If a daydream could be captured on film, Cassie Tucker's award-winning photograph may be a prime example of what it would look like.
In her shot, titled "Cloudy Day," the Reservoir High School senior appears to be lost in thought as she rests on fluffy cumulus clouds that waft along in a twinkling, twilight sky.
Except those clouds are actually packages of cotton pillow stuffing dumped out on her parents' bed, and the textured lavender universe of stars was created with skillful photo editing to mask the room's pair of windows.
"I didn't think it was the best thing ever, though I thought it was decent," said Tucker, of the photo that earned her finalist status in Photographer's Forum magazine's 32nd annual contest for high school and college students, cosponsored by Nikon USA.
"When I read the comments on Flickr (a photo display website) and the peer grading, I realized people liked it," she said.
Tucker said she likes that the photo is open to interpretation and that viewers appreciate its "quality of serenity and dream-like feel."
Tucker, who plans to attend the Maryland Institute College of Art in the fall, was chosen as a finalist from among 17,700 entries worldwide. Eight winners were chosen from among 624 finalists, and all of these entries will soon be published in a hardcover book.
The artist often uses herself in her photos because she doesn't have to be trapped into scheduling a photo shoot with someone who's willing to model, she explained. She shot "Cloudy Day" when she was home sick from school for a week about two months ago.
"I don't put myself in my photos to be conceited," she said. "My ideas are spontaneous. I usually have a little bit of an idea when I start, but I find that sketching it out ruins it."
Greg English, Tucker's photography teacher for four years, said his student's talent is innate and undeniable.
"Cassie is just so good at what she does that her ideas evolve through play," he said, noting her skills in manipulating the vision as well as the backdrops of her photos. He thought this particular photo from her impressive body of work had potential to win because of the "surrealistic, dream-like look that is part of her style."
English said that Tucker is also working toward completing both the art and photography advanced placement exams, which aren't actually tests but demanding portfolio reviews.
Art show for students
Tucker is not the only talented photographer at Reservoir.
"I have such a strong group of advanced students this year, most of whom have been with me for two, three or four years," English said, noting there are 20 kids working at the highest possible level within the county's curriculum.
English decided to reward the group with "a real show that is just theirs." That show, the 20 of '12 art exhibit, will be on display through March 20 at the Columbia Art Center, 6100 Foreland Garth, in Columbia.
Eight of the 20 students represented, including Tucker, also have been named winners this year in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, a national competition for middle and high school students sponsored by the New York-based Alliance for Young Artists and Writers.
Some 400 works were chosen for a regional level award in Maryland, English said. Of those, 41 were given to RHS students, 12 of whom received gold medals and will be judged at the national level.
Besides Tucker, winners in the photography category who are participating in the exhibit include: Kamal Browne, Nayab Khan, Bailey Parater, Korey Rosenbaum and Alex Shaw.
Ellie Budzinski, a winner in painting, and Jena Rutten, who won in the fashion category, also are taking part.
"Most of these students are dedicated to continuing [with their art] beyond high school," English said.
A variety of media is represented in the show besides photography, said English, who taught at the elementary level in the county for six years before transferring to Reservoir in 2005.
For more information on the exhibit, call 410-730-0075 or go to columbiaartcenter.org.
For more of the students' artwork, go to http://www.explorehoward.com.