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Super visions 

Since its 1993 debut, Crealdé School of Art's "Biennial Juried Competition in Contemporary Southeastern Photography" has become one of its premier events. This year's exhibition, which opened March 12 will be on display in Crealdeés Alice & William Jenkins Gallery until April 23. From intimate landscapes to leaves en pirouette, from angels to architecture, to the human body's flowering or failing, the eclectic show features the works of John Clark, Jenifer Elliott, Jack Klein Jr, Kathleen Pompe, Karin Connolly, Thomas Hager, Bernard Phillips and Mick West.

Juror Dieter Steiner, internationally acclaimed photographer and owner of Gallery Contempo in St. Augustine, selected eight finalists from a daunting field of submissions. "I was very impressed with the 45 entries. Each sent 10 images -- 450 slides total! The overall quality was great, and it was hard getting down to the number to be exhibited and to the three who'd receive awards.

"After living and working in New York for 15 years, I've been really surprised to discover how many colleges, universities and art schools in Florida emphasize photography as art. The state shows great compassion toward photographers. That's not unusual in metropolitan areas, but down here ... "

Down here, fewer art photographers produce more work. Aficionados get to know them better, how they feel, see and think about the world.

Take Bernard Phillips, winner of the $500 first-prize for his mesmerizing black-and-white shots of such simple subjects as magnolia leaves, teasels and cones. For 30 years he -- dare it be uttered -- shot award-winning advertising for the likes of Rolex, Guinness and Del Monte. Today, his "Dead Magnolia Leaf" -- a single, curvaceous, arboreal dancer of light-rimmed grace -- is pure fine art.

However, it's not how he feels about an object that moves him to shoot it; it's the ad man inside. "I have no profound intentions; I just look at it as a visual thing," he says. There may be more afoot, though. Told that his dead magnolia leaf picture, and another of a string of dry ginger leaves, resembles ballerinas, he says: "Maybe something is going on subliminally: my wife's assistant chair of F.S.U.'s dance department."

Meanwhile, the vivid work of second-place winner John Clark seems to levitate off the paper with color. Whether the image is of a sleeping woman curled on a luminous bed sheet or his "Figure With Red Bananas," Clark's magic is in his color printing style. "No secrets, really. I take a slide, a positive image, and print it on color negative paper to get reversed tones." Secrets or not, Clark's photographs are dazzling.

Departing from both Phillips' minimalism and Clark's prismatic wizardry, third-place winner Karin Connolly photographs the indisputable perfection of landscapes -- mists and monarchs, pine scrub and meadowflocks, sea, sand and driftwood. "I shoot to capture what I call the intimate details of the natural world," she says. Viewers of Connolly's art know where they are because they've been there -- with bare feet or a butterfly net or a blanket -- and she makes the memory a wondrous thing.

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