“Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints.”
It’s advice often given to aspiring adventurers by everyone from politicians and environmentalists to National Geographic photographers and your local outdoors-focused Instagram influencer.
The Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) is calling on locals to do just that with its newly launched “We Are AWARE” nature photo contest, but the environmental organization is taking things a step further.
The local non-profit is also challenging Sea to Sky photographers to use their cameras to make a difference—“just as every step leaves a footprint, every image inspires a sensation, and you get to choose the impact you create,” AWARE explained on its website.
For example, taking pictures of responsible behaviour, like keeping dogs on leash, said AWARE community engagement manager Kristina Schrage. When photos are shared on social media, visitors in particular will see them and come to expect that’s what they’re in store for once they arrive in Whistler.
“If they see fires out in the wilderness, they’re going to come here and might want to do that. If they see bears next to cars, they’re going to come here and they’re going to want to have a bear next to their car,” she said. “We really want these pictures to … send the message of how we in Whistler want our environment to be seen and treated, because people will see that and they will mimic it. If you’re picking up trash in your pictures, then other people will do that and they’ll come to Whistler expecting that this is the culture here.”
AWARE’s first-ever photo contest officially launched earlier this month, with submissions accepted until Oct. 1. Photos must be taken within 75 kilometres of Whistler, but could be from any date.
“I’d love for it to be a yearly thing coming up,” said Schrage. “It’s really exciting, and we think it’d be really fun to highlight and showcase different [issues] that are important in our Whistler culture right now—like right now, old-growth is important.”
To that end, AWARE will name a total of 15 winners spread across in five different categories: Cameras Under the Canopy (focused on old-growth); We Care Whistler (demonstrating how local adventurers care for their environment while out exploring); It’s the Little Things (highlighting how much more there is when you stop and look closely); Animal Friends (this one’s self explanatory) and Wild Card (photos showing the wild you find, or anything else you think is worth submitting, explained Schrage.)
Each category will accept entries in youth, emerging, and professional divisions.
The contest is “a response to COVID and the way our wilderness has been impacted so heavily in the last little bit, as people had more free time and were going out more, our trails started being used more, and there was more waste on them,” Schrage said. “We wanted to create a positive look at how humans can have a good relationship with nature—we can actually protect it, we can steward it, we can adventure with care.”
The environmental charity plans to put together a panel of artists who will judge the entries on creativity, quality, originality, responsiveness to the prompt, and overall impact.
AWARE is also asking photographers to adhere to leave-no-trace principles and avoid identifying locations where images were taken in an effort “to encourage anonymity and security of photographed places.”
The contest is open to all Sea to Sky residents, with the youth category reserved for individuals aged 16 years or younger as of Oct. 1, 2022. Participants aged 17 or older can instead submit their work into the emerging or professional divisions. Participants can submit up to five images, while AWARE will retain rights to all submitted photos for use in future projects.
A selection of images will then be displayed at the Maury Young Arts Centre gallery from Nov. 20 to Dec. 6, offering photographers the opportunity to sell their work. Artists will take 50 per cent of the profits, while the other half will help fund AWARE’s environmental initiatives.
The exhibition “is going to be all about telling the story that Whistler has told us, of how to behave in our nature and how that behaviour will protect it,” said Schrage.
For more information, head to awarewhistler.org.