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A Study in Black and White

Sam and her winning photo entry

She may be concentrating in bio-medical courses, but it’s her photography that caught the eye of judges in the 32nd Annual College & High School Photography contest.

Junior Samantha Swearingen recently learned that her black-and-white image of corn stalks was selected as a finalist in a competition that drew 17,700 entries from students across the U.S. and Canada. The contest, sponsored by camera maker Nikon USA, is a tradition for Photographer’s Forum magazine and winning images will appear in the May/Summer 2012 issue. All photographs ranked in first through fourth place in both the high school and college categories will also appear in the hardcover book, Best of College &High School Photography 2012, which will be published in June.

The Horseheads resident captured her image on a 35mm camera as part of an assignment for the film photography class she took last fall from Melissa Newcomb, assistant professor of art.

Swearingen's winning image

“The photo itself is kind of a freak thing,” Swearingen said, explaining that she was driving home from campus one weekend, trying to come up with ideas for the “texture” assignment for the class. “It was in the afternoon, not a very sunny day. I saw corn stalks leaning against the side of a building, so I just decided to pull over and take a picture.”

As fate would have it, Newcomb mentioned the photo contest and handed out informational flyers at the next class.

“It was pretty close to the deadline, but I figured I might as well try to submit something. So I went back through the [images] I’d done at that point and submitted three photos,” she said. “When I found out I was a finalist, it wasn’t the picture I expected out of the three, but I thought ‘Wow, I’ll take it.’”While Swearingen said that she took a couple of photography classes in high school, it has simply been a hobby to her. Until now, she had never even entered a photo contest.

Sam's dog, Tuff (Image courtesy Samantha Swearingen '13)

Although she likes the instant gratification of digital photography, Swearingen said the work of developing and printing film photos is just as appealing.

“I like the process and chemistry behind it, which probably has something to do with my science background,” she said, noting she transferred to Keuka this fall to pursue a degree in chemistry. ‘With the film, the enlarger and the darkroom meter, it’s challenging and you feel more accomplished once you come up with the final product.”

According to Newcomb, Swearingen’s talent behind the lens helped her stand out in class.

“She was very much a perfectionist in getting things accurate and that’s what you need to do to get a print right,” said Newcomb, who specializes in photography herself. “She was completely focused, serious, extremely ambitious, and dedicated. She was always working after class, or would come in before class.

"Fishing," Portrait by Samantha Swearingen '13

“She had one of the strongest portfolios in the class,” Newcomb said, adding that she chose to showcase one of Swearingen’s images—a portrait of Samantha’s cousin holding a fishing pole—on the fourth floor of Hegeman Hall.

Swearingen said that she enjoys outdoor photography because of the ease of working in natural light.  “A lot of my photos are kind of take-them-as-I-see-them-or-find-them. I generally like that better,” she said.

Newcomb said she doesn’t know if Swearingen will set up her own darkroom in the future, “but I could see her having a passion for it and pursuing it. I hope she would, since she’s got a real eye for photography and a strong talent for it.”

For now, Swearingen said she would “definitely consider entering more contests. I have a little more confidence.”

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