Photo wins award for former West Jeff woman

Dean Shipley

January 21, 2014

Tessa Hay Kalman, finds the military cemetery on the grounds of the Veterans Administration (VA) Center in Dayton to be a peaceful place. The former West Jefferson resident works there in the VA’s media department and will often take a walk among the thousands of military markers to stretch her legs and mentally unwind.

The artist in her prompts her to take a camera to record a special moment, which she may experience.

“I keep an eye out for photo possibilities,” Kalman said. “The cemetery is a good spot in extreme weather.”

She experienced one of those last January. The temperature disparity produced a fog over the cemetery. She came upon a row of markers one of which appeared to be “guarded” by a huge tree. She composed the shot and took it.

Some time later, a colleague of hers informed her of a photo contest for pictures taken on official national landmarks. The grounds of the VA are a national landmark. So Kalman submitted the photo.

Through her mind’s eye, she saw the image’s strengths being rendered in black and white. So she converted the image from RGB to grayscale. She said other than some cropping she did not “work” the image too much before submitting.

When she submitted the photo, she wrote the following description: “I call this photo ‘The Guardian Tree.” To me, it is all about history and symbolism. The location, the weather, and the time of day all came together to create a scene that captures the somber mood, the reverence, and the peace that exists in this place. You can see in an instant the passing time since this Veteran was laid to rest, as the tree grew and encircled his grave marker, almost as if protecting it. Among the perfect rows of white marble, on immaculately maintained grounds, this tree seemed to honor one of our nation’s heroes in a way that only the randomness of nature can do.”

It was judged to be an honorable mention, Kalman learned near the end of last year. As it turns out, it is the only black and white submission in the gallery of winner and honorable mention photos. They are posted on the website:

Obviously Kalman, who has worked at the VA since 1990, was elated by the award. Hers was her first time to enter any kind of photo contest.

While photography is her hobby, her job brings into play her many artistic talents. She is a medical illustrator whose drawings assist physicians in their treatment of patients. She learned her craft in the ’80s, in a program at The Ohio State University. It was a time when much of the art was rendered by hand. Now though many art functions are performed on a computer, Kalman often begins with an hand-drawn sketch, which she scans into a computer program and enhances from there.

In addition to medical illustration, Kalman performs graphic design, desktop publishing, and three-dimensional historical displays, which, in most cases, require historical research. While she calls herself “a jack of all trades,” Kalman said the job requires creative thinking.

When she applied for the job 24 years ago, she never thought she’d stay. At graduation Kalman didn’t see herself staying at a VA hospital.

“As it turned out, it’s been a very enjoyable job,” she said.

Kalman, who moved away from West Jefferson after eighth grade, has been married for 25 years to her husband, Craig Kalman, a teacher in the Trotwood-Madison School system in Montgomery County. Their daughter, Cassie Kalman, is studying to be a physician’s assistant student at the university of the Cumberlands in Kentucky.

Her mother, Joan Craig resides in Tucson, Ariz. and her father, Don Hay, resides in Griffin, Ga.