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Desert Companion

Thousands of words

Andrew KiralyOkay, I’m gonna venture out on a limb here and issue one of those grandiose, sweeping statements born of bungling enthusiasm, a statement that’ll probably result in someone laughing at me in a bar after this issue comes out: We are sooo living in a golden age of photography. Admittedly, my evidence for that is hopelessly anecdotal, based largely on, oh, say, noting the number of times I’ve “liked” a Facebook friend’s painfully arty Instagram pictures of trees, as well as the hours I’ve logged hopping from one random, eye-melting Tumblr photo blog to another. Thanks to the advent of inexpensive digital cameras, leaps in photo editing software, the ubiquity of smartphones packed with handy snapshot apps — and let’s not forget that piece of magic tying it all together, the Internet — photography has more than merely evolved. It’s transformed from a documentary craft and fine art to a visual lingua franca. Today, photos are the default public postcards that fill out the travelogue of our daily lives. (That is, at least until we all start communicating via animated GIFs based on ’80s sitcoms.)

That’s a pretentious way of saying this: We knew we were going to receive a helluva lot of entries for our inaugural “Focus on Nevada” photo contest. No small contributing factor, either, is the fact that we happen to live in one of the most visually compelling places in the world, whether we’re talking about serene desert beauty or the riotous glitter of the Strip. Anticipating that, we happily waded through more than 1,500 photo entries. We gazed and marveled, discussed and debated and — finally, often painfully — chose the winners.

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But that wasn’t the most fun part. As we sifted through the entries and read the entrants’ notes on their submissions, it soon became clear that this was much more than a shutterbug beauty pageant. Something else was going on that you wouldn’t perhaps expect from a contest that was ostensibly about visual appeal. I was surprised: Countless entries were generously supplemented with jottings, notes, backstories, even spontaneously penned essays that enriched the photos with personal context and history. This wasn’t sucking up to the judges. These were effusions of earnest pride from longtime Nevadans: I love this place and want to share it with the world. They were admissions of surprise from visitors and recent transplants: I never expected such beauty here — but once I opened my eyes, I couldn’t help but grab my camera. Still others took the contest as a personal challenge to take a look at their home with a fresh view: Here’s a different angle on a place you think you know.

We asked for your best photos capturing the spirit of Nevada, but we got a lot more. Taken collectively, your photos represent a refreshed vision of Nevada, from the urban wilds to the whispering outskirts. Congratulations to all the winners and finalists.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a truly digital-era contest if we didn’t get your vote. What’s your favorite photo? You can tell us right from your smartphone. On page 56, you’ll find instructions on downloading the Digimarc app, which will allow you to vote on your favorite contest entries. Plus, you’ll be entered in a drawing to win dinner on us — grub guaranteed to be worthy of a few Instagram foodie shots of your own. Enjoy.

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