Deep Winter Photo Challenge – Can a ‘Boarder Shooter Win?

The Deep Winter Photo Challenge – Whistlerites’ favourite annual event – elbowed its way past the concierge, ran through the lobby, and set up shop in the ballroom of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler last night. 1200 spectators jammed in and a rowdy tone for the evening was set by the very first photographer – shooter/geologist Andrew Strain – whose rootsy images were matched only by the jaunty Celtic style soundtrack.

During the Deep Winter Photo Challenge, professional photographers shoot in-bounds at Whistler Blackcomb for three days capturing athletes in their natural mountain habitat of powder filled bowls, trees, and après bars.

I am a bit mystified as to the actual criteria, however. The winner is pronounced “King of Storms” – but does that mean dark, brooding images trump bright, cheery, colourful ones? Did Jordan Manley beat Morrison last year because Paul had way more light and colour (and blue sky) in his?

Last night, the ever affable emcee Mike Douglas (apparently battling a vicious case of the flu) took some pot shots at the ‘bluebird’ pow imagery often used by various marketing departments in making Whistler look pristine and pretty, when the reality is often far more gritty.

So, that makes me wonder. Does a guy get marked down for showing blue sky? Neon outfits? Sunsets? Must every shot reference “storms” and must every presentation have chunks of snow/water droplets zigzagging down the gondola windows?

I’ll be honest – it looked to me as though winner Blake Jorgenson took a hard look at the kind of images and music that Jordan had used in the past and either paid homage to that – or ripped him off – depending on your point of view.

Coming after Blake’s moody imagery and over-wrought Inception soundtrack, I thought that John Scarth’s rocking snowboarders and rapid fire music really nailed it – especially the motor-drive multi-frames per second action imagery. These guys were having fun! What a concept! They drank beer afterwards to celebrate! Nice!

One criteria that I’m curious about is ‘video prohibited’. Did Scarth’s motor drive sequences come too close being ‘still video’, and did he lose points because of it? There was a guy last year – maybe two years ago – another snowboard photographer who showed rapid-fire sequences. Is this a no-no? It’s an effect I quite like, but maybe it’s against the rules – real or perceived. Whatever – he finished out of the running.

One must wonder: four of the judges – Les Anthony, Jordan Manley, Mike Berard, and Eric Berger – make their living from skiing, not snowboarding. Berger has shot snowboarding quite a bit before, true – but seems to have crossed over more into skiing. When I saw that Jorgenson was one of the invited contestants, it all seemed to be a bit of a foregone conclusion to me, especially when I found out who the judges were. Don’t get me wrong – all the judges are great guys – but their collective skiing bias informs their work as judges. It simply cannot be otherwise. Snowboarding is a different mountain sport than skiing is, and its imagery is reflected back in a different manner than skiing. I’m not sure whether snowboard photographers get around on skis or a board, but that would have its limits as well – maybe snowboard shooters have the deck stacked against them from the beginning for that reason

To give the judges the benefit of the doubt, I know they see the presentations – what is it – three times? – and during that time, a certain presentation likely will grow on you, in the same way that a pop song that doesn’t quite grab you the first time will.

As I told Susan Reifer, I think that Robin O’Neill did the best job of storytelling – hey, who can resist the story of an attractive female ski patroller who hucks bombs and – wow, she’s a mom, too! That’s a great story! Her use of Photoshop and the truly ‘professional’ gloss of her images created a really stand-out show, and I thought that she might have won. Alas, betting against Blake is like betting against Eastwood at the Academy Awards.

Then again, I thought Morrison was robbed last year, so what do I know?

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