Monday, December 17, 2018

Love Letters to my life #6: Gratitude for an unending series of learning experiences

by Joyce Wycoff
Thank you, Zacatecas for giving me a word that makes me … and my tongue … happy just saying it. Deslumbrante. Dazzling. My word for 2019.

This love letter on my birth and death day reminds me to be grateful for my dazzling life. 

My life hasn’t been a Hollywood-type nor a go-viral-type of dazzling, but it has dazzled me as it led me away from being a lonely kid living in Kansas, exploring life in the pages of books, to a real-life adventure in a world that gives me community, time to meet new people, make art, and learn new words like deslumbrante.

One of the things I love most about my life is its ordinary beginning and complete lack of expectations. As hard as I look, I can find nothing in my childhood that foreshadowed where I would be today. 
Stained Glass I
What would that kid from Kansas have thought
if she had known she would grow up to make art like this?
I grew up in the 50s on a “sorta farm” outside the tiny town of Dearing, Kansas, population: 266. There were two grades in each of our four classrooms. The best teacher I ever had in the entire length of my education was a woman who didn’t have a teaching credential and was forced to resign before I got my two years with her: a loss I still feel to this day. Red-headed and a no-nonsense principal, Mrs. Boehner was one of a kind and made learning fun and exciting. 

My 50s world was a simple time and place with little diversity. Few moms worked and most of us were middle-class poor: well-fed, roof-over-our-heads, but few luxuries. Our small town offered us a couple of church choices of the Christian variety. Growing up, I knew one black family, one Jewish boy, a couple of Catholics, and no Mexicans. I didn’t know any artists, writers, scientists, or politicians, had never seen a ballet, symphony, or a play outside of a school theater. I had never traveled beyond the range of family and I was 15 before I met someone from another country and in college before I tasted Chinese food. 
What would she have thought if she had known
she would one day eat a tlayuda in Oaxaca, Mexico?

Like many others of us at that time, I was the first in my family to finish high school, let alone go off to college. The vastness of my ignorance still amazes me. I didn’t know that people “chose” a college based on their interests, and when I showed up at the University of Oklahoma, I learned that there was such a thing as fraternities and sororities and that they had already had “Greek Week” and chosen their members. Of course, I was not a candidate for Greek life anyway so it didn’t matter, but it was an early indicator of how little I knew about the world. 
What would she have thought if she had known
she would find beauty and meaning in a cobbled street in Mexico?

Revealed ignorance. That would be a good descriptor of my life. Somewhat like an onion, life has peeled away my ignorance one layer at a time. I never know how ignorant I am until some life event occurs and, looking back, I realize how much better I could have handled that challenge if I had been smarter, wiser, better informed. 
It seems to be the pattern of my life. Just as I am feeling smart, competent, ready to take on the next challenge, inevitably it seems to fall on ground I haven’t plowed. Perhaps I’m approaching wisdom as I realize that I will most likely be just as unprepared for the next challenge as I have been for all the ones that have come before. Life will keep challenging me, teaching me, opening up new bits of me to be tested.
Breaking Free
This image reminds me that life has led me on a journey of breaking free from my beginnings. I have learned, grown and lived a life I never imagined. I have been challenged and survived, becoming smarter and wiser. Wise enough to know that life is my teacher, and she will continue to find my pockets of ignorance and give me experiences to learn from for the rest of my time here on this earth.

That's pretty darn deslumbrante!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Does life spiral in ... or out?

Alone in the world, 2007
There is a line 
that divides the world
sky above
water below

Twelve years ago today, a line was drawn and my carefully crafted life began to be sucked away piece by piece: marriage, home, work, identity, history, financial and emotional support, love ... all gone leaving only bruised bits behind. Richard's long illness and death twelve years ago was the beginning of a tidal wave that swept away all the structures in my life.

I am a flight animal so I ran, trying to leave pain in the distance. My first flight took me to a small fishing village south of Puerto Vallarta where I was going to take a digital collage class. I was sure I would be the dunce of the class since I had never even opened Photoshop ... and would also be an emotional basket case and center of unwelcome sympathy.

Turns out I was the only person in the class so I had a week of one-on-one instruction in Photoshop, an introduction to a completely new way of looking at photography, and was held in the kind, accepting, creative environment created by Robert Masla at Casa de los Artistas.

