UCS student artist named finalist in Smithsonian photography contest
UCS student artist named finalist in Smithsonian photography contest
Posted on 02/24/2020
Man performing on pots and pansStudio picture of Megan OcelnikThe adage that “Every Picture Tells a Story” has inspired one Utica Community Schools senior toward national recognition in a prestigious youth art competition.

Megan Ocelnik, of Henry Ford II High School, has taken her interest in capturing stories through her camera to becoming a finalist in this year’s National Portrait Gallery Teen Contest, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute. 

“I am inspired by the fact that you can use photography to tell someone else’s story,” she said. “It’s the fact that this is something you are not making up - it’s an actual real person and you are getting that person’s story across.” 

Her story is the national recognized photo of Deon Forrest, a street performer whose image she captured drumming on pots and pans. 

“I just saw him when I was at Eastern Market in downtown Detroit last summer and I took a picture of him,” she said. “And I loved it because he was so passionate about what he was doing.” 

The Gallery Teen Contest accepted photos across the country from students ages 13 through 17.

Local teenagers designed the competition for their peers under the supervision of the museum’s education department. The competition was designed to introduce teenagers to the concept of representing identity through portraiture.

The finalists were chosen by the National Portrait Gallery’s Teen Museum Council, a group of twenty teenagers from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia who engage with the Portrait Gallery’s collections and create programming for their peers.

Two winners will eventually be chosen: one in the 13- to 15-year-old category and one in the 16- to 17-year-old category. The two winning photos will be displayed in the museum in spring 2020, outside the Outwin Boochever Competition exhibition.

For her entry in the competition, Ocelnik wanted to tell the story of Forrest, a homeless person who earns his living performing on household items. She later gave him a matted copy of the photograph – which she called “Earned It” based on the shirt he is wearing in the photo - that was submitted to the Portrait Gallery. 

“He was really happy that he had a picture of himself performing - he had a big smile on his face,” Ocelnik said. “He was talking to me about all of these things he was working with,” including a tour with rapper Big Sean. 

Olcelnik has found her interest in photography by taking pictures of everyday individuals who live and work in Detroit. While she has always had enjoyed art, her interest in developing her talents grew from the photography classes she has had at Ford II.

“Megan is an amazing artist and student.,” said photography teacher Dr. Lisa Grunewald. “She goes above and beyond the requirements for my class. She continues to push the bar academically and artistically. I see great things for her in the future.”

Her future includes a career with photography or graphic design. Her recognition through the prestigious Smithsonian contest has only grown her interest in art. 

“It’s nice getting recognition for hard work that you have put into your art,” she said.