In a classroom at the University of Hartford in Connecticut, a professor told photographer Michael Dalton and his classmates about a nationally recognized photo competition that gives them a chance to win money and earn recognition.
After submitting his work to the PhotoSpiva competition in Joplin twice, four pieces of Dalton’s work earned a first-place award and are on display at Spiva Center for the Arts.
This year, 176 photographers from 37 states submitted 1,014 images for judging, said the center director, Jo Mueller, and more than 80 pictures are on display at the exhibit. Established in 1977, PhotoSpiva is now the longest running competition of its kind in the United States.
Mueller said several things add to the competition’s longevity, including PhotoSpiva’s reputation for finding experienced, nationally known photographers and curators to act as jurors.
“It can be very difficult for photographers to get their work seen by the kind of experts who have come to Joplin to judge the competition,” Mueller said. “The jurors’ list over the last 38 years reads like a who’s who in American photography.”
Dalton, who recently earned a master’s degree in photography, said he entered the competition last year, but he didn’t receive an award or even make it into the exhibit.
This time around, he said, things turned out for the best.
“I was thrilled,” Dalton said. “I’m just starting to show my work around to the world, and it’s exciting to get such great feedback from people outside my circle.”
The competition is open to any amateur or professional photographer in the United States.
Mueller said getting an image or images accepted for the exhibition is noteworthy in itself.
“Work is not only seen by the juror, but also by the close to 2,000 people who make it a point to see the annual exhibit,” Mueller said. “Being accepted to PhotoSpiva brings instant credibility to a resume, especially when that year’s juror is noted.”
With a Joplin Convention & Visitors Bureau grant to support advertising, Spiva posts the call for entries on several national websites, advertises in regional magazines and usually one national print publication.
“Direct mail to former entrants, photography programs, college and university art departments, and galleries rounds out our efforts to attract photographers nationwide,” Mueller said.
A photo by Emily Frankoski, of Joplin, was selected to be on display at the exhibit, making it the first time her work was chosen.
Frankoski, who is the community arts coordinator for Connect2Culture, has been a photographer for about six years and did an internship at Spiva.
She said there are some people in the Joplin area who don’t know about Spiva or the competition, but for those who frequent the center, PhotoSpiva is something they look forward to each year.
“It makes Spiva really stand out in that respect to have a well-known photography exhibit,” she said. “I think that sometimes people think of Spiva as a hidden gem.”
Submitted photographs were required to have a white mat and a black frame.
“Someone made the comment that within that white mat, you can do anything you like,” Mueller said. “That’s the point. There are no categories, no theme, no distinctions. Your work just must speak to the juror who is creating that year’s exhibition.”
Dalton said it was incredibly important to have that freedom.
“Everybody has different experiences,” he said. “We all work in the same medium, but there’s an infinite amount of possibilities and ways to do even the same thing.”
First place and $750: Michael Dalton, of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Second place and $500: Robert Sulkin, of Roanoke, Va.
Third place and $300: Charles Jeffrey Mintz, of Cleveland, Ohio.
Merit award and $100: Jim Nickelson, of Camden, Maine; Timothy McCoy, of Cumming, Ga.; and Mark Neuenschwander, of Joplin.
Honorable mention and $50: Claire Warden, of Denton, Texas; Daniel Coburn, of Lawrence, Kan.; and Jane Szabo, of Altadena, Calif.