Art gave me hope

A few weeks later, I was still trying to out run grief when I invited my friend Lynne Snead to join me for a 10-day kayaking/snorkeling trip to Belize. She said yes and we wound up on a primitive island, sleeping in palapas with no electricity, water or toilets, and with only a million hungry no-see-ums for company.

The view from my palapa was of a jetty, dark and wet, with one lone, empty chair staring at the endless sea. (See image above.) 

It was a heartbreakingly lonely sight which inspired one of the first digital collages I ever made. Amidst the life and beauty of Long Caye island and the presence of one of my best friends, I felt alone in the world.

When Lynne and I met at the airport in Dallas, we were having lunch when she handed me a silver, plastic fork and told me a story that still keeps me balanced. It's a common story about a man who after a big meal, tells people to keep their forks ... because the best is yet to come.

Some time later she replaced the plastic fork with a metal one that still hangs by my window, holding a space for the next best thing.

The question with no answer

Richard and Ava
Occasionally, my mind turns to the fantasy question: if my fairy godmother gave me a wish, would I use it to turn back the clock, restore Richard to health, to our home in the Sierra foothills, to our jobs, lives as grandparents, to what we thought of as "normal?"

It's a meaningless question ... there is no magical clock. There is only life, and, after twelve years, I realize I am not the person I was.  These years have given me opportunities to discover things about myself that I could never have imagined. I believe I am more who I was meant to be now than ever before in my life.

I loved my life with Richard; I love my life now. While I mourn his death and miss his wisdom, humor, and constant kindness; I am filled with gratitude for all that has come my way in the past twelve years.

Sometimes, as I think of all of this, I wonder if I am spiraling in toward my authentic core ... or spiraling out toward the infinite? Whichever way I'm going, I'm grateful for life, for friends, for art, for having had so many different forms of life and love.

Spiraling in ... or out?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Love Letters to my life #5: Coin-toss days

A painted garage on Independencía
by Joyce Wycoff

It was Day of the Dead but I couldn’t decide how to spend it. 
Should I stay home and have a nice quiet day or go out and see what was going on in the village? 
I had already experienced Day of the Dead here last year. I knew what to expect: altars on the street, people in the cemetery beginning a day of honoring their ancestors, flowers everywhere. I was torn; wanting both, two things that couldn’t exist simultaneously. 
Finally I tossed the coin, grabbed my camera and headed out, determined to at least vary the route between my house and the cemetery.

I seldom walk down Independencía even though it has always been a favorite. Immediately, I started seeing lovely signs, details and wall art I’d forgotten or never seen.

Vision Nocturna, Efren Gonzalez, 2008
And, as soon as I turned onto Ocampo, I began to see altars on the street. And, while they are always similar, they are also always unique and compelling. I had never seen this "family tree" treatment.

 I love the bits of philosophy that show up on the walls.

This one from the playwright Lope de Vega. Google Translate gave me a very unsatisfactory translation but Wikiquotes gave me this to ponder:

"But life is short: 
while one lives, everything is lacking; 
when one is dead, everything is superfluous."

Finally, I arrived at the cemetery where everything was abuzz with activity. 

Walking into the cemetery, I noticed a huge pile of "trash" ... flowers and arrangements removed the day before on cleaning day.

As I walked the narrow paths through the graves, I looked for good "shots," trying not to interfere with the processes of others.

However, I soon noticed that some graves were bare, apparently forgotten. For some reason, that bothered me and I wondered why they were left behind. It didn't seem right in this place where there was so much attention and memory lavished on almost all the graves.

I went back to the trash pile and began to rescue flowers, most of which were still quite beautiful, and distribute them to the barren graves. In the process, I discovered the grave of a local writer, Dane Chandos and decided to read his books about early Ajijic. (See blog post here.)

Later, during a conversation with the founder of a local writers' group, we decided to come back next year and honor him as one of our ancestors and replace his broken gravestone.

Somewhere along the line, I realized I was having an amazing day. That what looked like a coin-toss, was something else indeed. Taking the effort to go out to an unknown possibility showered me with joy and made me grateful to be alive.

The rest of the day was filled with altars on the plaza, sawdust paintings, giant Catrinas, visits with friends and a candle lighting at Ajijic's unique Wall of Skulls.

