The faces in the photo tell only part of the story. They are transfixed by something off to the right.
The man has his hand to his mouth, wrinkles adding depth to the wonder and dread passing his face. A woman is near him and she is expecting something. They are surrounded by more faces, stock-still in the moment captured by a single camera flash.
A tiny flame is reflected in their eyes.
It was a moment Dennis Ghiatis knew he had to keep. Surrounded by fellow science fans at the Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena, he’d come there to share this one last experience with his friends. They were there to see a glorious finale.
Gingerly he lifted the camera from his side. He watched the stunned faces of the crowd focus on the television at the front of the room. It blared an image of the rocket engines, fiery mouths ready to spit their cargo to the heavens for the last time.
The countdown drew closed. Most of us never lived in a world without “5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 …” and yet the final voyage of the space shuttle Atlantis last year meant an end to an era of space exploration and wonderment at the worlds beyond our own. Huddled in this auditorium with his fellow Planetary Society members, Ghiatis took to capturing their faces in the final seconds of the countdown.
It’s hard to say what drew me to that photo among from the dozens on the wall. It may have been the mystery beyond the photo’s borders — “What is that over there?”
It may be the mixed emotions worn in the creases around their mouths, the shock shared among many.
The photograph was powerful enough to earn Ghiatis a third-place honor in the Burbank library’s amateur photo competition, on display now in the library auditorium on the second floor.
He said the two photos that took first and second places deserved their honors; they told the whole story in a single shot, whereas his needed a little explanation — especially with the glow in everyone’s eyes.
“It was something I didn’t realize until much later, but in the eyes of all the people, there’s a bright spot; it was the flames of the rocket,” he said.
Until April 5, the library is exhibiting about 200 photos from the competition. It’s a tapestry of colors and light, a mix of photojournalism (like Ghiatis’ entry), portraits, digital creations and a children’s category. If you’ve ever wanted to see Lego soldiers lined like the great terra cotta warriors of Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang, for instance, your wish is granted.
Some entries are from repeat entrants, like Ghiatis, a self-described contest evangelist who encouraged four friends to join this year. Others, like Vivian Tom, tried it on a whim.
On a family visit to Manhattan’s Battery Park last winter, Tom photographed a line of untouched, snow-laden benches along a path. The beauty of the photo lies in its stillness and how winter had stripped everything from the landscape — including its color. (Tom had to make a special note on her entry form to avoid it falling into the black-and-white category.)
A few weeks after submitting her entry, Tom was approached by her son. A friend asked him if his mother had entered the contest, and to his knowledge, she hadn’t.
She dropped off the photo and never told anyone in her family that she entered.
“I like taking pictures, but I don’t have any skill in it,” Tom said.
The judges, all professional photographers from the Burbank area, disagreed. They awarded her “Best in Show.”
“I looked at the photos and thought, ‘Wow, there are some great photos here,’” she said. “I’m satisfied with my one victory. There were really impressive pictures, I thought.”
This year’s contest held other surprises for the photographers. At the opening gala March 1, Joseph Santos learned his old teacher from Theodore Roosevelt Elementary was still active with the library. Jane Mulder, a teacher in the Burbank school system for 38 years, helped set up the Friends of the Burbank Public Library bookstore and is still active with many activities, including the photo contest.
The next morning, Santos bought her an apple and brought it to the library.
“I went down there and said, ‘You won’t remember my face, but I was your worst math student ever,’” Santos recalled. “I won’t say I learned it, but I make my living with numbers.”
The exhibition photos tell many more stories, but to get them all, you have to see them for yourself.