SAMA Donald M. Robinson Biennial 2021- 2nd Place Winner


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Pandemic Book Ends:

First Book End:

In January of 2020, I had entered this image into a Juried Exhibition hosted by the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art. The photography biennial was a tribute to late photographer Donald M. Robinson and sponsored by the Donald and Sylvia Robinson Family Foundation. 

I had never considered entering anything like this before but I had a few images that I thought might work for it. However, as any discerning artist, I oscillated daily between whether I had any images worthy of entering and just being brave enough to try it.  I sent a few image options to a friend and she didn't think any of them  were truly worthy of exhibition. I felt embarrassed. The voice in my head said, "See - you aren't truly an artist at all. You've been fooling everyone for years and now you're caught." 

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Desperate for the shaming voice to be quieted,  I sent them to another friend who did encourage me to enter. I paid the fee and submitted my application with barely a hope of it being included in the exhibit, the first friend's comments still ringing in my ears. I was pretty thrilled when it got in and set about printing the image and getting it printed and shipped to me and then matted and framed locally.

I needed to drop it off with the framer amidst the March 16 Covid-19 Shutdown timeline. I communicated over calls with the framer about the fact that I wasn't able to pick it up because the frame shop wasn't allowed to be open to customers. Luckily, the whole Donald M. Robinson Biennial was moved forward to the Spring of 2021 and that problem was solved. When things opened up again, I picked up my piece and it felt good to have it in my hands, ready. Now I just had to wait a whole year!

Twenty-Two Hundred Feet

The Image:

My photograph is titled, Twenty-two Hundred Feet. you can watch my video about the piece here or you can watch the embedded video below. The Artist Statement I've submitted about the piece is copied below.

I am on a lifelong search for authenticity, for moments that call me deeper into existence, and for more profound connections with other people. The natural world fills me with great curiosity and is never exhausted of mystery or possibility. I am always on the lookout for the everyday talisman, both in life and in artmaking, that allows me a passing connection to someone else at another moment in time.

Pandemic Book Ends:

Second Book End:

Saturday June 5, 2021 was the night of the Awards Reception. Brady and I were both fully vaccinated. We hadn't left our children in so long! Brady's mom came to watch our boys at our house. We excitedly got dressed to go somewhere for the first time in probably 16 months! We brought our masks just in case and came early to the exhibition just in case it got too crowded for our comfort and we needed to leave early. I was so looking forward to seeing Donald M. Robinson's work. There were a few pieces that I could have looked at for hours: Artist's Palette, Death Valley #1, California, October Dawn, Waterford, Pennsylvania, and Frozen Falls, Mill Creek, Ligonier, Pennsylvania to name a few. His work is thoughtful and his landscapes sublime and inspiring . If you'd like to see more of his work, there is an out-of-print book called In Harmony with Nature: The Photography of Donald M. Robinson that can be purchased through used book sites like

While we were wandering around, I spotted my artwork on the first floor and got excited! I not, since, college, had a piece exhibited like this. It felt good!

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The night marked an opening up, a letting go of what we had been living during the pandemic. We were out! We were dressed up! We left our children! We had such a nice time going through Robinson's photos and also all of the pieces that were accepted into the juried exhibition. It was a really fun evening! We were thrilled with just that. We sat down at a table and ate food that we didn't prepare ourselves. We even  made two new friends: Ken and Sally Becker. Ken had three pieces in the exhibit. Both were photographers and lovely to talk to. They are active members of the Altoona Blair County Photography Society and have since helped me get connected to the newsletter. We just had such a nice time.

Next in the evening came the remarks and awards from Linda Benedict Jones, the Juror. She herself is a photographer, writer, and independent curator based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I looked at the gallery booklet before she began to speak. I got excited because our lives had almost overlapped at a few Pittsburgh places. For example, she was the first Curator of Photography at the Carnegie Museum of Art. I had worked there for two summers and one fall as a children's teacher in the art camp and art class programs. As she spoke, I couldn't believe it when I was called up to receive the second place award! After feeling so uncertain in even submitting a piece, I felt so good to have gotten an award. My mind heard, "Ok. You're ok. You're improving. You can do this. You can be an artist."

Me: so surprised and pleased at the award!

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Linda Benedict Jones, Juror and myself, Ann M. Bickel with my piece!

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Linda and I chatted for quite awhile about her photography work, about where she had worked in Pittsburgh and the lessons she learned along the way. We talked about a series of images she made decades ago that was now being installed as an exhibit and her surprise at this. I confessed the story of how my friend told me that my images were a tad on the boring side and how I almost didn't submit anything!  We talked about the other winning pieces and how interesting they were. We just had a really nice chat. Brady and I also really enjoyed talking to her husband and overall had such a nice evening. After months of so much isolation as a family, this conversation with like-minded humans felt comforting and exciting.

It felt so good to be in a place of arts and community after so many months of work, focus, isolation, and worry about the Covid-19 Pandemic. I haven't blogged about that time yet, but I took on a job as a Virtual Teacher for grades K-4 in all subject areas to help out our children's school. It was interesting work but tiring. So this evening in June with school behind me and the summer ahead seemed so full of life and newness and possibility. I left the gallery with a full heart.

Because of this experience, I hope to make more images of what strikes me and what interests me, rather than just images for my commercial business. I've also started a gallery where you can purchase this print and hopefully others in the future. If you'd like to order a copy of my image, Twenty-two Hundred Feet, click here.

Grace and Peace,


What am I about?

My business is Photographic Memories by Ann M. Bickel, LLC and is about providing art education opportunities in the Altoona community as well as portraiture photography work. As a creative person, I like to dabble in other areas that allow me to bear witness to others' lives and explore what brings us all together. Though If you would like to follow along, you can check out my last blog article or join my newsletter!

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