In total, an amazing day. I hope I remember this the next time I think I'm facing a "coin-toss" day.

Way too many of the altars honored young people.

Artist, Efren Gonzalez before the lighting

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Calle Arteaga: Walking through the history of abstract art, part 1

Walking through the history of art
Calle Gral. Arteaga, Jiquilpan, Mexico
Recently I received an announcement of a painting class focused on the rules of abstract art. I thought about taking the class because I don’t know the rules of abstract art … but it was a painting class and I don’t paint. So, of course, I went to Google to see what those rules were.

I found a six-part YouTube series called Rules of Abstraction with Matthew Collings. The first thing I learned was that what we call abstract art, should actually be called non-objective art. According to The Virtual Instructor, who turns out to be a guy named Matt Fussell, who says "I'm simply a normal guy that loves to draw and paint, and most of all - teach,” there are three types of art:
Representational: We can easily identify with recognizable subjects in a painting, drawing, or sculpture.  This makes representational art widely accepted among the masses.

Abstract Art: The often misunderstood type of art known as abstraction aims to take subjects from reality but present them in way that is different from the way they are viewed in our reality. 
Non-Objective Art: The third type of art is often mistaken for Abstract art although it is entirely different from it. Non-Objective art takes nothing from reality. It is created purely for aesthetic reasons.
The video series by Collings didn’t really provide a set of rules. Rather, each video discussed 3–4 artists, showed their work and then abstracted one or two rules important to each artist. It didn’t take me long to realize I was going to have to take notes if I were to remember any of what I was going to see. 
And, then an even stranger thought showed up. On my Photoshop screen, I had the second photo above which was taken in Jiquilpan, Mexico, on a street called Gral. Arteaga. I didn’t much care who General Arteaga was, I just liked it that his name had the word “art” in it and it was a beautiful street.

For some reason I decided to create a collage superimposed on that street. (The things one does when one doesn’t have to go to work every day!) The first image above is the end result of this exercise.

Here are the artists I met on this journey and the pieces of their art that became part of the end piece.

Spirited Away
Hilma af Klint  — Even though Hilma didn’t consider herself an artist, she is credited with being one of the first abstract (or non-objective) artists. Hilma was a Swedish mystic, deeply involved with Theosophy and considered her art to be soul directions to help connect with “higher masters.” Her spiritual journey began at age 18 when her younger sister died. She was also greatly influenced by Rudolf Steiner. She left 23,000 pages of notes about her journey and described her work as a kind of channeling: 
 “The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings, and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict; nevertheless I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brush stroke.” 
Hilma af Klint, Photo: Wikipedia
Hilma seldom showed her 1200 paintings to her contemporaries. After Steiner rejected her work, she decided that the world was not ready to understand her visions. She specified that her work should be kept secret for at least 20 years after her death. The boxes of paintings were opened at the end of the 1960s, but she was little known until the mid-1980s, and only in 2018 did her work find a permanent home in Moderna Museet.  See Guggenheim exhibit 2018-2019.
Wassily Kandinsky Photo: Wikipedia
Wassily Kandinsky “Transcend Nature” — Kandinsky, too, was deeply spiritual, influenced by Theosophy and the work of Rudolph Steiner. He was affected by music and thought working with color was like playing a piano. He believed that black animates everything and used repetition and surprise to create a sensual impact. I began the project thinking I would put pictures of the artists in the end piece. However, I soon realized that a bunch of disconnected heads wasn’t what I wanted. I really like Kandinsky so I left his and Klint’s photos in the piece. 
"He experienced a sort of epiphany upon viewing a Monet exhibit in Moscow. At first put off by the artist's Impressionistic Haystacks paintings, Kandinsky found nevertheless that Monet's use of color impacted him in a significant way, taking on an almost mythic power. " More about Kandinsky and description of the piece below (and photo credit) available from

