Brian Wotring

2021 Non-Professional Event Photographer Of the Year

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background!

I am a United States Army Veteran, Financial Advisor, and Attorney. I am also a native Californian but now live in Richmond, Virginia with my wife and three children. I refined my photographic style, however, while living and working amongst the monuments and memorials of Washington, D.C. When I am not working or taking photographs, I enjoy running with my oldest son and touring national parks with friends and family.

Q: How did you realize you enjoy photography and capturing pictures? 

It’s the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I have been fascinated with photography from a young age, but it was during a tour in Iraq that I learned the power of documentary photography. I took a simple selfie while on a mission. It wasn’t a particularly well composed photograph, but it had many elements telling the story of my mission in Iraq. Every time I look at it, I am hit with a flood of emotions and memories. In life, moments are fleeting. They come and go instantly, but a well composed photograph will preserve that moment. It was then I knew I loved chasing those moments with a camera.

Q: Do you ever have trouble getting inspired? What do you do when moments like this arise? 

Yes, I often struggle for inspiration. My brand of photography blends images with the written word. When I post them on social media they are almost always accompanied by social commentary. So, if I’m lacking inspiration for photography, I focus on words and browse history books or news articles and apply them to current events. It often triggers an idea for an image I’d like to capture.

When I am really struggling, however, I just go out and shoot, no matter what it is. Eventually it comes to me. I also like to sift through old files. I often find something that speaks to me but, for whatever reason, I skipped over initially. There is always gold in an old file, you just have to find it.

Q: Which aspect of photography would you say was the hardest thing that you had to learn or get used to?

In the beginning, I really struggled with checking all my camera settings before shooting. Too often, I would compose a beautiful image and later find my ISO was at 12500, completely blowing out the highlights. I just got so excited to take the shot that my technique was slow to improve.

Q: You were chosen Non-Professional Event Photographer of the Year for your work “Unconditional Surrender,” a photo that brings us a stark view of how even in 2020, people have to fight against racism. Tell us about the moment that this shot was taken. 

Interestingly, that was the very last image I took that evening. Had I left any sooner, I would have missed the moment. After the death of George Floyd, the base of the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond, Virginia became a rallying point for activists, and as the push to remove the monument progressed, so did the scale of the protests. Every chance I had, I would go to the monument to document the activities. Although, due to the low light, I would often leave before nightfall. On this particular evening, however, a couple of local artists debuted the George Floyd projection seen in the photograph. For whatever reason, I stuck around long enough to see it, and like everyone else present, I immediately knew this was a moment I needed to capture.

Q: What was the most notable memory and the hardest thing to see when shooting this image? 

The most notable memory about shooting this image is that the evening felt more like a celebration than a protest. It is why I titled the image “Unconditional Surrender.” A few days earlier, police shot tear gas at the protestors surrounding the monument. The day I shot the image, however, the State of Virginia and the City of Richmond conceded and essentially turned over the Confederate monuments to the activists. While many will tell you there is still a lot of work to achieve victory in the war for racial equality, on that evening, it felt as though a battle was won. The hardest thing to see when shooting this image, however, is the continued strain in race relations in America.

Q: Why did you decide on entering this particular photo into the IPA?

I actually struggled with whether to enter the photograph. The protests around the Lee monument were a daily occurrence, and I assumed there would be numerous similar entries. Ultimately, however, I knew my photograph was technically difficult and, therefore, might set it apart from others. Likewise, there is so much history in this image and entry into the IPA was a way to give it a broader audience. Never did I imagine, however, that I’d be selected as Non-Professional Event Photographer of the Year.

Q: What does winning this competition mean to you? 

First and foremost, this win is not about me. A lot of elements which I am not responsible for helped bring this capture together. I am simply honored to have the human story depicted in my image recognized.

Secondarily, however, it does mean validation. Photography is a hobby for me. I have a full-time financial advising practice that I love, so I am limited as to when and where I can shoot and often feel as though my art suffers as a result. To have my peers and professionals recognize my work tells me I am on the right path as a photographer.

Q: If you could do anything or go anywhere, what would your dream photography project be? 

Don’t tell my wife but . . . SPACE! Because of the risk involved, she’d never let me take the trip, but I’d love to sit in the observatory module of the International Space Station and capture each passing sunrise and sunset.

Q: What good advice would you give to a photographer who is just starting to experiment with photography? 

Just shoot! Shoot the same subject twenty different ways. Mess with your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Lay on the ground, climb a tree, or climb a mountain. Learn all the rules, then be break them. Shoot landscapes with a telephoto lens and portraits with a wide-angle lens. Just experiment and you will find your art. More importantly, you will learn what you can do with your camera.

Q: What is next for you, are you working on anything right now?

I am continuing to focus on monuments and memorials and am currently working on a book that explores the messages they convey to society. Ultimately, I hope to have a published work that combines my images with the historical context of each monument and a discussion about their value and impact.