A resident of the Brushy Mountain community won the Ralph H. Marler Jr. “Best in Show” award Friday night at the opening of the 38th annual Blue Ridge Overview Juried Competition and Exhibition at the Wilkes Art Gallery.
Erin Southwell’s “Winter Light” was judged the best overall by juror Christine Rucker, an award-winning photojournalist from East Bend. Southwell captured the winning shot in the basement of her home on Brushy Mountain Road using only natural light coming through a small basement window.
“The directional light pouring into the dark basement was very moving to me spiritually,” she said. “I asked my son James to stand in the pocket of light and to ‘reach for the light like he was reaching out to touch Jesus’ and the expression and pose you see in the photo was his natural reaction to that direction.”
Southwell took the photograph with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera and a 35mm f/1.2 Sigma Art lens, with the aperture set to f/1.4. She said she uses that lens 95 percent of the time and owns only one other lens. She doesn’t use any off-camera flash or other equipment and does post-processing in Adobe Lightroom.
She entered the Overview once before, in 2014, and won first place in the Composition and Design category. She said her busy family schedule prevented her from entering again until this year.
Southwell and her husband, Wilkesboro native Edward Southwell, have three children ages 8, 6, and 3, whom she home schools. Southwell also volunteers as director of DanCIS, Wilkes Communities in Schools’ nonprofit dance program.
She does occasional client work but primarily photographs family life on their Brushy Mountain hobby farm, which includes a garden, chickens, ducks and geese. “A lot of my images document the relationship between the children and our animals.”
She said that reading good books is the backbone of the Southwell homeschool, and that her photography is largely inspired by children’s literature and illustrations, music and the change of seasons.
Southwell, a native of northern Michigan, has been in Wilkes six years. She has a law degree and practiced litigation before moving here. She decided to stay at home after the first of the three children was born eight years ago.
Over 150 photos were chosen for the Blue Ridge Overview exhibition at the gallery, which is on C Street, North Wilkesboro. The show continues through Feb. 23.
In addition to Southwell, the winners are:
Landscape category: first place: Martin Seelig, “Sunset on Round Bald;” second: Yale Miller, “Frozen Sunrise;” honorable mention: Roy Walter, “Good Morning World” and Jim Magruder, “Under a Veil;”
My Hometown category: first place: Roy Walter, “Saturday Morning;” second: Martin Seelig, “Parkway;” honorable mention: Martin Seelig, “Where They Come From;”
Nature category: first place, Mike Duncan, “Fire Bolt;” second: Liz Crono, “Pure Imagination;” honorable mention: Franklyn Millman, “Charging Horses” and Liz Crono, “Someone to Watch Over Me;”
Photographer’s Choice: first place: Liz Crono, “Cataloochee Morning;” second place: Lisa Wilmoth, “Classic Nights;” honorable mention: Tea Auton, “Nola.”
Rucker talked briefly about the winning photos during the well-attended reception. She has an exhibit of her own photography, titled “Dance for the River,” in the Wilkes Art Gallery’s Kulynych Gallery.
Rucker said at the reception, “The things I value most are woven into my photographs—the environment, access to wild spaces, freedom, adventure, social equity. If these are things that you also value, I hope you see them in my work. I deeply believe if you are passionate in what you love, you find a way to make that your work.”
Cassandra Crislip’s photos are now exhibited in the gallery’s Elizabeth H. Forester Conference Room. The Fayetteville photographer’s work focuses on environmental issues and conservation.
Exhibit sponsors are Ward and Martha Nichols, Paul and Cindy Breden, Gordon and Abby Burns, Dan and Pat Bumgarner, Catch Light Gallery and Cassie Stone Photography.
The nonprofit Wilkes Art Gallery also has classes, workshops, a gift shop and more. Its art exhibits are free to the public. The gallery is open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Go to www.wilkesartgallery.org for more details.