May 10, 2021

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Virginia Student Council’s Arts Committee approached UVA photographer Sanjay Suchak about teaching a Zoom workshop with smartphone photography tips and setting up a student photo contest.

The hope was to give students an opportunity to get creative, and a new way to get outside and explore UVA and Charlottesville. Students could enter photo submissions – which had to be taken with a smartphone as the only camera – in three categories:

  • Primary Color: Take a photo that has a dominant primary color in the frame.
  • Landscape: Take a landscape or beauty shot of Grounds that does not include the Rotunda.
  • Semester in a Series: Submit three images to be run as a series that describes your past semester.

In addition to Suchak, contest judges included Commonwealth Professor or Art and Director of Studio Art William Wylie; associate professor of history and documentary photographer John Edwin Mason; Associate Dean of Admission Jeannine Lalonde; and UVA Arts Programs Communications Director Emma Terry. The photographer who earned the most votes across all categories will receive a framed fine art print of their photo.

Take a look at some of the submissions.

Primary Color

William Wylie said this image, from second-year student Christine Siegal, had “great color saturation and the use of depth-of-field draws you into a lush, verdant world.” Mason added, “A photo that’s all about wet, luscious greens and depth of field, which pulls you into the image. It evokes memories of damp evening grass in the spring.”

Lalonde was impressed by the creativity of this image from fourth-year Kaitlyn Hyun, who picked a dandelion and superimposed it in her hand over a crosswalk sidewalk strip to find a bright pop of yellow on Grounds. Suchak said that the photo showed fantastic planning and execution to create a compelling image, instead of searching for something that already exists.


Lalonde picked this image by fourth-year Gabi Szabo, with striking sun rays breaking through the clouds above Brown College, as her favorite landscape photo. For the contest, photos of the Rotunda were prohibited to encourage students to look beyond the most famous (and most photographed) building on Grounds for architecture that is often unnoticed.

For second-year Angela Wang’s abstract landscape photo, Mason commented, “I like the moodiness, the air of mystery, the hint of foreboding. A photo that doesn’t reveal its secrets easily. Instead it asks you to spend time with it.” Terry was drawn to this image and kept coming back to it trying to decipher what is happening. She said “My eyes travel all over it, holding my intrigue …”

Another submission from Hyun showed a trio of pine trees silhouetted against the last gasps of sunset. Suchak remarked that it gives you the feeling of being deep in nature and at peace on a calm night.

Semester in a Series

Wylie picked Hyun’s series as his favorite for this category, remarking, “This is an adventurous triptych. The relationships between the images only become apparent by the context. Color, gesture, shape … nothing obvious, but making some kind of visual sense when seen in relation.”

Wylie also had praise for this triptych from first-year Cyrena Matingou, saying, “I like the structure of this triptych. Nothing forced in terms of visual relationship. It is constructed as a set. … Each image works on its own, but the threesome is much more complex.”

Angela Wang’s triptych was the crowd favorite. In addition to Lalonde, who picked the image that shows a book in a field, some delicious-looking tacos and blooming flowers outside Brooks Hall, Terry called the texture in the sequence “lush and palpable.” “It makes me want to get some tacos, a good book and sit amongst the springtime flowers,” she said. Suchak said that this image really illustrates trying to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation, as students found entertainment and beauty even amid a pandemic. Additionally, bookending a vibrant photo of tacos with white flowers was compelling, he said. Mason added, “Three beautiful images that work well together in color and content. I sense that there’s a narrative here – beyond merely spring at UVA – waiting to be discovered.”

Wang’s triptych won the most votes of all, and she will receive a framed print of the images.

By: Caroline NewmanSanjay Suchak
Original Publication: UVA Today