“I knew there was just something magical in the air that night,” said Allie Zweig about the night she took the photograph Slow Motion Swings, which won her the 2021 Congressional Art Competition for New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District.
Allie’s winning photograph captured a scene that can be seen all across the country: A simple bank of swings on a playground. But with streetlamps glowing through the nighttime fog, lighting patches of the area and leaving others in the shadows, with the silhouetted jungle gym in the background, and with the blur of the swings moving back and forth, Allie created a photo every bit as “magical” as was the night she took Slow Motion Swings.
The weather moved Allie to go out photographing when she took the picture. It wasn’t a typical January night in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. Instead, it was cold, damp, and foggy. “Something about the fog and rarity of it all fascinated me to the point I adventured out,” she said.
Though the right shot was magical, it didn’t come easy. Allie estimated she took around 100 pictures, maybe more, over the course of a couple of hours. Her perseverance in getting the right shot that night reflects the best advice she’s received on creating art: An artist must practice and become excellent at the basics to create a real masterpiece.
As Allie worked hard to find the right subject, she stopped at the swing sets and tried to get different angles. “I knew I caught something special,” she said.
No doubt she did catch something special since she was named the winner of her local Congressional Art Competition. First held in 1982, the Congressional Art Competition is a bipartisan initiative of the U.S. House of Representatives to support the artistic talents of high school students. Every Member of the House may hold an art competition for high school students in their districts. The winning artworks are displayed for a year in an exhibit in the Cannon Tunnel, which connects the House of Representatives office buildings to the U.S. Capitol. Members of Congress, congressional staff, and thousands upon thousands of visitors view the exhibit each year as they pass between the buildings.
When Allie heard she won the Congressional Art Competition, she was shocked. “I couldn’t believe it, it didn’t feel real,” she said. “Even now it doesn’t quite feel real.”
The dream-like quality of winning mirrored the message that Allie said she tried to convey in her photograph.
“The swings all swinging back and forth but with no one around in the dark felt like I captured something you weren’t supposed to see,” she said. “It felt like something out of a dream, something you rarely find in the real world.”
The black-and-white, magical quality of Allie’s Slow Motion Swings evokes the photography of one of her favorite artists Francesca Stern Woodman, whose monochromatic photography was noted in particular for her surreal depiction of herself and other subjects.
Like Woodman, Allie puts something of herself in her artwork, even when she’s not doing a self-portrait. “How I see the world and process things are ingrained in every photo,” she said, “because every photo is from my point of view in some way.”
Allie can share much through her photography since she loves to explore. “I love getting lost on long drives with my music blasting and windows down,” she said. “I’ve found getting lost is the best way to discover new things, including yourself.”
In addition to road trips, she enjoys spending time with her friends, family and animals. Her favorite movie is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and her favorite book, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, also suggests her love of adventure.
No doubt she has many adventures ahead of her, and we will probably see them documented in her photographs. Ten years from now, she hopes still to be “still creating art I love,” she said, “while being with people, and in places, I love.”
Students who would like more information about how to enter should contact their U.S. Representative. Contact information is available at House.gov.
The Congressional Institute has sponsored the Congressional Art Competition since 2009. The Congressional Institute is a not-for-profit organization that helps Members of Congress better serve their constituents and helps constituents better understand the operations of the national legislature. It publishes The Sausage Factory blog, Surviving Inside Congress, and the U.S. House of Representatives Floor Procedures Manual. To sign up for updates about the Congressional Art Competition, click here.