The unique beauty, nature, culture and lifestyle of the southern Appalachian Mountains comes to life through the Appalachian Mountain Photography Competition, a Boone-based annual competition that invites both amateur and professional photographers to submit photos that showcase an aspect of the region.
A collaboration between ASU Outdoor Programs, the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts and Virtual Blue Ridge, the AMPC recently closed out its 14th year with the announcement of the winning photographs on March 25. The competition is meant to coincide each year with the Banff Mountain Film Festival, an international film festival focused on outdoor adventure topics. Boone, North Carolina, is one of Banff’s biggest stops on its world tour, and the festival inspired the beginnings of the AMPC.
“We wanted to give our local community a tangible way to connect with the themes of the film festival,” Rich Campbell, director of ASU Outdoor Programs, said. “So we still focus on mountain culture, mountain places, mountain pursuits, we just use the Southern Appalachian region as our framework. It provides a local to global connection with the themes related to mountain culture.”
Plus, Campbell continued, the High Country is such a beautiful place that they wanted to celebrate it.
Campbell has overseen the AMPC since its first year, and works with all of the sponsors, judges and the Turchin Center as well as working to get the word out about the competition and recruit image submissions. This year, over 900 photos were submitted to the AMPC, with the jurors eventually selecting 48 finalists from the bunch.
Organizing and managing the competition is nearly a year-long process. Submissions are accepted from May until November. From the end of November until mid-December, the judges work to narrow down the photos and select finalists. Finalists then get their images printed and framed and deliver them to the Turchin Center, where they will be hung in an exhibition open from March until June. The overall winners of the AMPC are announced over the weekend of the Banff Mountain Film Festival in March, at a reception for the finalists at the Turchin Center.
Photographers can enter multiple photographs in six different categories of the competition: Adventure, Culture, Flora/Fauna, Landscape, Blue Ridge Parkway and Our Ecological Footprint. Each category features an aspect of life in the southern Appalachians, whether it’s the plant and animal life of the region, the opportunities for outdoor recreation, the way of life in the area or humans’ impact on the land.
“The most important thing is that the image has to make you feel something,” said Andrew Caldwell, a professor in Appalachian State’s commercial photography department and one of the competition’s jurors this year. “That’s a fairly subjective thing but it also tends to be fairly consistent among the judges. It has to also be beautiful, something that makes you want to look at it and engage with it.”
The photos in the landscape and flora/fauna categories, Caldwell said, tend to show off the beauty of nature in the Appalachian Mountains. However, not all images in the competition have a stereotypical definition of beauty. In the Our Ecological Footprint category this year, an image of tires floating in the lake was one of the finalists, as well as two images depicting vast wildfires in southern Appalachia. “South Mountain Wildfire” by Cathy Anderson won Best in Show.
In the Culture category, photographers can interpret what Appalachian culture looks like or what it means to them. Among the finalist photos for Culture this year was a portrait of a Cherokee Indian cultural ambassador, hands forming clay to make pottery, the inside of an old church and the winner: “Granny’s Got a Gun” by Candice Corbin, a portrait that looks down the barrel of a gun to the 95-year-old woman holding it as she sits in her chair at home.
“The cultural category allows us to use the experience and opportunity of the show to discuss what our culture actually looks like, who is included in the culture and how distinct and different that can be from some of the stereotypes of Appalachia,” Caldwell said. “It’s kind of an interesting place to add a contemporary context to our understanding of culture.”
Photos are submitted from multiple other states including West Virginia, Virginia, South Carolina and Florida, from people who live in the Appalachian Mountains or who have taken photographs while visiting. A large number of the finalists this year, though, were from the High Country region or other places in North Carolina. A few current Appalachian State students and recent graduates were among the finalists as well.
Ryan Gaglianese-Woody, a junior sustainable development major, entered her photo “Freedom” to the competition last year, and it was chosen as a finalist in the Blue Ridge Parkway category. This category is themed every year, and this year’s theme was “Blue Ridge Parkway: A Place to Play.” Gaglianese-Woody’s photo was of her sister’s dog Sawyer frozen in motion as he sprinted down a trail at a mountain bald off the Parkway near Asheville, North Carolina.
“I remember crouching in the field, trying to get the perfect angle and line of him running up and down the field,” Gaglianese-Woody said. “He was so happy, I couldn’t resist. I was in about a half-year obsession of photographing that dog because he is just so photogenic.”
Gaglianese-Woody said she was surprised when she found out that her photo was selected as a finalist out of the nearly 1,000 images submitted, and that it felt like she was starting to move forward in her photography.
“I think it has gotten me to make more time for taking photos because I have been so busy with other things in my life that I sometimes forget I am in the perfect place to pursue such a fulfilling activity,” she said.
Jameson Midgett, who graduated from App State in December 2016 with a commercial photography degree, was also chosen as a finalist in the Blue Ridge Parkway category. His image “Balance Partners” was the result of a photo shoot in the fall for his senior portfolio, and captured two friends as they practiced handstand poses together at the edge of Rough Ridge in the early morning.
Midgett said that he had just finished working a shift at the University Recreation climbing wall when Campbell told him that one of his photos had made it to the finals. He was initially surprised at the image they had chosen (he had submitted eight), but after looking back at the other submitted photos, he felt that “Balance Partners” fit the Blue Ridge Parkway: A Place to Play category the best.
“The overall experience was nothing less than a blast,” Midgett said. “It had been some time since I had last entered into a photo competition, and this one just felt like a good conclusion to my time here in the mountains and in the photo program.”
At the finalists’ reception in March, the overall winner for each category was announced, as well as the Best in Show and People’s Choice awards. The Best in Show winner receives a $1,000 check; the other winners receive gift cards or checks from various sponsors of the competition, including Mast General Store, Appalachian Voices and the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. Finalists are also eligible to win a portfolio review from professional photographers.
The finalists’ photos for this year are available to view at the Turchin Center’s exhibition until the beginning of June. All of the final photos since the very beginning of the AMPC are available online at appmtnphotocomp.org. Campbell said that the online archive is one of the most comprehensive archives of juried images that capture the spirit of the Southern Appalachians.
“I think regional competitions like this bring about a quality of work that you typically don’t see in nationwide shows,” Caldwell said. “It brings people together, you hear some great stories and I think it’s a really beautiful portrait of not just Boone, but all of the southern Appalachian Mountains, and you just get to see a lot of beautiful work from different corners.”
Story by: Adrienne Fouts, Associate A&E Editor
Photos are courtesies of the 14th Annual Appalachian Mountain Photography Competition