What began in a Whistler pub as a slide show of a snowboard trip, has grown into a one-of-a-kind showcase of photographic talent. Three years ago Jack Turner organized the first International Pro Photographer Showdown under a simple premise: Two carousels of slides set to music by some of the best action-sports photographers in the world makes for an interesting evening. With the epic moments of outdoor sports and places relegated to just a few published instances, the Showdown is more than a contest, as five lucky shooters present still photography to the public in a way that had been previously uncaptured.
With that, Whistler snowboarder Kurtis Croy, outside photo chronicler “Fred Foto” (Mark Frederick), surf hero Aaron Chang, longtime skate shooter J. Grant Brittain, and French photo editor Vianney Tisseau took turns exposing a packed Whistler Conference Center to magic mixes of light, film and art.
The paparazzi title comes courtesy of adventure photographer John Chilton, who dubbed his slide presentation thusly in the Pro Photographer Search-prelims for a wild-card seat in the Showdown. Though he didn’t make the main show (Croy took the honors), what Chilton said introducing his images spoke for all photographers who’ve captured places, people and moments that move us: “This is not about stealing someone’s energy for profit. This is about celebrating life.”
On its way to establishing itself as the Sundance Festival of still photos, the Showdown sold out in just a couple hours. A packed house positioned themselves on foam pillows and benches around a silvery reflecting pool, awaiting a flow of images. A varied mix of resort, ad and magazine executives, a photo editor, and legendary filmmaker/Whistler resident Greg Stump presided as panel of judges with only one criteria in mind-pick the best show.
“With the water, the rocks and beer cups, it looks like the bottom of Blackcomb lift,” cracked Showdown founder and host Jack Turner of the decor. An amiable guy in a purple suit, he deftly joked and kept things rolling even while milking the sponsors.
Kroy kicked things off with his mix of snowboarding, mountain biking, skateboarding and snowmobiling action, spiced with exotic travel in India and the Four Corners desert, some lively tunes, a variety of natural light shows and capped with a shot of a giant, lumbering bear making off with a case of Canadian beer. A local favorite, Kroy was on his way to the Pro Photographer Search when his tray of slides accidentally got dumped in the driveway. Though only a couple slides were scratched, before he swept the qualifier for a spot in the Showdown, Kroy kidded, “There’s a half-price sale on some of these images-see me after the show.”
Fred Foto followed with all kinds of action-ski and snowboarding, motocross, mountain biking and windsurfing-divided by location headings like Utah, Canada, AK and Hawaii. Probably his biggest crowd response came for the skiing shots entitled “New School,” showing various positions of serious, big-air mayhem. Fred was also victim of the night’s biggest technical gaff, when his projector was unplugged five seconds before he finished.
Aaron Chang went next, showing clearly why he was the previous year’s winner. With an unmatched eye for unique composition, gorgeous landscapes and eye-popping mixes of color, Chang also proved to be a master of exposure. Pulling off balanced, dead-on shutter stops in both action and repose in snow, surf and exotic locales the world over, it’s also clear why he’s put images on the pages of over 60 publications, including National Geographic, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated. Understated and humble, Chang said thanked the presenters before him, “I know how hard that is and I was blown away,” he said. Blown away is the only way to describe audience reaction to the 20 years of skateboarding shot by Grant Brittain. With a deft, whimsical hand at transitioning shots, Brittain included classic TransWorld SSkate classics like Chris Miller’s nose poke in the monopod-extended lens, Danny Way’s unbelievable bomb drop from a helicopter, and the entire sequence of Jamie Thomas’ “Leap of faith,” where he ollies off a staircase and drops more than fifteen feet to flat ground, breaking board and spraining ankle. Included in the mix were beautiful black and whites, scenics and the same Moby song used by Aaron Chang. In the following ovation, many were standing.
Vianney Tisseau closed the show. A former French halfpipe champ now the photo editor of Snow Surf, the good-natured Tisseau presented much classic snowboard ripping through the years. With shots of bird-flipping, full moons and Terje Haakonsen scowling at various ages, the cumulative effect of the slides captured snowboarding’s attitude. Though nervous throughout the day, Tisseau’s presentation was confident and loaded with personality.
In the end, though, there could be only one winner and the giant glass trophy went to Grant Brittain. Not only did he receive the biggest crowd response, Brittain’s 122 slides proved the most inspiring. “Nobody wanted to look at skateboarding ten years ago and now I’m in Whistler for free,” Brittain marveled while accepting his prize. “I came for the free trip.”
Later, Brittain confessed he thought skateboarding was the easiest sport of those presented to shoot. “I don’t have to freeze or sit under cornices. The elements are too hard. All I have to do is fight off the hookers and bums and wait for the cops to kick us out.” He said he’d like to get more into the photo art for which he clearly has a knack, but skateboarding is still the game that, “Keeps me young and makes me feel old.” Displaying the same commitment to his craft of many of his subjects, Brittain’s images made all the other action look soft. The entire hall left wanting to go skateboard.
“That’s what I’ve wanted,” he said quietly. “That’s what I’ve always wanted.”