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Downers Grove South student nominated for prestigious photography award

DOWNERS GROVE – Downers Grove South High School student Maria Padilla is one of five students nationwide to be nominated for an American Vision award this year from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

If selected as the overall winner, the 17-year-old will take her first trip to New York City to collect her prize, and maybe get to bring her little brother, the subject of her celebrated photograph.

The photo, titled “Lost,” shows her brother Eric Padilla, 8, standing among trees in the woods, his scarf snagged on a nearby trunk. He is casting a pensive, melancholy expression, complimented by a sepia-tone filter applied to the picture in computer post-production. The image appears faded and desaturated for a vintage appeal.

The shoot took place on a hot day at the beginning of this school year, she said. Initially, telling him what to do went over how anyone with memories of childhood sibling interactions would probably imagine.

“It was the first time I used him as a model,” Padilla, of Woodridge, said. “It was really hard. He didn’t want to do the things I wanted him to do. The good thing about it was his facial expressions were really soft, and even if he wasn’t trying to model for me, it kind of came out like it.”

Now with other photo shoots under their belt, she said her brother is excited for more projects.

“He’s a really nice kid,” she said. “I feel like he can become a model when he grows up. But we’ll see, he’s barely 8.”

This is her second year in the photography class at the school, taught by Michelle Ross. Padilla said that as a junior, she was irresponsible and often didn’t finish assignments. But she gives Ross credit for motivating her to be more dedicated.

“She’s a really hard teacher,” she said. “You have to keep up with all your work. I feel like it’s been making me grow up a lot.”

She said when she started completing her photo shoots and opening the images in Photoshop, she recognized how well they were turning out, and she became more excited about the class.

In addition to the American Vision nomination, the photo received a Gold Key award in the competition. Three of her other photographs also received Gold Key Awards, and an honorable mention. She also won a Silver Key for her digital art portfolio.

Many of those photos also feature Eric, to which she attributes much of the success.

“I felt like [working with him] really got me up there,” she said.

Including Padilla, District 99 student artists claimed more than 200 awards in a variety of art and writing categories in the competition. She was the only American Vision nominee in the district.

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