SAN JOSE -- Sometimes, you carefully plan out a work of art. Sometimes, inspiration intervenes -- and leads to an award-winning photograph and public display in your city.

Neni Silva's photograph of her friend opening his shirt to display a Superman insignia underneath is one of 26 chosen this year to adorn doors and utility boxes in downtown San Jose. She and other winning artists will be honored Thursday in the sixth annual Downtown Doors art competition.

Neni, 17, was planning to photograph her friend, Gabriel Cornejo, for an assignment in her digital photography class at Santa Teresa High. Both just graduated last month. When he showed up wearing a Superman shirt, she said, "I need you to wear that shirt."

Her enlarged photo, displayed outside South First Billiards at 420 S. First St., is called "The Hero Within," and represents her belief that "anybody who believes in themselves can be a hero to anybody."

The annual contest put on by the San Jose Downtown Association this year attracted 720 entries from 17 high schools. Each of the winning pieces were converted to large vinyl decals and applied to utility doors and boxes on downtown sidewalks and plazas -- some replacing past contest winners, and some posted in new locations.

At 11 displays, scannable codes will connect smart phones to YouTube videos of artists explaining their pieces. Including past years' works, 91 pieces of art are displayed downtown.


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This year's winners include a student in each of San Jose's sister cities: Dublin, Ireland; Okayama, Japan; Pune, India; San Jose, Costa Rica and Tainan, Taiwan.

One of the winning pieces, Esther Dello Buono's "Downtown San Jose," displayed at Market and Santa Clara streets, also won the Congressional art competition and will be displayed in the Hall of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Neni credited her photo teacher, Margorie Kelley, for patiently teaching her from her junior year. But it was Neni's father, Juan Silva, an amateur photographer, who instilled in her a love of photography. "As far as I could remember, he's always had a camera." She goes on photo-shooting hikes with him.

Winning a contest is surreal, Neni said. "I didn't expect recognition so soon."

Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/noguchionk12.