Accompanied Center - 1937
Fiona Rae “Surprise Move” — I love so much of the work of this artist from Hong Kong. Gallery description of the image used states: The large work Figure 2a (2015) is the first painting in the series to reintroduce colour in the foreground while keeping the backdrop in greyscale. This emphasizes the colour and creates a new concentration and dynamism in the constellation of figure and ground, surface and line. Still, Fiona Rae’s signature remains clearly recognizable in these new works, evidence of the many visual codes and tropes she has developed and made her own over the years. Info and photo credit to Buchmann Galerie Lugano
Figure 2a (2015
Sonia Delaunay "Color is Light" -- Ukrainian-born French artist, who spent most of her working life in Paris and, with her husband Robert Delaunay and others, cofounded the Orphism art movement, noted for its use of strong colors and geometric shapes. She celebrated light as a spirit lifting force. And, like Kandinsky, related color to music. Info and photo credit: Wikipedia.
Rythme, 1938
M.E. Chevreul

M.E. Chevreul “Color is an optical vibration” — , a French chemist rather than an artist completes the portraits contained in the collage. His color theories greatly influenced many of the early abstract artists. Info and photo credit: Wikipedia. 
From ColorSystem: The purpose of the (Chevreul) system is to establish a law of «Simultaneous Contrast». Leonardo da Vinci had probably been the first to notice that, when observed adjacently, colours will influence each other. Goethe, however, was the first to specifically draw attention to these associated contrasts. Chevreul designed a 72-part colour-circle whose radii, in addition to the three primaries of red, yellow and blue, depict three secondary mixtures of orange, green and violet as well as six further secondary mixtures.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Emma Gatewood: a delayed love affair with life

I have a new hero. As often happens, I met her in a book.

In early May of 1955, Emma Gatewood, left her Ohio home, caught a ride to West Virginia, a plane to Atlanta, a bus to Georgia, and a cab to Mount Oglethorpe, then the southern starting point of the Appalachian Trail, which wound 2,050 miles through rugged, mountainous country to its end point in Maine. 
Emma registered her name in the logbook at the summit of Mount Katahdin on September 25th: 144 days of hiking, averaging roughly fifteen miles per day, carrying a denim bag she made herself, wearing out seven pairs of shoes, mainly canvas sneakers, with no tent or elaborate hiking gear.

She was the first woman to make the thru-hike. She was 67.

Emma was a tough woman, enchanted by nature. She bore 11 children to a sex-addled man who abused her physically and emotionally for thirty-three years. Walking into the woods was her escape. She fell in love with the idea of walking the new Appalachian Trail from a National Geographic article, and when she left to start her walk, she didn’t tell anyone. She had waited years, dreaming silently, until she decided it was time. (Click here to see the article that inspired Emma.)

The response to this older woman doing the impossible was remarkable. In today’s terminology, we would say that her story went viral. Ben Montgomery, the author, deftly weaves the threads of the story together … her walk, her life of abuse, the times, the history of the Appalachian trail, her amazing resilience and determination, and the reasons she did what she did. She didn’t stop with hiking the A.T. once … she did it three times … the last time at 75, although it was done in sections. She also walked 2,000 milesof the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri, to Portland, Oregon, averaging 22 miles a day, and helped develop the Buckeye Trail in Ohio. 

1955 wasn’t Emma’s first try at the Trail. She started from Maine in 1954, but quickly got lost and had to be rescued. As Ben Montgomery writes, the Appalachian Trail wasn’t just a walk in the woods. “There were a million heavenly things to see and a million spectacular ways to die."

Emma went home feeling like a failure, however, she was back the next year, lessons learned and starting from the south, determined.

As the public began to catch wind of what the 67 year-old woman was doing, the press swarmed her, always asking, "Why?" She gave many answers ... "It was something to do ... it was a lark ...." However, the author hints at something deeper.
Thinking about her life of severe abuse and caring for eleven children and all the chores of keeping a farm going, it's clear she never had time for herself. When her children were grown, she could finally choose her own path, her own way of spending her time. When she walked into the woods it was purely a selfish act. 
Isn't it interesting however that she inspired thousands, maybe even millions of people to follow their own choices? Another reminder that it's never too late to fall in love with our own lives.

More information 

 Interesting quotes about walking from the book:

Anthropologists estimate that early man walked twenty miles a day. Mental and physical benefits have been attributed to walking as far back as ancient times. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD) described walking as one of the “Medicines of the Will.” Hippocrates, the Greek physician, called walking “man’s best medicine” and prescribed walks to treat emotional problems, hallucinations, and digestive disorders.

Leonardo da Vinci designed elevated streets to protect walkers from cart traffic. Johann Sebastian Bach once walked two hundred miles to hear a master play the organ.

