SPEARFISH … For Black Hills State University photography student Rianna Hotz, her print “Domiciliary Stairwell” holds special meaning and now has received international recognition. Taken at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Hot Springs,it depicts a stairwell hidden away from the busyness of the medical center’s daily routine.

Hotz, a senior photography and environmental physical science major, used her hometown VA, which is threatened to be closed, as the subject for her photo journalism project. The print now has an international audience after being selected for the Breaking Boundaries IV exhibition at China’s Pingyao International Photography Festival. The juried exhibition held in the ancient city of Pingyao attracts 100,000 international visitors to view contributions from more than 2,000 photographers from the novice to the seasoned photographer.  

Hotz’s print was among photo exhibits from photographers from every continent and included the works of many renowned Chinese and international photographers during the September festival.  Exhibitions were held in venues all over the city including ancient temples, factories and warehouses.

“I was shocked and excited,” Hotz said of her photo being selected. “(It’s great) when you do something on a whim and it works out.”  Hotz entered the contest soon after learning about it from her BHSU photography professor Steve Babbitt.  “I pretty much scanned the image, put it on a disc and sent it immediately.”  

“Domiciliary Stairwell” was part of a series of photos Hotz took during her photojournalism class. The series focused on the Hot Springs VA. “I decided to do a story on it because so many people were involved. I’m very proud my community is concerned about the veterans,” she said.

She printed the  image in black and white and then again as a lith print which is the one she submitted.  “My peers and my professors really encouraged me and told me it was a good image,” she said. “They appreciated how I printed it.” A lith print is an ordinary black and white image,overdeveloped by a couple stops and then partially developed in a lith developer.

 Babbitt said he was excited to hear Hotz’s print was selected for such a prestigious exhibition. “We’ve never had a student in that show. “ He hopes Hotz’s success will lead other students to enter more contests. He noted that BHSU students compete very well with students from larger institutions such as New York University.  “I know they can, and they do well when they do compete,” Babbitt said. “They are starting to realize their work is as good as anyone’s. The only way not to get in is not to enter.”

Although she was not able to go to the festival, Hotz said Susan Dooley, chair of the art department at Nassau Community College and organizer of the student exhibition,took a photo of her print on display. “It would have been an awesome experience to go and to hear what another culture thinks of what I printed,” she said.

Along with her print, Hotz submitted an artist’s statement: “Growing up in a small town made observation a natural occupation for me.  Before I held a camera, I watched the workings of animals, plants, and light. I came to understand that I could find beauty and mystery anywhere I cared to look for it.  Now that I am studying at a University, I try to apply those observations of life’s changing beauty to the still images I make.”

Hotz said she takes her camera everywhere and will continue to capture those moments through her photographs.