Robert Vernon Wilson

"One Way"
First place Peninsula People

Robert Vernon Wilson has a thing about signs. A professional freelance photographer in East Palo Alto, Wilson is fascinated with photographing people doing unusual things with signs.

"But it has to be more than just a sign--it needs something bizarre," Wilson explained.

Signs play a subtle but critical role in Wilson's photo, "One Way," which depicts a group of clowns standing on a street corner. A "One-Way" traffic sign hangs in the far left corner.

Wilson captured the image two years ago in San Francisco where he encountered a Carnival parade. Waiting for the right moment, Wilson followed a group of clowns for about eight blocks and then saw the "One Way" sign. "I saw the sign and that was it," he said, adding that he did nothing to arrange the shot and never even spoke to the clowns. "They were totally non-communicative, almost like mimes," he said.

"I was just trying to do something with the sign and these people just helped me out," Wilson said, adding that later when he was checking his negatives, he realized that he only had one negative of what became the winning photograph in the "Peninula People" category. "That's the only shot," he said.

This "one shot" style of photography reflects Wilson's attraction to what the 19th-century French photographer Henri Bresson called "the moment." Disliking posing or staging the elements in his images, Wilson seeks natural spontaneity in his work. "It's like I'm a mirror, recording whatever you're doing. I'm always there for the moment," he said.

In his professional work, Wilson specializes in weddings, portraits, and commercial fine art and black-and-white abstracts. He uses his home as his studio, and mixes his own chemicals from powder in his darkroom to achieve a unique look that distinguishes his work from that of other photographers.

--Christina Ziegler-McPherson