William Wordsworth was said to have walked 180,000 miles in his lifetime. Charles Dickens captured the ecstasy of near-madness and insomnia in the essay “Night Walks” and once said, “The sum of the whole is this: Walk and be happy; Walk and be healthy.” Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of “the great fellowship of the Open Road” and the “brief but priceless meetings which only trampers know.” Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche said, “Only those thoughts that come by walking have any value.”
  2. At Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio, the North Country Trail, Buckeye Trail, and the American Discovery Trail coincide and a six-mile section is designated as the Grandma Gatewood Trail. It connects Old Man's Cave to Cedar Falls to Ash Cave. 
  3. Interesting short video re-enacting a segment of Grandma Gatewood's life 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Love Letters to my life #4: Harvesting my "journal"

Right now it's FREE on amazon
Years ago, friends of mine wrote a book on gleaning memories, moments, and "thought seeds" from your journals. I thought it was a way cool idea ... however, my journals were haphazard at best and my harvest was meagre.
This morning, as I was doing some reorganization of my Evernote files, I found something I had written a couple of years ago that was perfect for what I'm thinking about right now. It turned into a post about what I call my Ancestor Reclamation Project of remembering and honoring the non-DNA ancestors of my life. Writing that post led me to my photos file to find pictures to go with them, which also sparked other memories and thoughts. 
Suddenly I realized my computer is my journal, made up primarily of all my writings which go into Evernote and my twenty-some-odd thousand photos in Photos. Combined with the internet which holds my two active blogs, and all the stuff on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, I have a massive journal that also has the benefit of being light weight. 
Of course, I also have paper journals, but they tend to be a mess. My friend Cynthia is an art journal person and I drool over hers but I’m finally reconciling myself to the fact that my journals are ugly ducklings, but they are mine.
A story I remember about Buckminster Fuller was that, at a very young age, maybe 20ish, he decided to document the life of an “ordinary person.” It makes me wonder how much the practice of documenting our lives actually change it. I’m sure even the erratic, sometimes beautiful, sometimes just plain messy, version of journaling that I do changes me, opens up new connections, leads to new perceptions, and deepens my experience of life.
As I walk further into this strange land of advanced years, I am delighted to have created documentation that helps me understand more about my journey. I look back with fondness for where I’ve been and in anticipation of what lies before me. 
Here's a gleaning from this morning ... a poem written obviously some time ago and an early piece of digital art.
It's about time

Fifty years and four have
flown past my door.
I no longer have time
to not have time.

I do not have time to zoom past a field of flowers
glowing orange in the morning sun.
I do not have time to travel the world seeking
the wonders to be found in my own backyard.

I do not have time
to come back later
Or do it tomorrow
for tomorrow may never be.

I do not have time
to not slow down,
to put off a poem, delay a hug
or walk past a prayer.

I no longer have time,
for now, time has me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Photography: The critical importance of feedback and how to give it to yourself

"Good photographs are quantum packets of understanding;
they allow ideas to leap from one person to another, almost magically."
— Jeff Wignall, National Geographic photographer

From an early Instamatic with film the size of my little fingernail, my life has included a long series of cameras. However, it wasn’t until digitals arrived, that I started getting better. Not that the cameras were that much better; it was the instant feedback. I could see what i was doing wrong and play with other ways of shooting.

For the past couple of years, I was a member of the Nevada County Camera Club and every month we had about ninety photos submitted for critique by various judges. I made sure I had my allotment in every batch of those critique sessions. Some months I walked away bruised or confused, some months I floated away on sweet words. However, viewing and listening to the critique of ninety images every month ground some fundamentals into my psyche, but also left me wanting a more in-depth critique of my own work.
Black Ebony by Gabriel Olude
Now, I’m in Mexico with a new camera club that hasn’t grown into the capability of NCCC, so the question becomes how do I get the feedback I need to keep improving?

I need a set of criteria. But, which criteria? I started making a list and then decided there must be lists online. There are, of course ... dozens of them. A lot of the lists mention technical excellence, clarity, composition and so on. However, I liked an interview with National Geographic photographer Jeff Wignall who said that a photo could be technically beautiful but still not touch someone’s heart.

