17th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Photo Contest
"Feet Out the Window"
Even the most skilled photographer will tell you that often, taking a great picture has as much to do with timing and the ability to recognize opportunity as it does with talent or experience.
Recently, Rachel Harrus of Palo Alto was cruising around San Francisco with her family, taking pictures and seeing the sights, when just such an opportunity presented itself. The resulting photo, entitled "Feet Out the Window," earned the 14-year-old high school freshman a first place award.
"I was with my aunt, uncle and some cousins. We had been hanging out in San Francisco doing touristy things and taking pictures that day, and we stopped near a gift-shop on the corner of Haight and Ashbury. I saw a sculpture sticking halfway out of the building and snapped a photo of it. I really didn't expect the picture to turn out the way it did, but the camera really captured the smoothness of the sculpture, and it wound up looking really cool," Harrus said.
Harrus chose to take a year-long beginning-photography class at Palo Alto High as a first-year elective. Like any responsible student with her future in mind, Harrus admits she was drawn to the class by the elective credits it would earn her. There were reasons beyond earning credits in her decision to take photography over dozens of other elective classes, though.
"I've always liked to take pictures, and my dad is really good at it. There's a photographer named Willie Ronis whose photos we have hanging in our house, and he's, I think, my grandfather's uncle or cousin. We've actually studied his work in class, so that's been pretty exiting." Harrus said.
Harrus and the rest of her class were encouraged to enter the Weekly's contest by their instructor, Margo Wixsom, as a class project.
"Our instructor really wants us to experiment. Not just with the cameras and the film, but with how we present our work. We do projects where we have to write text to accompany our pictures, and we evaluate our own work all the time. ... Not everyone was required to [enter] but I thought it would be fun," Harrus said.
Harrus learned of her award last month, when, returning home from a trip, she listened to the messages on her answering machine.
"There was just a message saying 'congratulations' and that I'd won a first-place award in the photo contest. At first I thought I'd heard it wrong, but when I realized it was real, I just felt really proud," Harrus said.
Though her award has given Harrus a boost in confidence about her work as a photographer and a visual artist, she's not one to let the attention go to her head.
"My dream job would be to work for National Geographic, if I were ever good enough," Harrus said. "I tend to like portraiture and taking pictures of people. I like the way a picture can capture a moment that only the photographer sees, whether it's a look on someone's face or a street scene or two people interacting," she added.
Whether by chance or by design, Harrus' relative and her inspiration, Willie Ronis, was famous for his photos of candid moments, and was the first French photographer to work for Life magazine.
For now Harrus is content to pursue photography as one of several hobbies, which include playing on her high school water-polo team, drawing and using acrylics in collage art.
"If I could photograph anything, anywhere in the world I think it would be the top of Mount Everest. Even if all I could see were clouds and snow, it would be a visual record of somewhere I was and a moment in time," Harrus said.