Three USAO Students Compete in Rule-Breaking Statewide Photo Contest
CHICKASHA – Three students from the University of Science and Arts recently proved they have what it takes to compete with Oklahoma’s best young photographers – and break all the rules of photography while doing it.
When 30 college students were selected from more than 100 applicants in October’s Red Bull Tunnel Vision photography contest in Oklahoma City, Jessica Irvin, Lauren Miller and Tommy Ball found they had more in common than just photography. Unaware that each had been selected to compete, the trio found each other in the large crowd of students from throughout the state and decided to spend the day working together.
Miller, an art junior from Moore, said she welcomed the USAO team.
“I was pretty nervous when I got there ‘cause there were so many people,” Miller said. “I was really glad they were there. I don’t think I would have done as well as I did without them or taken as many risks.”
The photographers’ mission: shoot the best picture in Oklahoma City using one of the worst cameras on the market. Each participant was given two rolls of 12-exposure film to burn and a Holga, a cheap, plastic camera guaranteed to level the playing field among photographers. Prone to light leaks, the camera came with a “Holga modification kit” complete with black tape to cover light holes.
Although the contest pitted the young photographers against each other, the USAO trio chose a different approach. Bartlesville art senior Irvin said she and her alma mater crew chose to stick together.
“We didn’t have to work together, but we wanted to,” Irvin said. “We walked around and fed off of each others’ creativity and each others’ ideas. We were supposed to be in a competition, but we just wanted one of us to win.”
Miller agreed that the team effort paid off.
“We bounced ideas off of each other and modeled for each other,” Miller said. “It would have been hard to get people off the street to model. I’m really glad I wasn’t alone; it would have been a lot more scary.”
Miller and Irvin were joined by Tommy Ball, an art senior from Sapulpa.
Throughout the 12-hour contest, the three art students roamed around downtown Oklahoma City shooting flamenco dancers at a Hispanic festival, farmer’s market salesmen and even law-breaking skateboarders.
“We were walking downtown trying to get on a roof and we saw these skaters trying to climb up this thing to skate down, and security guards showed up and started to break things up,” Irvin said. “They were giving them a lot of mouth. I was trying to get us out of there and Lauren (Miller) was sitting there, snapping away, taking pictures. She was loving it.”
For the students, who had received photographic training at USAO, certain photo rules had been ingrained early on, such as the rule of thirds, flattering the subject and filling the frame. But these rules did not apply for the contest.
“The point was to break these rules,” Irvin said. “The whole theme was, ‘You’ve learned the rules of photography, now you have 12 hours to break them.’”
For Miller, breaking the rules was harder than it sounded.
“Since we were trying to break the rules of photography, it was hard to get out of the frame of mind of trying to take good photos with the rules of photography,” Miller said. “When I went into it, I didn’t even pay attention to the rules, I just went from there. It was hard to remember that we were thinking outside the box.”
Throughout the day, Irvin said she received encouragement from another source: Levi, her husband of six months, currently stationed in the Middle East.
“He was really excited that I got accepted into the contest, really supportive but disappointed that he couldn’t be here,” Irvin said. She and her husband were married in April 2006, two days before he was shipped overseas to fight in Operation: Iraqi Freedom.
“He’s always been the number one supporter of my artwork,” she said. “He was texting me all day during the contest like, ‘how are you doing, are you having fun?’”
At the end of the day, the team turned in their rolls of film for development. They went back a couple of weeks later to select their favorite photo for submission into each of seven categories, followed by a ceremony a week later announcing the winners in each category.
In the end, the USAO students left without any awards. However, they didn’t leave empty-handed. The Holga cameras were theirs to keep, along with their film, prints and digital copies of their shots. They also left with fun experiences and newfound friendships.
“It was a great experience,” Irvin said. “It was like going on a big adventure. You never knew where you were going to end up or who you were going to meet. We had a Red Bull camera team following us around for a while, so that was pretty cool. It was a blast.”