Kent State professor judges Summit County photo competition

Kent State Journalism and Mass Communications professor Gary Harwood awards second place to Thomas Skala for his photo called “Verticalibration.” On Friday, March 1, 2019.

Michael Indriolo

Kent State journalism and mass communications professor Gary Harwood grew sentimental as he handed 419 Square Miles of Summit County’s first place award to Kent native photographer and columnist Debra Lynn-Hook.

“I love this photo,” Harwood said. “It’s going to be in my mind for a long, long time. It’s a rare mix between a formal portrait and a found photo. It’s a much more difficult photo to make than you’d think.”

Summit Art Space, a gallery in Akron, hosted an open photo contest called 419 Square Miles of Summit County to capture the county through artists’ eyes, executive director Kamelia Fisher said. The gallery called for photographers and recruited Harwood as the exhibition’s sole judge earlier this year. The show kicked off on Friday with a reception and awards ceremony. The show will be on display at Summit Art Space through March 30.

Summit Art Space chose Harwood to judge the competition because of his nuanced perspective on photography and Summit County, Fisher said.

“He certainly has a great professional history, great personal history and plus, he’s kind of sitting outside of Summit County so he has a different view of it,” Fisher said. “Who better?”

Hook’s first-place photo, “Fred’s Diner Does Bacon,” depicts the kitchen of Akron restaurant Fred’s Diner. In the photo, the owner’s son holds a tray of bacon while a waitress stares at the camera from behind him.

“First place, it came to me as I was coming here,” Harwood said. “There’s something about a found portrait in its natural environment. I know they’re hard photos to make and to find.”

Hook decided to shoot this photo on a whim, she said. She didn’t know what to shoot, and a sudden illness in her family took up much of the time she’d planned to dedicate to this project, so she searched for iconic eateries in Akron and found Fred’s Diner.

“It’s this nondescript, white concrete building in a rundown neighborhood that looks like nothing,” Hook said. “I went in and it was like, pizzazz! It was like lovely colors and big slabs of meat.”

Toward the end of her shoot at Fred’s, Hook noticed an overflowing tray of bacon and asked the owner’s son to hold it in front of him; however, she had no idea at the time that bacon is Fred’s Diner’s claim to fame.

“I’m more of a photojournalist, like what you see is what you get,” Hook said. “Reality, to me, is what I want to present. Sometimes you can feel like you’re just avoiding the set-up shot, and sometimes I feel like, ‘Am I just being lazy?’ But it’s really because I just don’t like it. It makes me crazy to try to make stuff up.”

Although a seasoned photojournalist won first place, 419 Square Miles of Summit County’s final cut features work from hobbyists and professionals alike. Crestwood High School student Josh Cohen placed among Harwood’s qualifiers, and he relished in the opportunity, he said, to showcase work he’s passionate about.

“It’s just, to document life, the past and history that is about to die away, or the face that captures something before it disappears,” Cohen said.

Hobbyists Thomas Skala and Pollock Youngpole took second and third place. Skala’s photo shows an Akron cityscape, and Youngpole’s depicts a mirrored underpass. 

Photojournalist Shane Wynn’s photo of activists protesting for stricter gun laws placed among the qualifiers

“The personalities here are unique, and the people are down to earth,” Wynn said. “We also have some really nice, beautiful features like the towpath and our houses. You can drive down a street and see all these different types of architecture and we have some beautiful livable mansions.”

Showcasing Summit County’s hidden gems drove 419 Square Miles of Summit County, said Amie Cajka, Summit Art Space communications employee. 

“Photographers go to places that resonate with them,” Cajka said. “I like to see those places because it sort of gives me a completely quilted view of where I live. I know it’s not perfect, but there are some really wonderful pastoral places that just complete your idea of the countryside or the city skyline. But there’s also places that have pieces missing or rough edges to them; photographers find those places.”

Michael Indriolo covers social services. Contact him at [email protected].