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Putting the gears in focus

Crankworx features new mountain bike photography competition, with roster of professionals to shoot over three days

What: Deep Summer Photo Challenge

When: Wednesday, Aug. 12, 8 p.m.

Where: Fairmont Chateau Whistler

Cost: $15

The riders who are front and centre at Crankworx often make their way down the jumps and trails of Whistler and Blackcomb at such speeds that the average spectator could blink and miss them. But organizers from Whistler Blackcomb have decided to add a whole new artistic event to this year's festivities, one that is designed to showcase the finer points of the art of biking with the click of a button and the rattle of a shutter.

Starting on Friday, Aug. 7, six photographers will head into Whistler's hills armed with an arsenal of equipment and a team of assistants and riders to capture the essence of mountain biking through the lenses of their cameras, all as part of the inaugural Deep Summer Photo Challenge.

The event is modeled after the popular Deep Winter Photo Challenge. The concept is actually quite simple: professional photographers have three full days to shoot and compile a slideshow, which will be judged by a panel of five industry professionals. The three top entries each snag cash prizes and some serious cred, as this is the first event of its sort for the mountain biking world.

Michelle Leroux is coordinating the Deep Summer Photo Challenge for Whistler Blackcomb. She explained that while Crankworx wasn't exactly started as an artistic event, it soon proved to draw a massive crowd of bikers and non-bikers alike who were as interested in the awe-inspiring aesthetics of the sport as they were in the jaw-dropping tricks pulled off in the boneyard.

What started off as an event that was held on an already-busy weekend has grown into an annual attraction that can more than stand on its own two feet, drawing massive crowds to witness the on-hill competitions and join in the off-hill festivities.

"It's turned into this broader kind of experience that not just mountain bikers are interested in," Leroux said. "...It's marrying the athletic side with the art."

The competitors represent some of the world's best mountain bike photographers, with Mattias Fredriksson, Yorick Carroux, Harookz, Dan Barham and John Gibson tapped to compete. Plus, one lucky photographer was selected from a wildcard competition to compete against the professionals. On a submission of three photos, Bryan Ralph - a.k.a. ralphie - was chosen from more than 40 applicants. Make no mistake, though, ralphie is no stranger to the format of this competition, having placed third at the second annual Deep Winter Photo Challenge.

Haruki Noguchi is one of the five photographers invited to participate in the Deep Summer event, though he's better known in the industry as Harookz.

Last week, he was busily preparing for an upcoming top-secret assignment before heading up to Whistler. He wouldn't give any details, but hinted that it involves some cutting edge shooting techniques.

It's this experimental attitude that has made Harookz a name on B.C.'s photography scene, landing him contracts with companies like Adidas. An avid sports enthusiast born and raised in Vancouver, Harookz got into photography right after he graduated from high school.

"I'd just always flip through mags and I'd just stare at the photos, 'cause the photos were sick and I'd just get all pumped on the photos, and then I'd take my mom's point-and-shoot camera and go riding with my friends and try and replicate those photos," he said. "They obviously looked like crap compared with the magazines', but I enjoyed the whole process."

He began teaching himself tricks of the trade, learning through trial and error, and acquiring equipment as he could. Searching for direction and a career goal, he eventually stumbled into the industry after friends encouraged him to submit some of his shots to sponsors and magazines.

"A couple pay cheques came in - small, but I got paid - and I was like, 'Wow, I made money off this? This is kinda cool.'"

With those first published shots, Harookz threw himself into photography, even selling his car to finance equipment.

"I'm so glad it worked out," he said with a laugh.

Today, he shoots an incredibly wide range of subjects - anything from fashion and glamour to nature and the outdoors, and of course, biking - slipping between stark, gritty black and white and shots that use vivid, vibrant colours.

"I just can't stick to shooting one style all the time - its so boring to me," he said.

Shooting mountain biking is always a challenge, he says, because you have to find a balance between capturing the natural surroundings and the rider as they're sticking a trick.

The upcoming competition in Whistler will be the first of its kind that Harookz has participated in and he admits that he's a bit nervous to go head-to-head with the real pros. While he'd love to win, he and his team of two assistants and two riders - Ross Measures and Whistler's Brandon Semanuk - are aiming for another goal: to get people to think about the genre of mountain bike photography in an entirely new way and challenge their perceptions.

"We want people to walk out of the show saying, 'why didn't we think of that?'" he said.

A panel of judges, including legendary photographer Paul Morrison, Decline Magazine 's photo editor Scott Hart, Canadian Press photographer Jonathan Hayward, and Whistler Mountain Bike Park manager Brian Finestone, will select the winner at the screening event on Aug. 12. Tickets are $15 and are available at Whistler Blackcomb Guest Relations or over the phone at 1-866-218-9690.