Temecula’s Ahjile Miller won first place for the photograph she entered at the San Diego County Fair.
Miller’s photo “Dandelions” took the first-place ribbon in the Black and White People category.
“It’s such an honor as an artist,” Miller said. “You’re going against so many amazing artists.”
The photo shows Miller’s eight-year-old daughter, Natalie Rivera, blowing dandelion seeds off her hand. “Dandelion” was taken with a Cannon 5D Mark 3 camera owned by Mt. San Jacinto College, where Miller was taking a class when she took the photo in March, and was printed on Fuji Flex paper. Miller utilized Chrome Digital in San Diego for the printing.
“I had really wanted a picture of Natalie to be in the fair,” Miller said.
Miller also has a four-year-old son, Ascari Rivera. Her full-time job is as a nurse in the telemetry unit of Inland Medical Center in Wildomar. Although her photography is primarily a hobby, Miller is also paid for occasional event photography. Miller has learned that she can combine photography with spending time with her children, especially her daughter who is old enough to model. “I can involve her in my photography,” Miller said.
“Dandelion” was taken in the photo studio at Mt. San Jacinto College’s Menifee campus. “I just ran around campus and picked every single dandelion I could find,” Miller said.
Miller had to protect the dandelions from the wind as she was bringing them into the studio. “It was really windy that day,” she said.
Her daughter had been blowing dandelions from the stems but then picked up the seeds and blew them off her hand.
“The one that I entered was definitely my favorite,” Miller said.
Miller used parabolic light to take the photo. The photo was actually sepia, although that qualified for the black and white category. “I love black and white,” Miller said, explaining that black and white photographs can provide more of a focus on the subject.
Miller noted that skill alone didn’t guarantee a prize at the fair. “It’s very subjective,” she said. “It’s what draws in the judge.”
The first-place award was the first for Miller at a county fair. “It’s still a little unreal to have won such an honor,” she said.
Miller’s San Diego County Fair debut was in 2013 with a self-portrait which did not place but was accepted for display at the fair. “It was really exciting just to have that one entered,” she said.
Miller was raised in Wildomar and graduated from Elsinore High School, where at one time she was a yearbook photographer. “I really started doing photography after my son was born,” Miller said.
In addition to raising two children, Miller was participating in the nursing program at Mt. San Jacinto College. She had been engaging in photography before taking her first class, which was the beginning class at Mt. San Jacinto College, in 2010. “I’ve been hooked ever since,” she said.
Miller completed the nursing program at Mt. San Jacinto College in December 2011. Although she took a year off from photography, she later returned to Mt. San Jacinto College to take the intermediate photography class and then the advanced class.
The school’s only higher-level class than the advanced class involves tutoring as well as photography, and Miller took that class in the spring 2014 semester. “It’s a great program. I really loved every minute of being in it,” she said.
The class included its own contest, and Miller won the best self-portrait and best nature photo awards.
Miller had previously won an honorable mention award for her photograph at the 2013 Orange County Fair and was second in the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District’s fall 2013 contest.
Miller’s first camera was a Cannon Rebel, which she still owns. She also owns a Cannon 60D and a Cannon 60. “It’s not the camera that’s taking pictures; it’s the artist,” she said. “A good camera helps.”
All three cameras Miller owns are digital cameras, as is the Mt. San Jacinto College camera she used to take the fair photograph. “My mom has some old film cameras that I might start experimenting with,” Miller said.
Miller’s mother is an artist. “She took a ton of pictures of us when we were little,” Miller said.
Miller hopes that both her personal story and her photographs will encourage others to develop their photography skills. “The goal is to be able to inspire people,” Miller said.
Even if her own photography career grows professionally, she has no plans to leave the nursing profession. “No matter what I’ll always be a nurse, I’ll always be a photographer,” she said.
Miller hopes to show the results of her ensuing learning during the 2015 San Diego County Fair. “I’m really excited for next year,” she said.
“It’s definitely something I’m going to keep doing as the years go by,” Miller said.