At first glance, digital art piece “Passing Time” by Fargo photographer Dan Francis appears to be an image of an elderly man playing chess against the Grim Reaper. But as Francis brings attention to small details by zooming in on his laptop, it’s clear the photo holds more than initially meets the eye.
The bearded man, Francis explains, is Father Time, donned in a brown robe with a cobwebbed staff in his hand. A clock hangs near his side of the table. A patient but weathered expression appears on his face as his opponent, Death, plucks its next victim from the chessboard of life, scattered with people unaware of their fate.
“I didn’t want to use regular chess pieces because I didn’t think it was telling the whole story,” explains Francis, who took months to bring his artistic vision to life on Photoshop.
The idea may sound as dark as the basement in which the photo was taken, but Francis enjoys exploring the concept of time in his digital compilations.
“It all started with the title ‘Passing Time,’” he says. “A lot of (artists) create a piece then give it a title, but I like to think of a title and create an image around it.”
Because of its intriguing story, Francis entered “Passing Time” in the World Photographic Cup — a global photography competition through the Federation of European Photographers (FEP) and Professional Photographers of America (PPA). As of last week, the photo won fifth place worldwide in the Digital Art/Illustration category, an accomplishment for which Francis is excited and grateful.
“For my first shot at gold, being fifth in the world is a good start and gives me something to strive for in the coming years,” he says, adding that his placement contributed six points to Team USA, which won second place overall in the competition.
Founded in 2013, the World Photographic Cup seeks to “unite photographers in a spirit of friendship and cooperation,” according to its website. “It’s like the Olympics for photography,” Francis explains.
To be considered for the competition, 1,301 photographers from around the world submitted 5,077 images to the International Photographic Competition through the PPA last summer. Judges sifted through the entries to determine the 513 “best of the best” images, which were then passed along to each team captain representing the 32 countries in the World Photographic Cup.
“Passing Time” was among the 513 best images. In the next phase of the competition, every team captain chose three images from that pile to submit to each of the six categories: Commercial, Wedding, Digital Art/Illustration, Nature, Portrait and Reportage/Photo Journalism. Francis originally submitted “Passing Time” in the Portrait category, but Team USA Captain Rich Newell selected it for Digital Art/Illustration.
Because the competition is international, all team captains selected images “that could speak to the world,” specifically to the panel of 24 judges from across the globe, Francis says. Francis flew to Atlanta in November to join Team USA for the semifinal phase of the World Photographic Cup, which is where he learned he made it to the Top 10 in his category among photographers from Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Portugal and the United States.
Placements were announced at the Final Award Ceremony in Drammen, Norway, on April 8. The other United States photographer placed seventh.
“I was in a very competitive group of artists,” Francis says. “Half of the Top 10 images in my category had the best in their country.”
As one of the few certified professional photographers in the area, Francis specializes in commercial, architecture and headshots for an array of clients through his business Dan Francis Photography. He creates his signature crisp and clean images using a mix of natural and artificial light.
Projects like “Passing Time” allow him to explore his creativity, to keep learning new features in Photoshop and to “not get stale,” he says.
“I strive for impact and storytelling with my images,” he says. “I’m glad to have a chance to share my craft with the world.”
Dan Francis provides a virtual tour of the details in “Passing Time” on YouTube, a video you can watch below. For more information about the photographer, visit danfrancisphotography.com.
This article is part of a content partnership with the Fargo Forum and originally appeared in print on Monday, April 15, 2019.