Art of the photo: Use what tools you have

January 25, 2012|By CHRIS COPLEY |
  • Frosted Ginkgo Leaves, photographed by Sara Howell of Gainesville, Va., won best of show in the 79th annual Cumberland Valley Photographic Salon, opening this weekend.
By Sara Howell

A few years ago, Washington County Museum of Fine Arts officially began accepting photographs for its permanent collection of fine art.

But these days, society is way past asking whether photos are art. With widespread use of digital enhancement of photography, the question is more like: Are photos ever simply photographs?

This weekend, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts presents a look at the state of the art of photography with the opening of the 79th annual Cumberland Valley Photographic Salon.

The show features 76 images by 49 photographers from Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The exhibit opens Saturday, Jan. 28; a public reception will take place from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12.

Jennifer Chapman Smith, collections and exhibitions manager for the museum, said this year’s photographic salon is a particularly strong show.

“The judging is different each year,” she said. “This juror (Bruce Katsiff, director of the James A. Michener Art Museum in Bucks County, Pa.) looked at it as a whole show — how the photos worked together, whether there was a variety. He looked at the balance of color and black and white, subject matter, finding strong images in different categories.”

Some of the images are obviously changed with Photoshop or another digital-manipulation program, Smith said. And that’s OK.

“All the jurors say, ‘We can tell (when Photoshop is used),’” she said. “They say people have always done things in the dark room. You use what you have.”

Photoshop is just another tool to improve or enhance a photograph, Smith said — sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. But the end result is an artful image.

“We do get those responses (from museum patrons): ‘It’s no longer a photo,’” she said. “But even though it’s manipulated, it started as a photo. You can layer images in the dark room just as you do with Photoshop.”

Katsiff awarded eight cash prizes this year. Best of Show went to “Frosted Ginkgo Leaves,” photographed by Sara Howell of Gainesville, Va. Reached by phone, Howell said when she heard she had won best of show, she was thrilled.

“I (almost) fell off my chair,” she said.

Howell is a retired speech therapist. She lived all over with world with her husband when he served in the U.S. Navy. Now she lives in Virginia near Manassas.

She said when she retired, she had no intention of becoming a fine-art photographer. She wanted to be a landscape designer. So she took a Master Gardener class and began creating plantings and landscapes. She took photos to document her work, and one thing led to another.

“I couldn’t take good before-and-after shots,” Howell said. “So I joined a local photo club, and started shooting a lot of photos. Then I quit landscaping, because it interfered with my photography.”

Now she shows and sells photos in a gallery near her home. And she began entering her photos in contests.

“I went to the (Cumberland Valley Photographic Salon) a couple years ago,” she said. “I was blown away by all the talent.”

Howell said she’s taken photos all over the United States and also overseas. But she shot “Frosted Ginkgo Leaves” in her front yard.

“I planted a ginkgo tree in my yard to learn about them when I became a Master Gardener,” she said. “I’ve got a Rottie named Kona. I took her out for a walk one day and I saw the fallen ginkgo leaves had frosted. I ran in to get my camera.”

Leaves. Animals. People. Buildings. Smith likes the variety of this year’s Cumberland Valley Photographic Salon.

“What is wonderful about this photo exhibition is that it is open to anything,” she said. “You get crisp black and whites, like Ansel Adams. You get Photoshop-manipulated images — more abstracts. You get the whole range.”

If you go ...       

WHAT: 79th annual Cumberland Valley Photographic Salon

WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 28, to Sunday, April 29; public reception  from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12

WHERE: Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, City Park, Hagerstown

COST: Free; donations requested

CONTACT: Call 301-739-5727 or go to

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