I definitely want to create photos that create a feeling, have an impact and “allow ideas to leap from one person to another.” So, impact has to be on the list. Let’s call it “Wow!” This photo art by Gabriel Olude is one that makes me say “wow!” every time I see it. It will be my benchmark for a rating of 10.  (From Issue 27, May 2017 of “Living the Photo Artistic Life.)

Wignall also said, "One of the best things you can do to improve your photography is to get your pictures in front of other people where you can see their reaction."

Dune Dancer by Ann Lavin
Something that several of us from NCCC did was print 50 of our favorite photos and have a “speed dating” session where we silently passed them around and let each person rate each of the photos of the others. It takes awhile but the results were enlightening. For one of my favorite images, it turned out that some of the reviewers didn’t even know what the subject was! Somehow, I have to make sure that the subject or the intended feeling is transmitted with power and “clarity."

This image above, "Dune Dancer" by Ann Lavin is a beautiful role model for clarity.

Tulip in Blue by Nancy Brizendine
Today’s cameras are excellent and even an average photographer can produce technically excellent photos. And, now there are dozens of apps that will transform ordinary photos into unique works of art. When I asked Google how many photographers there were in the world, the answers ranged from 75 million to 2 BILLION. A major question becomes: how to stand out from that flood of images?

The answer that surfaced for me is what in writing we call “voice,” a striking personal style, fresh viewpoint, or a unique way of seeing the world and capturing it in an image. Each image should give the viewer something he hasn’t seen or felt before. 
Obviously, with all the photos being taken today, it is not easy to find a novel way to capture an image, however, it is a criteria to strive for. “Uniqueness," became one of the criteria, spurring an intent to make images that were uniquely mine. 

It takes a lot to make a photo of a flower pop. "Tulip in Blue” by Nancy Brizendine has it all: style, voice, color, movement, light. It’s a great example of taking an overworked subject area to a higher level and is a role model I would like to live up to. (From Issue 29, July 2017 of “Living the Photo Artistic Life.)

Breaking the Pattern by Evelyn Elwan
I am currently in an online training and community focused on photo artistry and led by Sebastian Michaels. Dozens of artists are posting their images on a private Facebook group every day and top images are published in the “Living the Photo Artistic Life,” magazine. One thing I’ve noticed in looking at hundreds of works of art from this group is that some create a unique mood through a blend of light, subject, color and movement. It’s a bit difficult to describe, however, you feel it when it’s done well. So, add “mood” to the list. 
 An amazing  example of mood comes from Evelyn Elwan’s “Breaking the Pattern” (From Issue 27, May 2017 of “Living the Photo Artistic Life.)

Something Missing
After looking at so many images and reviewing all the criteria I could find, it seemed like there was still something missing: a quality of depth where there were constantly new things to be discovered, that kept attention roaming around the image. I decided to call this illusive quality, “abundance.”   
When I looked at the images that seemed to offer this abundance, I found two and couldn’t choose between them, so here they both are:

Artist: Doris Seybold
A Promise by Carol Entin
Both of these images offer a satisfying feast of details.

So, to recap, the five criteria I have chosen to critique my own photos with are:

Wow! - images that pop, giving you a feeling of having seen something new, felt something at a deeper level, connected with the essence of the artist and the subject.

Clarity - focus on a subject or intended feeling in such a powerful way that the viewer knows deeply what the image is trying to convey.

Uniqueness - a striking personal style, fresh viewpoint, or a unique way of seeing the world and capturing it in an image. Giving the viewer something he hasn’t seen or felt before in an image.

Mood - a blend of light, subject, color and movement that creates a definite feeling or sense of time or place.

Abundance - a quality of depth where there were constantly new things to be discovered, that keeps attention roaming around the image.

Now I’m off to see how my photos and art images match up with these qualities. Feel free to use these criteria for your own work … or explore the source materials below to choose the ones most appropriate for you.

