THOMPSON – For 39 years, Diane Nelsen has been judging photography at the Winnebago County Fair as well as other county fairs.
During those 39 years, Nelsen has seen a great deal of changes in not only cameras but also in the style of photography being displayed.
“When I started out, it was with black and white film camera, now, you can hardly find film, let alone black and white,” Nelsen said. “Kids now don’t even have to have their photos printed out, they can bring in their phones and show the pictures taken on that. The only time they have to print them out is if they’re moving on to fair.”
Nelsen, herself, grew up in 4-H, where she was a very, very active member. During her time, she had several projects go to the Iowa State Fair. After her time in 4-H, she wanted to give back to the organization that had done so much for her growing up.
“They had a need for new judges,” Nelsen said. “So, I went to new judges training and when a judge in a neighboring county fell ill, I was contacted by the extension office, who recommended I fill in and I’ve judged ever since. Now, I’ve judged in Winnebago County for at least 30 years.”
While Nelsen does not consider herself a professional photographer, she admits photography has been a hobby of hers for a long time. Over the years, she has taken several photography classes and even had some pieces published in a wide variety of magazines. With a background in teaching and a strong appreciation for the benefits of 4-H, Nelsen has been happy to volunteer her time to judge.
“I love working with the youth,” Nelsen said. “I love the whole concept of 4-H. There is plenty of opportunity for the kids to grow, excel and try new things. The main thing I want them to remember is everything they do is worthwhile, because everything they do is a chance to learn.
“I also want them to remember in photography, on any given day, its one person’s opinion," she said, "but we all look for common themes on what makes a quality picture and I want to help the kids work forward towards attaining that goal.”
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Nelsen related a story about a young lady, who had asked to talk to her after judging, because she wanted to tell Nelsen she’d been accepted to Hawkeye State for the photojournalism program.
“She wanted to thank me because she felt 4-H played a big part in her love for photography,” Nelsen said.
With all of the different types of photography and devices used in taking pictures, Nelsen said she has found herself growing and changing right along with the hobby she loves and admires.
She said the field has grown, giving individuals the opportunity to specialize in very specific things, like photographing houses for sale to capture them at their best, to macro photography that specializes in the minute details in things like plants and insects.
“We don’t just have farm animals and landscapes,” Nelsen said. “We have some really creative presentations, with merging images and ideas and even mediums. Photography really teaches kids to think outside of the box. They are much more open to experimenting and that’s really where the field is going to be in the future.”
While Nelsen considers this new level of creativity to contain a bit of a learning curve for someone like her who still has her film camera, she has come to recognize the strengths of digital photography and the cost effectiveness of it.
“You can take 200 digital photos and narrow down to ten with no cost,” Nelsen said. “It makes it much more doable for kids. Now, we are even seeing photography in high schools as part of technology classes. It is fun and a lifelong hobby one can continue to enjoy. There are a lot of things you can do with photography now that you could never do before.”