I and the other judges were amazed by the variety of subject matter, creativity and composition of the portraits submitted this year. Anywn Hurxthal's playful modern take on the Hindu goddess Kali in "Cali Kali — A Tribute to Motherhood" made us pause to discuss its symbolism. We were amused by the photographer's creativity in illustrating the fine balances motherhood requires. Steve Goldband's beautifully toned black-and-white diptych "Ritual at Dawn, Udaipur" also received much of our attention. The image is a quiet and serene capture of a man bathing in the river, carefully soaking face and feet in suds in the soft morning light. I enjoyed how the photographer kept the man's face hidden so he remains an anonymous figure. Maya Maniar's captivating "Behind These Eyes," a close-up portrait of a girl, also stood out to us. The tightly cropped image draws us right into the subject's eyes and poignant expression, capturing her personality succinctly. We also really liked Steven Shpall's humorous image of a man trapped in the confines of his French press, the soft hues and framing of an accordion musician in Greg Gatwood's "Jena," the sweet moment between whispering girls in "Rachel and Catalina Sharing a Secret," and the bold portraits from Randy Mont-Reynaud and Susan Neville.
Cali Kali — A Tribute to Motherhood
For her winning image of modern motherhood (a self-portrait of a woman equipped with six arms, balancing kids, pets and more), Palo Alto resident Anwyn Hurxthal took inspiration from ancient sources, including the multi-armed Hindu goddess Kali.
"We're living in a society that doesn't put a lot of value on parenting and family, but we balance so much," she said of her photo, which combines the current and the classic and includes themes "both sacred and mundane."
As a mother of two young children, Hurxthal said she often wishes she had multiple arms with which to physically and emotionally juggle "kids, food, toys, life" but that her photo also reminds her of her successes in balancing the demands of a family.
To capture the image, and to tie it in to its ancient inspirations, Hurxthal said she posed with several symbolic items (a skull, for mortality; an ostrich egg, for potential; a snake, for health), along with her kids and even the family's pet chicken. She took the individual photos using a remote trigger, then combined the shots together using Photoshop. Because of her hectic home life, "I had about a 20-minute window" in which to take the shots, including wrangling her kids into the frame.
Despite what she called less-than-optimal conditions, she said: "It came together in a way that symbolized what I was feeling."
She's not a professional photographer, but "I've had a camera in my hand since age 5," the Kenyan-raised Hurxthal said, describing a childhood spent photographing the African wildlife her father researched. Years spent traveling the world working with a humanitarian organization also gave her a range of international photo opportunities and encounters with other cultures that influence her use of symbolism. She's studied visual anthropology and graphic design as well and is a jewelry designer, with an online shop at www.plumitajewelry.com.
For her next project, Hurxthal said she's interested in creating an anthropological photo essay documenting family life and dynamics, ideally involving other families in the community and again incorporating symbols from cultures around the world.
Ritual at Dawn, Udaipur
Behind These Eyes