*******  Source Materials:  *******

1.) Impact is the sense one gets upon viewing an image for the first time. Compelling images evoke laughter, sadness, anger, pride, wonder or another intense emotion. There can be impact in any of these twelve elements.
2.) Technical excellence is the print quality of the image itself as it is presented for viewing. Retouching, manipulation, sharpness, exposure, printing, mounting, and correct color are some items that speak to the qualities of the physical print.
3.) Creativity is the original, fresh, and external expression of the imagination of the maker by using the medium to convey an idea, message or thought.
4.) Style is defined in a number of ways as it applies to a creative image. It might be defined by a specific genre or simply be recognizable as the characteristics of how a specific artist applies light to a subject. It can impact an image in a positive manner when the subject matter and the style are appropriate for each other, or it can have a negative effect when they are at odds.
5.) Composition is important to the design of an image, bringing all of the visual elements together in concert to express the purpose of the image. Proper composition holds the viewer in the image and prompts the viewer to look where the creator intends. Effective composition can be pleasing or disturbing, depending on the intent of the image maker.
6.) Presentation affects an image by giving it a finished look. The mats and borders used, either physical or digital, should support and enhance the image, not distract from it.
7.) Color Balance supplies harmony to an image. An image in which the tones work together, effectively supporting the image, can enhance its emotional appeal. Color balance is not always harmonious and can be used to evoke diverse feelings for effect.
8.) Center of Interest is the point or points on the image where the maker wants the viewer to stop as they view the image. There can be primary and secondary centers of interest. Occasionally there will be no specific center of interest, when the entire scene collectively serves as the center of interest.
9.) Lighting —the use and control of light—refers to how dimension, shape and roundness are defined in an image. Whether the light applied to an image is manmade or natural, proper use of it should enhance an image.
10.) Subject Matter should always be appropriate to the story being told in an image.
11.) Technique is the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, capture, presentation media, and more are part of the technique applied to an image.

12.) Story Telling refers to the image’s ability to evoke imagination. One beautiful thing about art is that each viewer might collect his own message or read her own story in an image.

Five Factors That Judges Consider in Reviewing Photo Contest Entries  - National Wildlife Federation
  1. Originality
  2. Technical Excellence
  3. Composition
  4. Artistic Merit
  5. Overall Impact
Came up with lists of possible criteria before homing in on five:
  • Adherence/Appropriateness to Theme
  • Uniqueness of Concept
  • Originality
  • Clarity of Expression
  • Humor
  • Creativity
  • Innovative Means of Delivering Message
  • Entertainment Quality
  • Visual Design
  • Overall Artistic Impression
  • Composition
  • Clarity and Quality of Submission
  • Color, Lighting, Exposure and Focus
  • Audience Appeal
  • Marketability/Commercial Appeal
  • Newsworthiness
  • Inspirational Power
  • Expression of Theme
  • Usage of Brand to Reinforce Theme
  • Overall Impression/Impact
  • Current/Potential Social Impact
  • Level of Detail
  • Inspiration to Others
  • Wow! Factor
  • Memorable
  • Technical Execution
  • Visual Appeal
  • Artistic Merit

Rather than have a one word criteria, MKD suggested defining the criteria, for example:
    • Impact– what you feel when you first view the Entry. Does the photo evoke an emotion from the viewer?
    • Creativity– how the Entrant was able to convey their idea, message or thought in an original and imaginative way through their lens.
    • Style – how the Entrant is able to showcase their personal originality and technique to influence how the image is presented and interpreted.
    • Subject Matter– was the subject matter displayed in the photo appropriate to the story being told in the Photo Entry submitted and does it fully represent the Sponsor’s promotional theme?
    • Story Telling– how the Entrant is able to let their Photo Entry evoke the viewer’s imagination, which may differ by each viewer. Is the story being told the right story for the Sponsor and their brand?
    • Technique–the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, capture, presentation media, and more are part of the technique applied to an image.
    • Composition– how all the visual elements harmoniously express the purpose or intent of the image. Does the photo draw the viewer in to look where the creator intended?
    • Presentation– having that finished look. Was the Photo Entry truly ready to be entered or were some finishing touches still required?
    • Color Balance– can bring harmony to a photo. Do the tones work together, effectively supporting the image? However, Color Balance is not always harmonious and can be used to evoke diverse feelings for effect.
    • Center of Interest– the point(s) in the photo where the Entrant wants you to view the image. Does the photo draw you in? Does it have more than one center or interest or none at all?
    • Lighting—how the Entrant was able to use and control light. Was the lighting applied in the photo (manmade or natural) properly used to enhance the image?

excerpted from Winning Digital Photo Contests, by Black Star Rising contributor Jeff Wignall.