The world looks different through the eyes — and camera lens — of children. Yet, when the South Walton Boys and Girls Club hosted the national ImageMaker Photography Contest Club Director Stephanie Rhoden wasn't sure what to expect in terms of participation.
"A lot of [Boys and Girls] clubs have photography groups," she said. "We thought the contest would be a way to see who has the interest."
Much to her delight, Rhoden saw dozens of entries, from age groups ranging from 6 to 18 and in all four categories — culture and tradition, surroundings, portrait and what moves me, which requires a short essay or poem to accompany it.
Submissions from all of the Boys and Girls Clubs on the Emerald Coast were displayed at the BBVA Compass Bank lobby in Fort Walton Beach, where the community was invited to judge between February 18 and 20. There were several first place winners in the South Walton Club.
Participating club members took pictures all over Walton County — at home, at the club, outside and inside. Considering that most of the members live in the same community, go to the same school and even the same after-school club, it was interesting to see how diverse winning entries were. Pets, accidental portraits, still life, nature — everything was covered.
Lillian Bruce, an eighth grader at Emerald Coast Middle School, submitted her photo of candy to the ImageMaker contest simply because she likes to stay involved with the Boys and Girls Club. Winning first place was a happy surprise and now she says she'd like to look into a photography class.
Cheyenne Crapps, also an eight grader at ECMS, snapped her photo of a pink daisy while on a field trip at E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center. It was one of the first photos she'd taken and it's a first place winner.
There were a few seasoned photographers in the mix as well. Elise Plunk and Maxwell Post, both sixth graders at ECMS, were so eager about the contest that they submitted in more than one category.
"My mom and uncle are both good photographers, so I learned from them," said Plunk.
One of Plunk's entries is what a photographer would describe as a "happy accident." A slightly out of focus portrait of her brother ended up taking home second place.
"I was just messing around with my camera with my brother Eric while we were camping," she explained. "I like that you can see my reflection in his pupil."
Perhaps one of the most heartfelt photos was submitted by Post. A portrait of his rescue cat, Buster, who passed away.
"He was very sweet — he picked us," Post said. "When we went to adopt him, he wouldn't let go of my dad's leg."
The middle school students all agreed they would love to see have a photo club within the Boys and Girls program. On their wish list? Equipment to teach the younger kids photography and helmet cameras.
The first place photos have been submitted to the regional contest. From there, photos go to nationals where members are eligible for large prizes such as $500 to towards a club party or even a trip to Los Angeles. But beyond prizes, the Boys and Girls Club aims to encourage and celebrate the talents of children.
"It's just great to see them engaged," Rhoden said. "We're helping to raise great leaders for our community."