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Portrait of a moment

January 5, 2010
By Christine Robinson

A photograph by Colorado State University alumnus Dave Woody ('96), received first prize in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery's 2009 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.

Rich detail

“Looking at that picture on the Web, you might think ‘big deal,’” says photographer Dave Woody (‘96), “but there’s an unbelievable amount of richness in that image.”

"Laura," a portrait by Colorado State alumnus Dave Woody, was awarded First Place in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery's 2009 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.

The photo he’s describing is a portrait titled “Laura” which received first prize in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery’s 2009 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.

The richness of the winning image is due in part to Woody’s use of a large format camera that absorbs a lot of detail. This love of capturing and portraying rich detail is part of his unusual approach to portraiture, an approach that landed him the award. 

Search for connection

“Two things that compel me to make portraits are the search for connection, and an excuse to look at the ways in which we present ourselves,” says Woody. “I think that most people I know don’t really know how they present themselves.”

Musing about why his portrait won the competition, Woody says that perhaps it was because, “the strength of the portrait is that there is no barrier between you and the person in that picture. It is a kind of pure access.”

Intimacy of exchange

“The person in that photograph doesn’t move so you’re allowed to really just keep looking,” explains Woody, “and that never happens in real life; you’re never allowed to look at someone that close. There’s this tension between the intimacy of that exchange.”

Like many artists, Woody’s approach to his art involves a deeper, more personal struggle. In his case, a desire to hold on to the past. “I want to hold onto everything – my childhood, past events, friends, all these important things,” Woody explains, “and photography is a way of holding on to things.”

Professors led Woody to his vocation

Dave Woody ('96) credits finding a vocation he loves to his CSU art department professors.

Woody attributes finding a vocation he loves to Gary Huibregtse of the CSU art department, and Bill Wylie, an adjunct professor at the time.

“They really changed the course of my life by instilling a sense of caring about things,” says Woody. “It’s not just photography, it’s a way of looking at things and it extends into all areas of life. It was a powerful paradigm shift. That’s when I realized that photography was important to me.”

Future piece for national gallery

The tri-annual portrait competition awarded Woody $25,000 along with a commission for a future piece that will become a permanent addition to the National Portrait Gallery collection.

The commission project is to portray a remarkable American. Woody will work with a committee to identify and select the remarkable American.

“I think the interesting part of the process will be as we figure out the parameters of that phrase,” he says. Woody is interested in selecting someone who has “contributed to our knowledge and the understanding of things.” The decision should be made by May 2010.

Originally published in the CSU Alumni Association's AlumLine newsletter, December 2009.