I was stuck.  PPA and its affiliate competitions have given me the skills and direction I needed to create work that I am proud to say is my own.  I take that knowledge into the camera room with me every day as I consider what best conveys my vision along with my client’s desires.  

Image competition has helped me hone my skills in ways I would have never imagined when I first started entering in 2006.  Since then I have achieved my Master of Photography, Master Artist, and Imaging Excellence degrees and I appreciate all of the lessons I have learned from that process.  

Things started to shift a bit for me in 2021. It started to become very apparent that heavy artwork was being recognized at a level above that of actual photography created entirely in camera.  Frustration set in as I tried to create or choose images to enter.  I felt stuck.  I felt like my creative voice was being somewhat strangled by the expectations of image competition.  

I enjoy the artist category for exactly what it is – a place to stretch your digital art creativity and hone those skills.  But Photographic Open seemed to have become anything but photographic.  At least the winning images anyway.  So I set a goal of creating something completely in camera that I was proud to say was 100% photographic, no artwork, just some minor fine-tuning.  

I started thinking about my journey to this point and where I want my work to go from here.  How do I want to be remembered?  As someone who knows her way around Photoshop?  Or as a photographic artist? Or both? In some ways, I very much want to be both but I want the photography to be as pure as possible.  

I saw myself as being in a sort of metamorphic phase, just trying to find my voice. I wanted to show the struggle of feeling stuck when you know where you want to go but can’t seem to get there. That’s where the concept of “Becoming” began.  

I have worked with bentonite clay in the past. It is a natural clay that is often used in spa treatments so it’s very safe and as it dries it creates incredible textures. But in this case, it wasn’t gritty enough. I wanted a grungier, cocoon-like feel to the image. I knew that what was in my head was going to be a big ask of any model so I started calling some friends that I have worked with in the past that are typically up for anything.  

© Dawn Muncy

We started applying the clay, adding some weeds, and wrapping him in cheesecloth to create the “cocoon” look.  It takes an hour or more for the clay to start to dry.  As it dries it pulls moisture from the skin and makes the person feel very cold. It took two space heaters to keep Blake from physically shaking throughout the session even though it was August and plenty warm in the studio. 

As we worked we talked about transformations and changing course. We worked on a number of poses and lighting looks and that magic we all seek for our work started happening for us.  

Blake understood the concept and the feeling I wanted to convey and he took on that role seamlessly. As we talked about transformation, I remembered an episode of the TV show “Glow Up” that I had recently watched where the makeup artist used branches as wings.  Oddly enough, I had similar branches in the studio already that I had used in a set years ago, so I sat those behind him in a vase.  

© Dawn Muncy

At this point, I loved everything about the look except for the bottom of the image.  It just kind of stopped.  I didn’t want a full-length image because I wanted to keep all of that texture but I didn’t like the abrupt cut-off of his body and I was still trying to be true to the “all-in-camera” goal of the piece. That’s when I spotted my fog machine out of the corner of my eye. I positioned the machine so that the fog would come up around him.  It was the exact touch the piece needed to give it that transformative feel.  

“Becoming” © Dawn Muncy

I was fortunate enough to have quite a few great images to choose from, but this image stood out from the rest and told the exact story I wanted to tell.  It was shot on a tan-colored Savage seamless paper and lit with a 4×6 softbox on camera right.  Two 9×24 soft boxes were used as kicker lights from behind him on each side at a 45-degree angle with just enough power to give a very soft edge light to add separation from the background.

Postproduction consisted of removing a couple of bits of sensor dust and a few pieces of weeds that were distracting. I then used Nik Silverfex for the sepia conversion and added a simple presentation.

This image has done well for me in image competition earning a trophy at the Professional Photographers of the Ozarks image competition and an Imaging Excellence in IPC’s Photographic Open.  It is one of my favorite pieces because of the story it tells as well as achieving the goal of creating something award-worthy in camera.  

I have since taken more steps in that direction by purchasing a medium-format film camera. I am very much enjoying getting back to my photographic roots and I am starting to add film images to my client offerings as well. It’s quite rewarding to see people get excited about film photography again. I can’t wait to see where the next leg of the journey takes me.