Getting "The Scoop"
Silver Imaging's awards bonanza makes big news, good business.
by Donna Clayton Walter
Nolan Vermillion is on an adventure. Though he looks to be only six years old, he sits alone at a café table on a street in Paris, dressed in trousers, suspenders and a crisp, white shirt. His hat resembles an old-timey reporter's fedora, complete with a tag of paper — a pressman's badge, perhaps? — stuck into the band. He looks off, pencil in one hand and a notepad in his lap, apparently deep in thought over what to write.
Melinda Austin with her award-winning photo, “The Scoop” (Photos by Donna Clayton Walter)
A cup of coffee and a camera sit on the table beside him. But wait. That camera, with its unspent blue flashbulb, looks like something straight out of the '40s or '50s. And the scene behind him seems more fantasy than the real-life Paris of today. A modern-day reporter might well ask, "What gives?"
Melinda Austin, who co-owns Silver Imaging Photo Lab & Portrait Studio with her husband George, staged, photographed and printed this whimsical portrait. She smiles, obviously enjoying pointing out all the interesting features of the photo — an entry that won four awards at the recent Professional Photographers Association of New Mexico (PPA-NM) five-day convention.
The Austins have owned Silver Imaging in Silver City for 17 years ("Picture Perfect," Business Exposure, June 2007). They have attended the PPA-NM's annual convention for the past six years and, this spring, entered three prints each. With competition stiff amongst the 50 or more attendees, the Austins are pleased to mention that all six of their works won "merits" — technical kudos — from the judges. The merits also move the pair closer to their Master's in Photography, Melinda adds.
And Melinda's portrait of Nolan was the talk of the PPA-NM event, winning a landslide of four awards, including Best Children's Portrait, Best in Show, the People's Choice Award — a high honor, as it is chosen by the photographers in attendance, the Austins' professional peers — and the Judges' Choice award.
George smiles and says, "Not only that, but it got a perfect score of 100. I've only seen that score three or four times before."
Melinda describes how she got her young subject to pose so perfectly, embodying the era and mood she hoped to convey in this piece, entitled "The Scoop."
"You have to ‘play' with children when photographing them," she says, describing how she set the scene for young Nolan. "I told him, ‘Okay, Nolan, you're a newspaper reporter, you've been walking the streets of Paris all day and your feet are tired. You're sitting down to rest and have a cup of coffee and you're trying to think of how you're going to write this story.'"
Melinda agrees that the photo may have had a few good-luck charms — the old-time camera was a gift from their wedding's best man. The pad Nolan holds was one she found in a trunk of family memorabilia. "I was so pleased to find it," she says, "and written in it are my mother's old canning notes from 1944!"
But while good luck is one thing, the photo's technical perfection is what brought home the gold, the Austins agree.
"I definitely got the ‘Twosies Rule' down," Melinda says, a rule of good portrait photography that holds there should never be two of the same things — feet, hands, shoulders — on the same plane. Melinda points out that even the boy's eyes are on a slightly different plane because he has cocked his head in imaginary thought. George explains that this creates interest and adds motion to the image. He adds that the photo also meets the "Rule of Thirds," which states that in every third of the image, there should be something of interest that can stand by itself.
Learning specific technique that helps the team create better photographic works is why they attend the convention, they say. Each event has notable speakers and educational workshops on cutting-edge techniques. One of George's entries, a slightly edgy senior portrait from the studio's local school contract, benefited from a special toning process they learned at one of the previous workshops they attended at a PPA convention, and from being printed on metallic paper.
"It was edgy to begin with," Melinda says of the striking young man in the photo, "and the metallic paper just makes it pop!" The piece won the Best Senior Portrait award.
Having an edge on custom portrait photography is one way Silver Imaging has weathered the shift from print film to the digital age, the Austins agree. The business processed some 350 rolls a week in film photography's heyday — now it's about 15 rolls a week. Silver Imaging rolled with the punches and the business thrives today by virtue of the Austins being digital photo experts, focusing on portrait photography, handling the area's school picture contracts and providing custom services, like old photo copying and restoration.
Each aspect of the business brings its own satisfaction, Melinda says. The do-it-yourself digital printing station — with the Austins ready to guide customers — has proven exceptionally popular. Portraiture, of course, preserves customers' cherished memories and documents family milestones. Expert photo restoration can bring an image of, say, old Granny So-and-so back from oblivion and into a frame on the living room shelf.
Asked what aspect of "The Scoop" Melinda most enjoys, she says, "It's whimsical. And Nolan is just precious! He got exactly the mood I was hoping to convey. The image tells a story." Then she smiles and adds, "And I just love that he's holding my mother's canning notes!"
Silver Imaging Photo Lab & Portrait Studio is at 1008 N. Pope St. in Silver City, 538-8658, www.silverportraitstudio.com. Open 9-5:30 M-F; 9-12 most Saturdays.
Former Desert Exposure senior editor Donna Clayton Walter
is a freelance writer in Silver City.