Musings on the South Dakota PSA Photo Festival

My wife and I canceled a road trip to South Dakota last year when the state’s covid numbers skyrocketed. This of course was pre-vaccination and we were understandably adverse to risking the exposure. It was a fortuitous coincidence, then, to discover that the 2021 PSA Photo Festival was scheduled to be held in Rapid City. As club representative of our newly restarted PSA membership it was an easy decision to combine my interest in seeing the Black Hills region with experiencing PSA operations first-hand.

Fully vaxxed and now feeling more relaxed regarding viral risk,  we set off on a two day car trip that included stops in Buffalo, Wyoming to see the historic Occidental Hotel (worth it!), Devil’s Tower/Bear Lodge National Monument (the space ship is long gone), and two nights visiting friends in Sturgis before arriving at the conference hotel.

The 196 attendees were about half the usual number, with many international members unable to attend because of covid and visa restrictions. I’d guess the median age was in the low 70’s.  So, like many camera clubs, it tended to skew toward the retiree set.  It might not have had the atmosphere of the full international meeting, but there was still an energy and enthusiasm in the room as members met old friends and colleagues, and made new ones. I met Rick Battson and Signe Emmerich, HonPSA, EPSA, who gave us the Zoom presentation on PSA club membership earlier this year. Both were exceptionally nice and Rick especially was accommodating to my questions and introduced me to other PSA leaders, all of whom are volunteers.

The meetings were mostly early morning and afternoon/evening to provide ample time for photo touring. Several educational presentations were offered, all excellent, with some duplicated in case you couldn’t make it one day. The highlight was Art Wolfe’s 2 hour slide show of recent work and projects he is compiling for upcoming books. I attended the Nature Division meeting in the morning before heading off to Mount Rushmore, but missed the Projected Image Division luncheon meeting as I did not get back from the Badlands in time. These are the two divisions the Wasatch Camera Club has entered for PSA interclub competitions. Photographers are known as “makers.”  The big discussion in the Nature Division was about the “human elements” allowable in ND image entries. Currently, a man-made element is allowable only if it is being used by wildlife or is being destroyed by nature. Not surprisingly, there was much confusion and debate about this, and the solution appears to be forbidding any type of human element except scientific bands, tags, or collars. This change, however, will not affect this season’s competition rounds.  I plan to hold a Zoom meeting in the near future where I will discuss in details the rules and guidelines the judges (and image makers) are to follow.

PSA DSC4859A big draw of the festival is, of course, the photo opportunities. Mount Rushmore is impressive in person but it’s such a photographed spot I found it very difficult to come up with an original image. The Iron Mountain Road (16A) and Needles Highway are gorgeous scenic byways that showcase the Black Hills.  Their narrow, winding lanes, tight tunnels, and pigtail bridges make for an adult Autopia ride, without as many guardrails. Great fun for the driver, perhaps not so much for the passenger with no control beyond insisting the driver keep eyes on the road. Sunrise and sunset tours of Badlands NP afforded golden hour imaging of this unique geologic formation that is unlike anything we have in Utah.


A part of the festival I wish I had more time for was the Print Exhibition Gallery. Open only for a few hours each day, it displayed hundreds of prints of the PSA Division winners and photos from the PSA Historical Print Collection. A lot of talent was showcased, but not significantly better than what I’ve seen produced by our own club members. We left the last day of the festival, heading south through Wind Cave NP, when my recent trip to the Bonneville salt flats managed to attract the attention of a sodium-deprived bison. I came away from the festival feeling good about PSA. It is run by a group of passionate photographer volunteers who work hard to make the organization rewarding to their international membership, and offers much to the club (and even more to the individual) member creatively invested in it.     

Greg Smith

PSA Club Representative