Thoughts and musings on a Syracuse road trip

Okay, do I have everything?

Gotta go through the checklist.

  • Six photos for the New York State Fair Photography Competition.  Check.
  • The Cathedral of St. Philco for the dollhouse crafts competition at the State Fair.  Check.
  • Seven postcards, one for each artwork.  Check.
  • Seven postcard stamps.  Check.
  • The signed authorization from my model friend Lauren, so I could show Lauren and the Leaves at the Fair if it gets accepted.  Check.
  • Seven hangtags.  Check.
  • Full tank of gas.  Check.
  • Chuck.  Check.

Okay, Dracourage, it’s time for a drive.

By now I should be used to this trip.  Drive my artworks out to the New York State Fair, make sure all the paperwork is attached, check them in, make sure each artwork is properly classified and credited and captioned.  Then a trip home, maybe a short driving break at Turning Stone Casino, and then homeward bound.

It’s this road trip to Syracuse for which I take stock of where I am in my life.  A journey of 52 years, going on 53.  My seventh consecutive year of entering this competition.

And the journey from Albany to Syracuse and back may seem like only a couple of hours…

But it’s also a journey of seven years.

Manchester Millrats v Rochester Razorsharks 2009 Playoffs Game 2
Action Under the Basket.. Nikon D70 camera, Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 telephoto lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.


I think back to the first time I did this.  On a lark in 2009, I entered two pictures in the New York State Fair photography competition, including a Premier Basketball League photo I took during a playoff game between the Rochester RazorSharks and the Manchester Millrats.  That’s James “Mook” Reaves tapping the ball into the cylinder, while teammate Sammy Monroe is behind the semicircle; Manchester’s Sam Carey (left) and Marlowe Currie (right) can only watch.

Seven years ago.  Sam Carey’s not with us any more; he passed away in 2011 in an automobile accident.  He is still missed by his family and friends and teammates.

That picture took an honorable mention – my first New York State Fair ribbon – in 2009.  Not only was it my first NYS Fair ribbon – it was my first competitive silk of any kind.

That was the itch.

And then came time for the scratch.

Nipper "His Master's Voice" Polar Panorama, Albany NY
Nipper’s Polar Panorama. Nikon D700 camera, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 lens, multiple pictures stitched together in panorama capture. Photo by Chuck Miller.

// 2010, I picked up my first red ribbon at the New York State Fair, a second-place silk for Nipper’s Polar Panorama, which you see at the right.  man, what I went through to snag this photo.  Permissions from Arnoff Moving and Storage, the owners of the RCA Warehouse where Nipper, the statue of “His Master’s Voice,” patiently stared over Broadway.  Figuring out the best angle to capture Nipper and create a polar panorama shot.  Getting this photo.  Coolness.

And then entering it at the State Fair.  Waiting patiently for the postcards of notice.  Flipping each card over, one by one, to see if I achieved success or failure.

Then the moment.  Walking into the Harriet May Mills Art Center and seeing that beautiful red ribbon for a second-place capture in the color, non-traditional category.  I was so happy that day.

See, that picture was not just an artistic recreation of an optical illusion.  It was the moment when I discovered that hey, I could do more with a camera than just take a picture of a subject and make it say cheese.  Or in Nipper’s case, most likely make him say Victrola.

The itch returned.  Stronger than ever.

The Agfa Bridge over Ansco Lake
The AGFA Bridge Over Ansco Lake. AGFA Chief camera, AGFA 200 color print film with Ansco 50-year-old All-Weather Pan B&W film. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Now it’s 2011.  Two of my pictures were accepted in the State Fair, both in the color-non-traditional category.  And the photo at left, The AGFA Bridge Over Ansco Lake, was my most successful “splitfilm” photo, in which one roll of film is coiled into a second roll, and exposed simultaneously in a large-format camera.  Man, how many times did I try this exposure?  Dozens?  The 35mm film would be in the wrong position, the older 70mm film would be spoiled or wouldn’t expose properly … and then, just out of the middle of a miracle, everything lined up.

The AGFA Bridge Over Ansco Lake was not only my second red ribbon at the New York State Fair, it was also the only Chuck Miller photo to take silk at both the NYS Fair and at the Altamont Fair, and it later claimed a “Best In Show” stripe at the Durham Fair in 2013.  Inspiration and confidence.

But that wasn’t my only colored stripe that year.

Lodge's Variety Store, Albany NY - taken with Polaroid PolaBlue film
Lodge’s in Polaroid PolaBlue. Nikon F100 camera, Polaroid PolaBlue 35mm film. Photo by Chuck Miller.


For on that same day in 2011, I pulled a blue ribbon – for a blue photo – of a store that’s been around longer than Sunday blue laws.

There it is.  Lodge’s in Polaroid PolaBlue.  My most successful attempt to use self-developing Polaroid 35mm film.  Film that was only designed for 35mm slides in old-fashioned carousel slide presentation, film that would have simply contained white text on a blue background.  Yeah, that was the original PowerPoint formula.

And yet, I pulled out a blue-tinted, tightly-shaded photo of Albany’s oldest convenience store, with film that had an ISO of 6 – around the same film sensitivity as a brown paper bag.  This was film that only exposed to blue or white, not to shades of blue.  Not to the detail of brickface.  Not to the sensitivity of street photography.

A blue ribbon.  My first-ever “best of category” at the New York State Fair.

After that, things were a bit “hit and miss” at the State Fair.  Only one picture was exhibited in 2012, Poestenkill Cascade, but it was shown without any silks.  I did pick up two Honorable Mentions in 2013, for Pies on the Windowsill and Low Tide at Sunrise, but the 2014 entries were all returned to me, unaccepted.

That 2014 Fair rejection caught me off-guard, but it taught me a very valuable lesson.  Entries into competitions is not to be expected as if it were a birthright or a mandate.  If you didn’t get in, it meant that the works you submitted were not of the quality that the judges sought.  It’s not the judges’ fault you didn’t get in.  It’s your own fault for not wowing them.

In 2015, I vowed I would not give up.

The Walkway
The Walkway. Rolleiflex Automat MX camera, efke 100 film. Photo by Chuck Miller.


And while three pictures were accepted last year – and two of them, Vivaldi’s Pond and Lane 2, received yellow Honorable Mention ribbons – this picture at left, The Walkway, claimed my third red ribbon at the New York State Fair, my third red silk for a second place finish.

This red ribbon was different than my previous two reds.  The Walkway was not achieved with the use of digital manipulation or splitfilm or boutique film.  This was captured the old-fashioned way – in a medium-format, tripod-mounted Rolleiflex, with high-contrast B&W film, at the crack of dawn along the Root Glen at Hamilton College, also known as the one location where I could recharge my energies and refocus my brain.

Truly, this was my next step.

And now here I am.  On the road with seven artworks – six photos and a stained-glass-decorated dollhouse – on my way to Syracuse.

Lauren and the Leaves, Oct 2015


It’s one more step in a journey of realization and reflection.  It’s a step in which I’ve taken all my happiness and hurt, all my triumph and tragedy, all my confidence and my concern… and crafted it into visual, tangible, powerful recreations of my mind and my heart and my soul and my psyche.

And one week later, postcards will arrive.

Will there be another silk among these images?  Or will they all return to me next week in the “drive of shame” when I must pick up my non-accepted entries?

I don’t know.  But not knowing is less important in my life.

Confidence is more important.  Confidence and belief.  Belief in every step.  Belief in the importance of life and all the magic that appears within.

I’m ready to drive.

Car’s loaded up.

Let’s go.