BIG CHIMNEY, W.Va. -- On Nov. 6, the phone jangled to life at 7 a.m. at Debra Vickers' house near Big Chimney. A very excited daughter was on the other end. She'd just learned Eva Longoria, former "Desperate Housewives" star, had been on "E! News" the night before and had shown a photo Vickers had taken.
Knowing the entertainment news program would be rebroadcast at 7 a.m., they scrambled to find the channel it was on. "Just as we found the channel, the story was coming on," Vickers said.
And that is how Vickers learned Longoria had just granted the 57-year-old West Virginia native her very own 15 minutes of national fame.
Longoria is one of several celebrity judges taking part in Canon's Project IMAGINAT10N, which solicited photographs nationwide for a filmmaking project led by director Ron Howard. Each judge was to pick 10 photos from the slew of entries as inspiration for an 8- to 12-minute film they'll direct and debut in 2013, mentored by Howard.
Among her choices, Longoria picked Vickers' photograph "Alli's Dream." The photo depicts Vickers' granddaughter, Allison Miller, playing dress-up in a veil while lying in a splash of sunlight on a carpet.
In the "E! News" interview, Longoria explained why the photo was a favorite and her reaction to it as the actress held the image up to the camera:
"From the time when we're this little, women are kind of socially constructed to have marriage and babies as the goal in their life. So, I think my movie is going to be the counter of this. Success is not defined on when or who you get married to."
Actually, it's not a wedding veil but a confirmation veil her granddaughter -- 5 years old at the time -- borrowed from a friend to play dress-up, said Vickers. "It looks like a wedding veil."
Vickers came out of her bedroom and saw Allison in the veil on the carpet. An enthusiastic amateur photographer, she ducked into her room to nab her Canon Rebel T1i, knowing she had only one chance to photograph her granddaughter unawares.
"At her age, the minute you snap the picture, they're up and posing," Vickers said.
"I had no control of the light coming in from the window shade. I stepped out from my bedroom, saw her and, as quiet as I could, got my camera and tried to set it for what I hoped would be the right setting. I had to step out and take it instantly. I didn't even get to take more than one. It was one quick picture."
Given Longoria's reaction to the photo, it's a tad ironic why it almost never saw the light of day -- let alone national TV. "I was going to frame it and have it given to her on her wedding day," Vickers said.
She said she could see how Longoria might take the picture to merely signify a girl dreaming of marriage. But that imaginative granddaughter might in the next moment be in a different outfit, dreaming of being the artist the little girl has said she hopes to grow up to be, she said.
"Well, my take is completely, of course, different. Because I know my granddaughter. When I saw her laying on the floor, what I saw is I could not believe how beautiful that veil fell around her and no one had touched it to put it that way. I just saw a beautiful picture."
Then, she recalled Project IMAGINAT10N, which she'd learned about on Facebook when it debuted last year. The number 10 in the contest's name signifies the 10 "pillars of storytelling," as described by Howard: setting, time, character, mood, back story, relationship, goal, obstacle, the unknown and discovery.
Last year, more than 100,000 photos were submitted, and the filmmakers used the still photos as inspiration for cinematic stories. "I didn't enter last year. I didn't know if I had anything that was good enough," Vickers said.
But she had grown ever more serious about her photography and is an active member of the Charleston Camera Club. As this year's deadline approached, she figured she had just as good a chance as anyone else out there.
"I was sitting at my computer one day about 5 p.m. and thought 'I'm just going to take some pictures off my desktop and enter them in the contest.' To my amazement, it turned out very well."
She entered "Alli's Dream" in the "goals" category. It was among 91 finalists from among all the submissions. Some of the other celebrity judges -- among them actor Jamie Foxx; Georgina Chapman (co-founder of the high-end women's wear line Marchesa); James Murphy (founder of LCD Soundsystem); and Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter) -- have yet to announce their picks and it's always possible one of them may go for her photo too.
For Vickers, she was happy enough to have even made the semifinals. "When I saw it on 'E! News' and [Eva Longoria] holding my picture, there's no words to express it," she said.
For many years, Vickers owned and ran T.J.'s Family Hair Salon in Alum Creek. She named the business after an uncle -- Thomas Jefferson White -- who had a big influence on her life and the salon's name got to be her nickname: "T.J."
Then, for several years, she said, "I took care of anyone who needed taken care of. Parents and grandparents -- everybody seemed to get sick, and me and my husband took care of them until they passed."
About four years ago, at her daughter's urging, she took a photography workshop at Twin Falls State Park. She could never have dreamed that what would turn into a passionate hobby might one day show up on TV, much less film, she said.
"When I took that picture, I loved it for me. I love to take pictures that people don't see me take. Those are my favorites, for that picture to tell a story by itself."
She'll be flown to this year's Project IMAGINAT10N film fest in summer 2013, probably in New York, while also earning a $500 credit in Canon's online store.
When her daughter got her on the phone, she told her mother: "You need to scream!" Vickers recalled. "I said, 'I did -- the day I won! I screamed!'"
View other Project IMAGINAT10N photos at www.longliveimagination.com/.
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at email@example.com or 304-348-3017.