Feature Photography (over 25,000 circulation)
Winner: Derek Ruttan, London Free Press
This photo breaks your heart, but also fills it with hope. With Santa’s lap off limits due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the photographer captures the magic of Christmas and the innocence of youth on a little girl’s face, who seems oblivious to the wall of Plexiglas separating her from St. Nick. The mall Santa looks as if he’s on display, much like the toys in the window in the background, with his rich red suit, pristine white gloves and perfectly positioned hat and tassel framed by the enclosure decorated with fake frost. In this one moment, it is easy to forget the world has been turned upside down and to revel in the girl’s delight.
Runner-up: Dax Melmer, Windsor Star
This series of three photos from a homeless encampment that materialized in a rail corridor a short walk from Windsor’s downtown core captures the inequity in a world laid bare by the pandemic. As in many cities where homelessness is a pernicious issue, those who have no place to call home are more likely to contract COVID-19 and many feel safer living outside than in shelters. Dax Melmer earned the trust of his subjects, who had every reason to prefer anonymity, allowing him to document camp life. Searing photos of a shirtless man leaning on a rake, the world etched in his face, and another of a man bent over a bucket, washing his hair with bottles of water, make you bear witness to their efforts to build some semblance of normality from a patch of dirt even as it is clear, in the third shot with police patrolling the camp, there is no privacy inside or outside shelters made of tarp. When so many homeless people are invisible to the world, these benevolent photos give them a face, and some dignity.
Runner-up: Nick Brancaccio, Windsor Star
When Nick Brancaccio saw a group of hikers leave a handful of peanuts in the shell on a railing for wildlife at the Ojibway Nature Centre, he trained his lens on the cache and waited. The frame of a red-bellied woodpecker swooping in and lifting off with a peanut in its beak is an unexpected thrill. With his shutter set at 1/2500th of a second, Brancaccio captures the bird mid-flight, and the aerodynamics of its wings are clearly visible, with tips curved up and span ready to catch air on the upbeat. The woodpecker’s crimson head is in sharp contrast to the white pattern on its black body, and its plumage is as breathtaking as the realization that you’re seeing something that would be just a blur to the naked eye.
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