Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Waylon Cunningham: Gold Seal award winning photographer
“The second I took that photograph, I knew it was a powerful shot. East Texas has a terrible drug problem, and I feel that this photograph strongly conveys the horror and emptiness that the drug culture makes its victims suffer through.”
WHITEHOUSE Waylon Cunningham, a senior at Whitehouse High School, cautiously stepped into a wood-rotted and run-down shack nearly overwhelmed with the stench of decay and armed only with his camera. He never imagined that he would win a top honor for a photograph that he would take once he got inside.
Cunningham was awarded a Gold Seal for his photograph that he submitted into the Visual Arts Scholastic Event (VASE) last year. The photograph was recognized as one of the top art pieces at the state level after being one of 24,000 entries.
This marks the second time that such an honor was bestowed upon Cunningham. He advanced to the state level with two entries: a still life shot of apples and a portrait of his grandmother, Gurney. The portrait later advanced and won a Gold Seal. The photograph that Cunningham earned his second Gold Seal with depicted an unusual and somewhat controversial subject.
“I submitted a black and white photograph of a dead dog I had discovered in an abandoned drug den in deep rural East Texas,” Cunningham said. “The second I took that photograph, I knew it was a powerful shot. East Texas has a terrible drug problem, and I feel that this photograph strongly conveys the horror and emptiness that the drug culture makes its victims suffer through.”
Although Cunningham considers art to be one of the two favorite aspects of his life, he also is devoted to a number of other organizations and activities. Cunningham is a pianist, assistant editor of the school newspaper, and executive president of the Student Council. He is also a student leader on the debate team, which he counts as his primary passion.
“The debate I do, Lincoln-Douglas debate, is a one-on-one event that focuses on philosophical clash and ethical evaluations,” Cunningham explained. “I love philosophy and exploring issues, so I try to integrate what I learn into my art.”
At the beginning of his high school career, Cunningham developed the professional goal of one day becoming a photojournalist for National Geographic or another similar in style magazine. He continued to pursue this goal throughout high school because of his love of understanding the events and issues within the world and sharing that information with those around him.
“I think it’s very important to feel a connection to world events,” Cunningham stated. “Too often do we think of issues and global events in the abstract, like they are inconsequential developments in the plot of some fantasy world. We might hear about a tsunami in Asia or genocide in Africa, but words are insufficient to relay emotions in the scene. That’s where the ‘photo’ in ‘photojournalism’ comes in. Pictures allow us to connect a face with a name and an event with an emotion. Journalism is much more effective when we not only know about an issue, but we also feel it.”
Cunningham’s typical favorite subject for photography consists of faces and portraits because of emotions that can be plainly evident in a person’s face.
“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a face says a million,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham constantly tries to improve on his talent by printing his photos as large as possible, thus enhancing every detail.
“The bigger, the better,” he declared. “I want to tell a big story with my pictures, so naturally I need to make the frame bigger since a picture’s story is limited to its frame. It forces me to have a high standard, and print only the good shots.”