Mertins has 2 photos at the Montgomery Photo Festival

  • The Montgomery Photo Festival is on display at three locations in Montgomery through August 27
  • The International Expo is in downtown Kress Building.
  • Stonehenge Gallery, 401 Cloverdale Road, presents the Alabama Camera Clubs exhibit.
  • Photos of Alabama high school students are at SAC’s Gallery, 529 S. Perry St.

As part of the ongoing Montgomery Photo Festival, One Woman’s Vision has a unique take that has captured two spots in the International Exhibition in downtown Kress.

“I’m really thrilled. I’m really flattered,” said Ellen Mertins, whose “Tribute to Ambrosia and Wayne Thiebaud” and “Winter’s Gift” are the only two in Montgomery’s one-photographer exhibit.

Both were shot in his kitchen.

In her “Tribute,” from December 2021, Mertins was inspired while making ambrosia, when she found herself staring at beautiful slices of grapefruit and oranges.

Focus:Montgomery Photo Festival expands to three exhibitions

Local Submissions:Montgomery Photo Festival

“It was, I think, after Christmas, around the 27th,” she said. “I was looking at the beautiful tops and bottoms of the citrus fruits. They were so beautiful I didn’t think they were quite ready to go. I didn’t want to put them in the compost bin. Normally what I would Just put them in a nice bowl and let them scent the room.”

As she pondered what to do, she heard on the radio that Wayne Thiebaud had died at 101.

“He’s one of my favorite artists,” Mertins said.

Suddenly it occurred to him to make a three row pattern with his 11 fruit slices – one row of four grapefruits, one row of four oranges and the third row with grapefruit, orange and grapefruit – and transform it into a photo tribute to Thiébaud.

“He is best known for his lavish paintings of rows of cakes or pies, hot dogs or a chewing gum dispenser,” Mertins said. “That’s what most people know him for. I like his landscapes more.”

Ellen Mertins,

The other photo from the Mertins exhibit is from February of this year. It shows a bowl with a variety of flowering camellias called Pink Perfection, a plant that has a deep personal connection to her.

“My grandmother planted a shrub that bloomed on each of her grandchildren’s birthdays. Pink Perfection was mine,” she said.

One of Mertins childhood friends has a huge bush of Pink Perfection and sometimes gives Mertins flower clippings for his birthday.

“I put them in this bowl and took a picture of them,” she said.

A life in pictures

When she was little, Mertins walked around taking pictures with her Brownie camera. As an adult, this love of photography continued in her longtime role as an architectural historian with the Alabama Historical Commission.

“My first day on the job, I was given a Rolleiflex camera and sent to the state photo lab to learn how to use it,” she said. “It was a bit more complicated than the little Brownie cameras I had.”

She traveled and took photos of historic buildings, many of which were civil rights sites, and still remembers the lessons she learned on the job.

Ellen Mertins' version of a selfie, which captured her shadows.

“The state photographer said the film was cheap, and the time and travel weren’t,” Mertins said. “Crop every shot and frame every shot.”

It was advice that stuck with him.

“I tend to take multiple images of everything I photograph,” she said.

As a historian/preserver, she has had the opportunity to work with or assist in the preservation of numerous civil rights sites in Alabama, including the Montgomery Bus Station (AKA Freedom Rides Museum), sites along the Selma to Montgomery Historic Trail, and she made the original nomination of the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church for World Heritage designation.

She attributes her growth in exhibited photos to Warren Simons, one of the festival organizers who also has a photo selected for this year’s international exhibition. She said Simons was her mentor and helped her prepare photos for print.

“He, his wife and I used to walk every morning,” Mertins said. “One morning we were walking in Cloverdale Park. It was foggy and I stopped to photograph some trees in the fog. He stopped and photographed them as well, and he asked to see what I photographed. Then he said, “Oh, Ellen, that’s good. He persuaded me to put my photos in shows.”

His work is mainly of objects and scenes. Although she took pictures of some notable people in her life and career – John Lewis, several Freedom Riders, Johnnie Carr, Virginia Durr, Justice Frank Johnson, Jeff Sessions and Kay Ivey (pre-governor) with Katherine Tucker Windham – not the kind of work she would consider submitting for an exhibition.

“I would like to be good at this kind of photography, capturing notable people, action scenes or events,” she said.

Something she also actively avoids is probably the most popular style of photography on social media today: selfies.

“I’m really opposed to personal photos,” she said. “That’s why I’m on this side of the camera.”

The closest she’s gotten to a selfie is a double shadow image of herself.

“All you see is shadow,” Mertins said.

Learn more about the Montgomery Photo Festival

Prior to this year, Mertins had another photo in the Montgomery exhibit. This was during the festival’s first exhibition at the Stonehenge Gallery and was still known as the Society of Arts & Crafts / Stonehenge Gallery Photo Competition.

Ellen Mertins,

In addition to Mertins and Simons, local photographers for the 2022 World’s Fair include four others from Montgomery – Cheryl Johnson, Sandra Polizos, William Fenn and Elizabeth Vinson – as well as Vicki Hunt from Prattville and Rick Lewis from Pike Road.

READ MORE: Clarification: Montgomery Photo Festival expands to three exhibitions

The international exhibit at the Kress Building, 39 Dexter Ave., also includes 59 other Alabamians from Birmingham, Mobile, Auburn, Hoover, Helena, Ozark and Florence. Photos also arrived from 33 other US states and seven other countries: Belgium, Canada, Zimbabwe, India, England, Australia and Germany. He had 610 submissions.

The photos for the international exhibition were blindly selected by Anna Walker Skillman, who only saw the works, without any information about the photographers.

Besides the Kress exhibit, the Montgomery Photo Festival features exhibits at two other locations. Stonehenge Gallery, 401 Cloverdale Road, presents the Alabama Photo Club exhibit. Photos of Alabama high school students can be found at SAC’s Gallery, 529 S. Perry St.

Mertins said she plans to travel to all three exhibits, which will be on display in Montgomery through August 27.

Learn more about the festival online at

Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Shannon Heupel at [email protected]

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