Local photographer places in National Geographic contest

CALUMET – “My brothers do some wild and crazy things sometimes,” Calumet native Lindsey Sladek said.

Most stories starting that way don’t end too well, and this one didn’t for a piano, but it did for Sladek.

When Nick and Phil Sladek decided to blow up an old piano in the backyard at their family’s home on Lake Linden hill, all Lindsey could think to do was get out her Nikon D5000 camera and document the inevitable destruction.

It didn’t result in the explosion she expected, but the dilapidated, weather-beaten piano, with ivory keys askew still inspired Lindsey, an amateur photographer.

She liked the resulting photos and saw a Nikon advertisement on Facebook for a photography contest through National Geographic. She didn’t think much of it at the time.

“It was a couple days before the contest ended. I talked with some friends about it and three hours before the deadline I submitted this idea,” Sladek recalled. “Then I won. It was very exciting.”

Just after Thanksgiving she submitted her photo and the following short pitch, entitled “Broken Piano,” into the contest: “Music will always find a way into your life. Wherever you go, you are influenced by it. You feel it in your heart and in your soul. I have always been passionate about music, its influence on people and the way it makes you feel. I was lucky to have music a part of my life at a young age because I was surrounded by it. I want to tell the story of how music is raw and can influence your life through the use of musical instruments (broken and not broken), people and the outdoors.”

Shortly after 11:30 on the morning of Dec. 3, Sladek received an email saying her submission “was selected from among thousands of entries by a panel of expert judges” as a first-place winner in the Nikon Full Story Photography Contest.

She, along with four individual winners, won a Nikon D600 to shoot the full visual story she had pitched to compete for a shot at the grand prize, a trip to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic Digital Nomad Andrew Evans. She had from Dec. 17 to Jan. 7 to shoot the story, using only the new D600 camera.

“I had to come up with pictures for this idea I had pitched, and I didn’t really know how I’d go about it,” Sladek said. “Putting it together was a little hard for me, but the community came together, and with music a lot of people came together and helped me with this.”

She took pictures of friends in a variety of Copper Country locations – the Quincy Dredge No. 2, the Calumet Theatre and Brockway Mountain, to name a few – involving a variety of instruments – including a guitar, a violin and, of course, that old worn-out piano.

She was allowed to write short captions with each of the 12 photos she submitted, but the picture had to be worth 1,000 words, as the saying goes.

“A photo story is really hard to do,” Sladek said. “Capturing what you want to show without very many words, that was more difficult I think, and actually setting up the photos. I’m one to just take a picture. … It was quite the challenge, but it was an amazing opportunity.”

While not a musician herself, Sladek used the chance to share the stories of other musicians, including Brandon Mitchell, who she photographed walking alongside U.S. 41 going north toward Copper Harbor, using the following caption: “Music motivated Brandon during his darkest days as he struggled for a better life. Music uplifts his soul and helps him continue along the path of inspiration.”

Sladek, who earned her teaching certificate at Michigan Technological University and is currently downstate searching for a teaching job, finds her inspiration through photography, though she only pursues it as a hobby.

“It’s just something I enjoy doing. I don’t want money to interfere with that,” said Sladek, who has shot four weddings before but still only intends to take photos as a hobby, even after winning this contest.

She has a Facebook page showcasing her photography work:

To see Sladek’s entire first-place photo essay, and to see the submissions of the three other first-place winners and grand prize winner Brian Forbes Powell – the winner was announced Friday – visit

“It would have been nice to win, but I had an amazing experience and that’s worth more,” Sladek said.