22nd Annual Palo Alto Weekly Photo Contest
First Place, Portraits - Adult

"Donald"

By Yaniv Gur

It wasn't the wild shock of white hair, or the stoic -- almost regal -- carriage that struck Yaniv Gur as he pointed a camera at Donald.

It wasn't the impish spark in the model's eyes or Donald's prominent cheek bones, which gave the rest of the face the gaunt, confident look of an ancient prophet.

It was the hands -- massive and leathery, the right one cradling a black, wide-rimmed hat; the left one hanging by the side, long fingers half-curled into a semicircle that could enfold a grapefruit.
"In my frame, I can see his big gnarly arm and his hand and it just had so much texture," said Gur, a Palo Alto resident whose portrait, "Donald," took first place in the portraits category for adults in the Palo Alto Weekly Photo Contest. "For the whole session, to be honest, all I was looking at was the hand."

Donald isn't exactly what we think of when we think of male models. There is no Botox, bulging bicep or fake tan here. He is a thin man in his 80s and he wears a buttoned long-sleeve shirt and black pants held up by a leather belt. His splotched and wrinkled face is framed from the north by a sweeping mane and from the south by a wispy sphere of a beard that fully obscures his mouth. He doesn't have the perfect skin of GQ model, but he looks perfectly comfortable, even proud, to be in his own skin.

Which, for Gur, made him a perfect subject.

An Apple executive by day, Gur spends his time away from work following his passion -- photography. Gur has been shooting photos for the past three decades, ever since he was an 11-year-old boy in Israel and his uncle gave him his first camera. He hasn't stopped since, doing everything from street photography (his main passion) to landscapes and portraits, a form that allows him to experiment with lighting.

Gur discovered his model at a photography workshop in Santa Fe, N.M. He said he was struck by Donald's "amazing presence" ("He is the definition of cool," Gur said) and made it his personal challenge to create "something that looks like nothing I've ever seen."

To make it happen, Gur positioned a strobe light over Donald's head and a ring light by his feet. He watched Donald shake his shoulders and assume his position. Then, lying on the floor near Donald's feet, Gur fixated on the subject's hand as he pointed the camera up and clicked away.

At one point in the shoot, Gur tried to move a fan that stood behind Donald when, in a happy accident, he turned the fan on. Donald's unkempt locks washed over his face, covering his eyes, and enabling Gur to create "Hair," a photo that is also exhibited as part of the photo contest.

The day ended happily. After Donald saw the photos, he told Gur that it was his birthday and invited him to a bar for a celebration.

"We went dancing at a bar and he was drinking like a madman," Gur recalled. "He brought his wife and they were dancing and making out and the way he was dancing was so cool -- sort of like the way he was standing in the picture.".

— Gennady Sheyner

Judge's Comment:

One compelling aspect of a good portrait is the story it tells. Here, in first-place winner "Donald," the story is staged as a small drama with lighting, costume and mystery. That the subject is thinking back in time shows in his eyes and mouth, with the costume heightening the effect.

The distorted perspective of his hand -- as large as his face -- keeps the eye traveling back and forth between the two focal points. Our eyes aren't allowed to leave the frame -- a powerful, dramatic portrait.

I have been to Ngorongoro Crater and seen some of the Masai people, but I certainly didn't come home with a portrait as full of drama and poignancy as "Masai Man in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania," which took second place and seems to tell the story of a whole family of people in the representation of this sole individual, whose vulnerability and isolation are heightened by the dramatic color and contrast of his clothing and face against the blurred, muted background empty of other people. Portraits that last make the viewer want more. I want to know more about this man's story.

In third-place winner "Baba," Paige Parsons has captured a moment that makes the viewer want to know, "What was she thinking?" Even though the eyes are not looking out at the viewer (or perhaps especially because they aren't), our attention is drawn to them and invite us to imagine all they have seen. The beautiful lighting and shallow depth of field allow us to focus without distraction on this face rich with history.

"Untitled Portrait 2," which received an honorable mention, is a photograph that illustrates Cartier Bresson's dictum of "the decisive moment." The tension of this particular moment is exaggerated by the tilted camera angle. The eye, lit by the glow of a lighter, focuses our attention. Clearly there's a story here, and the photograph makes us wonder what it is.

— Brigitte Carnochan

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