*This post is part of a series of blog posts highlighting award winning contributors and supporters of Scribendi.

This piece, titled “Guruvayer “ by Alaia Schwelger , was chosen as this year’s WRHC award winning photography piece and it’s not hard to see why. It is a captivating image that really draws the viewer in with its warmth. The image has really great focus, creating texture that draws the eyes to it, making it seem like this man could be sitting right in front of you. Not only does the focus allow you to see every hair and every wrinkle, but it captures the depth of the man’s emotion. The smile on his face and the glow in his eyes reflects the joy he seems to have. There isn’t anything distracting in the photograph either, so your eyes know exactly where to land. It really makes the viewer think about the scenario, encouraging them to imagine who this man might be, where he might have come from, and what his story is. A great photograph is one that draws people in and tells a story of its own. This one definitely hits the mark.

            “Guruvayur” was taken while Alaia, an Orange Coast College student with wanderlust, was traveling in India. I asked her what she was doing when this photograph was taken and what she wanted people to see. She told me that she and her friends were visiting a town called Thrissur that not many tourists knew about at the time. They were riding in a tuk-tuk, or a rickshaw, when a man came up to them and told them about a festival an hour away called Guruvayur. This festival is held once a year for ten days in March at the Guruvayur Sreekrishna Temple, which is one of the most famous Lord Krishna temples in India. “As we arrived, we were so enchanted by the people, decorations, food—everything. Everyone was dressed in their best and, though concerned with their own rituals and performances, they embraced us and immediately welcomed us into their religion and traditions.” They were so welcoming that they not only taught Alaia about their food and their culture, but they introduced her to their families. She said the experience was unbelievable and one she wanted to capture on film. “I think the hospitality of the strangers was captured perfectly in this photograph; their candidness and sincerity, too.”

            Alaia’s art is often inspired by her travels and the people that she meets. She likes to be able to share the new cultures she discovers and the new experiences she has with her friends and family back home. In fact, she told me that was originally the only goal of her art. Before she submitted to Scribendi she only posted the photographs that she took on Facebook, but when she got the email from her honors program, she decided to send them in. Since sending us these photographs, Alaia has continued to photograph these types of experiences but she says something has changed in the way in which she does it. “I’ve had to learn to balance my time behind the lens and interacting with the subject(s). I was afraid to miss good captures, but quickly realized that photographs reveal much more emotion and sincerity that way, at least on an intrinsic level. Candid photographs are always great, but it’s easy to become consumed with trying to snap a good photo when I really should be out there making meaningful interactions instead.” Getting to know her subjects better can also change how she perceives a moment and how she decides to capture and memorialize it. This makes sense, especially since Alaia says that the real reason she enjoys the work that she does is because it allows her to see the beauty in everyday things and to share how she perceives that beauty with others. We are glad she was able to share that beauty with us, as well, and we hope to see more work like it in the future.