an image of the bridge that I recalled from a couple of years ago.

Thanks to Lightroom and keywords, finding the image, and one other that pleased me, was un-painful. I had post-processed the image after I had taken it, in the fall of 2006, using Photoshop, and saved it as a TIFF. I also had the original RAW file, taken with a Nikon D80 with the Nikkor 24-85mm lens. While working over the image a bit more, I recalled taking it. 

The photograph was no snapshot. The bridge is just downstream from the Highway 49 bridge that crosses the American River between Auburn and Cool - a well-beaten path for us Coolies. As the leaves turned I had been watching that tree for a couple of weeks, and knew the time of day when the light would be right. When I felt that the little tree was at its peak, I packed up my camera and tripod and headed out in the late afternoon, when the low sun would backlight the tree and set it a-glow. From a parking area just upstream from the Highway 49 bridge a trail leads back under the bridge to a good vantage point for the No-Hands Bridge. Dissatisfied initially with that point of view, I went closer to the river and clambered over the rocks looking for the right spot, and eventually came back to a spot under the 49 bridge, where I found a point of view providing a shadowy backdrop for the tree, and also include a satisfying curve in the river leading to the bridge in the background. I stopped the lens down to f/20 and used a shutter speed of 1/4 sec. Post processing this time around included local lightening and darkening in Lightroom, and general and local use of the Warming/Brightening, and Detail Enhancer filters in Nik Color Efex. Printing required a trip to Fry's to replenish a couple of the ink cartridges in my Epson R3000. The print was made on Ilford Gallerie Silk Gold, and at $120 for a box of 50, 13X19 inch sheets, I was pleased when the first one out was right on. 

My mat cutting process is very simple. Cut out the mat to fit the frame, in this case 18X24, with the blade. Laying the rule over the print  determine the window size, and write those two dimensions on the back of the mat. I subtract those dimensions from the width and height of the mat and divide by two. The math of dealing with those fractional inches is the trickiest part. Two marks for each margin and lines are drawn for the window on the back of the mat. I lay the print over those lines as a double-check, then use my three-foot aluminum ruler as a straight-edge to guide the cut. The tricks are to use a sharp blade in the cutter, and to begin and end the cuts a fraction beyond the window corners. And keep the straight edge parallel to the line - I set the cutter down with the blade in the line, then bring the straight edge up against it, measure the distance of the straight edge from the line at the cutter, then adjust the straight edge as necessary to equal that distance near the end of the cut.

The End of a Tale That Has Become Too Long

So the deal was that we were to drop off our entries this morning, then wait for an acceptance phone call by 8PM this evening. If we did not get a call that would mean our work had been rejected and we were to pick it up in the morning.

When I had given my little presentation talk to the Art on the Divide folks I'd said that I was old enough now to take rejection in stride, that it didn't mean our work was bad, just didn't fit the needs at the time, and yah da yah da. Bullshit. By the time 6:30 rolled around I was so anxious that my old stammer gremlin had returned and I could barely answer the phone when it rang. Turned out my photo had not only been accepted, but was a prize winner. I am now to show up at the show opening next Friday for the awards presentation.

As I had been washing dishes when the phone rang, after the call I tried to convince my wife that as an artiste, it would no longer be appropriate for me to wash dishes. Not getting anywhere with that, I pondered the purchase of black attire and which ear to puncture for a diamond stud as I scraped the leftovers into the trash.


  1. Great, and congratulations! I'll be keeping watch to see the award. By the way, you and I share traits way beyond what we have discussed. I took several instructor's courses at IBM specifically to learn to cope with the "Stammer Gremlin." I have since been an awards presenter, a lecturer, a project manager, and many other positions in front of crowds, including the local Chamber of Commerce. If I'm not careful, the Gremlin, still to this day, will sneak in and bite me on the ass.

    1. George, it seems more and more as if we are twin souls communicating from parallel universes!

  2. Great post! A to Z instructions with a prize bonus :) Photography is a little hobby of mine and I highly value such brilliant learning opportunities.