Montana State University

Top shot: MSU's Avery is named finalist for Google Photography Prize

April 20, 2012 -- By Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service


Collin Avery, a senior photography major from Adams, Mass., said his artistic viewpoint came into focus while a student in the MSU School of Film and Photography. Avery's studied interior photographs were judged among the 10 best from 20,000 entries for the Google Photography Prize. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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In a span of time that is about as long as the opening and closing of a camera shutter, Montana State University student Collin Avery has become one of the most visible photography students in the world.

Google announced this week that Avery, a senior photography major from Adams, Mass., is one of 10 finalists for the Google Photography Prize for his collection of interior studies, many photographed in a local Bozeman motel, others in his New England hometown. More than 20,000 students from 146 countries submitted photos to the competition sponsored by the Web giant. Avery was the only American selected as a finalist by a panel of respected photographers from around the world.

Avery's photos are now posted on the Google contest finalists' site: http://www.google.com/landing/photographyprize/winners.html.

Google is sending Avery to an April 25 opening exhibition of the winning photographs at the Saatchi Gallery in London. Avery's photos, as well as those of the rest of the finalists, will be on display at the gallery for two months. He is eligible for a grand prize to be announced April 25, an all-expense-paid trip to a destination of the winner's choice with a professional photography coach.

Avery said he's not even thinking about winning the grand prize, because the international attention and the trip to London where he will meet some of the most respected names in art photography, is welcome and unexpected enough. He learned about the contest from a Facebook post and submitted his entry, composed of photos from his MSU senior project turned in last fall, shortly before the January deadline.

"I guess I am over the initial shock," Avery said while preparing to catch a plan to London. "I found out about it two weeks ago but kept it private until it was officially announced this week."

This is not the first photography honor for Avery. He has also had photographs accepted into two shows, one selected by the photography curator at the Guggenheim in New York City and another by the curator of photography at the George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, N.Y. His work has also been featured on two popular online photography communities, lenscratch.com and FlakPhoto.com

Avery is as modest and outwardly placid about his early success as are his photographs, which he describes as "subtle interior shots and quiet landscapes." Even his landscapes are "not about beautiful scenes that have a transparent beauty. They're something you have to reflect on." In fact, Avery admits that not everyone gets his photographs, and there have been several people who have posted negative comments about them on the Google finalist site.

"It took me maybe seven months to put together these photos, so I don't expect someone to look at them for three minutes and say, 'I get it,'" Avery said, advising that someone looking at fine art photography should be open to understanding at several different levels. "If they would get it in three minutes, than I would have failed.

"I like to have people ask questions when they see my photos. I like to cause more questions than answers."

Avery is also careful in the way he describes his work, which is shot on a large format 4x5 camera with color negative film.

"My photographic process is so slow and deliberate, I am aware of everything that I am including in the frame, especially since i am using a large format camera which is why I usually say that I 'make' photographs rather than 'take' them."

Alexis Pike, who is one of Avery's professors, said that Avery's work is "visually sophisticated."

"It goes beyond the idea of a photographic 'one liner' that one understands immediately." Pike said. "The judges see good work on a daily basis; I assume they were impressed that Collin's submission required more than a 10-second glance. It's smart work that asks the viewer to think about what a photograph represents."

Avery said while he came to MSU four years ago with an interest in majoring in photography and a fairly good eye, his time at MSU has helped him understand the history behind his art. It has also helped him understand more about who he is, refined his viewpoint and helped him develop his "own way of seeing things."

"(Coincidentally), I think I have gotten closer to my New England roots while I was in Montana," Avery said.

A native of the birthplace of Susan B. Anthony, he attended the prestigious ski academy, Carrabassett Valley Academy in Maine. And, despite competing in big mountain skiing, he described himself as "sort of a band geek." He moved to Colorado to ski and compete in the sport, studying for a time at Western State College and living in Crested Butte before deciding to study photography at MSU. Ironically, counter to many MSU students who come to Bozeman to ski, Avery said he was more a skier who came to MSU to study.

"I used to ski 120 days a year. Now I go out sometimes, but I haven't skied too much here," he said. "I've been working hard on my photography." He also confesses to riding a unicycle and juggling in his spare time.

Avery said he has had many mentors at MSU, chief among them photography professors Alexis Pike, Ian Van Coller, Christina Anderson and Jonathan Long.

Pike said that she believes Avery reached a level of maturity in his work when he was a junior, thanks to his determination.

"He is very driven -- he breathes and sleeps photography," Pike said. "Collin had an incredible foundation in freshman and sophomore photo courses at MSU and when he moved on to upper-division courses, the technical skills had been planted and he was ready to explore more conceptually."

Pike said she believes Avery's award is the highest distinction earned by an MSU photography student and a major accomplishment for not only the School of Film and Photography, but also the entire MSU community. Every member of the photo faculty and the "wonderful" group of classmates who have given him advice and criticism over the years are particularly proud, she said.

After graduating in May, Avery said he plans go back to Massachusetts for a time, take a long kayak trip, another big passion, in Canada, before heading to Los Angeles where a high school friend is living and directing music videos.

"As a graduating senior, I can't think of a better way to start off a career," Pike said. "People will take note of his work and we'll be seeing Collin's work for many years to come."

Alexis Pike (406) 994-6220, apike@montana.edu