Courtesy Michael Kemp
Santa Rosa Junior College’s Photo Club announced the winners of its first annual “SoCo Clicks” photo competition, with $1,000 awarded to Michael Kemp, an SRJC student who won Best in Show for his stunning shot of Bodega Head at sunset. His work and the other winners’ is on exhibit online and at the Museum of Sonoma County until Oct. 31.
The contest drew more than 250 entries across four categories: the natural world, contemporary issues, portraits and “alternative,” with the only restriction being the work must have been produced in the last two years. Participants were required to be Sonoma County students, high school and up, including SRJC and Sonoma State students or alumni. Entry was free.
Judges included a panel of local photography leaders, a majority of whom are part of the applied photography advisory committee for SRJC’s photography educational programs.
Jessica Layton, an SRJC instructor and alumna, put together the contest during COVID-19 shelter-in-place.
Layton is a professional photographer with a background in fine art. She studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York before receiving her master’s at the Royal College of Art in London. Despite her prestigious resume, Layton credits her pivot into photography to her time at SRJC.
“I took my first photo class at the college and it really affected me. It changed my career path,” Layton said.
Layton started the SRJC Photo Club for students who wanted to pursue photography outside the classroom, and she used the club as the springboard for SoCo Clicks before it evolved into a collaborative effort between SRJC, the Museum of Sonoma County, Artquest, Santa Rosa High School and Windsor High School.
Layton was inspired to start the contest as a way to connect photographers across the county who may have felt isolated during the pandemic.
“I felt that it was very important that there was a way to begin an exchange and a dialogue with students of different schools,” Layton said. “There is so much great photography being done in this county. But there isn’t a platform that helps connect all of those.”
Michael Kemp, a current SRJC student and Best of Show winner, said he first heard about the contest through an email Layton sent to her students.
“I talked to my friends about it, because they also received the memo, and we all put in our photos together,” Kemp said. Kemp submitted several landscapes, but his winning entry was a stunning photo of the county’s coast at sunset.
“I spent a lot of my time at Bodega Head, and just the Sonoma Coast in general. Ever since the pandemic set in I’ve really kind of stayed close to home. I haven’t done any traveling for any shots or anything,” Kemp said. “And the Sonoma coast is just an amazing spot. I always go out there whenever I want to produce some sort of ocean image.”
Kemp was self-taught, but found direction in the SRJC photography program and through working as an intern for a local landscape photographer. His win came as a pleasant surprise.
“I was super stoked. It was the first competition I had ever won,” Kemp said. He plans to submit to the competition again next year, and while his work this year focused heavily on seascapes, he hopes to add some variety to his landscapes by the time entries open back up.
Joshua Torres is a 29-year-old SRJC alumnus living in New York City where he is currently starting his own photography magazine. Torres won third place in the contemporary issues category with a powerful black and white image from one of New York’s George Floyd protests last year.
Torres, who considers himself primarily a street photographer, has been taking photos since he was a teenager.
“I taught myself how to use my dad’s camera when I was 13. And then I just started taking pictures of my friends and the people around me,” Torres said.
“I was a downhill longboarder when I was younger so I was always traveling to different events. And so I always kind of had that style of taking pictures of things I only saw one time. So I got used to doing that. I think street photography just felt more like home for me,” he said.
New York was a hotspot for protests in 2020 and 2021, and Torres transitioned seamlessly to protest photography.
“I was at a protest, like, every day for three or four months,” he said.
Looking at Torres’s winning photo, you can tell he likes to take photos at unique angles. “I think that just comes from shooting street photography, you kind of get close to and look at people a different way,” Torres said.
This year’s jurors will conduct a virtual panel discussion with the winners from 6-7 p.m. Oct. 14 through the Museum of Sonoma County website. The SoCo Clicks competition will return next year with a new and improved interface and will feature new prizes.