Logan Mitchell was sitting in class when he got an email notification on his watch. He opened it, and to his surprise, the email was from Fred Vallance-Jones, Director, Journalism Programs at the University of King’s College, informing him he won the King’s Photo Essay Contest.
“It was very exciting, but I was trying to subdue myself a little bit because I was in class,” says Mitchell, a grade 12 student. “I got to celebrate afterwards once I got home from school and called some of my friends, it was awesome.”
The King’s Photo Essay Contest is a competition for grade 11 and 12 students to take a six-to-10-picture photo essay capturing a sense of place. Students had the opportunity to learn some shooting tips from Jeff Harper, a photojournalism instructor at King’s, and apply them for the competition.
Mitchell is from Calgary, Alta., and shot his essay on the beauty of the city and the nearby Rocky Mountains. He captured hiking in the mountains, Calgary’s skyline and Canmore’s town lights at dusk with the dark mountains in the background.
“Aside from getting on a plane and going to Banff, it was probably the closest you could get to being there,” says Harper. “It makes me want to go, that’s for sure, which is the goal of photojournalism, to transport people to events they can’t be at, places they can’t go to and be a public witness.”
Mitchell never considered himself a photographer. His shooting tactic is going out with friends and photographing whatever he finds beautiful with his iPhone 6.
After learning about the contest in October, Mitchell had plenty of time to plan his submission before the due date in early January. He started by looking at his photos and captured new ones when he spotted something appealing.
“I don’t want it to feel forced,” says Mitchell. “I want to go out and see something that I need to capture. It needs to warrant a photo in and of itself.”
One place where it’s not hard to find beauty is exploring the mountains in Banff National Park, an hour’s drive from Calgary. Mitchell visits the mountains often, and most of his photos for the contest are from activities there, like camping, hiking or cross-country skiing.
“I credit all of my creativity to the mountains,” says Mitchell. “Spending a lot of time on a ski trail walking uphill, it’s a very mindful thing to do because it is just you and your thoughts a lot of the time. Even though you’re with other people, you share this silent bond with people because you’re huffing and puffing, walking on skis up a mountain. When you’re in that pure state of mind, and nothing is really distracting you, that is when you can look around and see the world in a different way than you would on your walk home from school. With that said, I have tried to incorporate that mindset in my walk home from school.”
As the winner, Mitchell receives an upgrade from his iPhone camera to a Canon Rebel SL3 camera. He still plans to use his phone to take spontaneous photos. However, he’s looking forward to taking out his new camera and trying to shoot pictures purposefully.
“What I’m hoping for with the camera is I can go out and shoot photos for the sake of shooting photos,” says Mitchell. “And develop that ability to take a photo on command and try to practice seeing beauty everywhere and not when it comes to me, try to go and seek it out.”
That exercise of trying to find beauty to capture is something Mitchell feels can benefit everyone.
“I think everyone can benefit from practicing photography. Because when you’re behind the camera, it forces you to look for beauty and view the world in a different way. And I think it’s very important for us to recognize the beauty around us.”
King’s named two runners-up winners: Graydon German, also from Calgary, and Prin Chotiprasidhi from Bangkok, Thailand.
Chotiprasidhi shot his photo essay on the first water ceremony performed by sea salt farmers in Thailand’s Samut Sakhon province, about an hour’s drive from Bangkok. Chotiprasidhi attended the event growing up and wanted to share it with the world. The ceremony celebrates the first stream of seawater let into the salt pans. The farmers will let the water evaporate in the hot sun and harvest the leftover salt. Chotiprasidhi captures the prayers, sacrifices of food and the ringing of the gong during the ceremony.
“It’s a very religious and spiritual ceremony because it represents the start of a successful year for the farmers, so there is a lot of religious belief behind it. I wanted to document the ceremony to people outside of Thailand who may not be familiar with the event,” says Chotiprasidhi.
Documenting the world through his camera is what Chotiprasidhi enjoys about photography. His essay, which can be viewed below, shows the people, activities and colours of the ceremony.
“I was invited, and I started snapping pictures and tried to capture the whole atmosphere of what was going on,” says Chotiprasidhi. “I think that is my style. I try to document the event as it is and not trying to edit the photos so that it draws away from what was actually happening at the event.”
German took his photo essay while on vacation in the Patagonia region of Argentina during spring break of 2022. His photo essay depicted the wildlife ecosystem in the region showing photos of the mountains, pumas eating a guanaco and a condor waiting for its turn at the carcass.
“When I saw the topic, I decided a good series of photos was the key part of it. So, it would have had to be a trip because that is when I take a bunch of photos that all have relevance towards each other, I don’t usually do that in my day-to-day life. I especially wanted something interesting and cool that people would want to take a look at.”
German and his dad took hikes and rode horses through the region with tour guides, seeing the landscape.
“It’s more brutal, it’s a national park, so it’s not like there are people everywhere, it’s pretty wild. So you will see the puma eating the guanaco.”
German was inspired to get into photography because of his family. His uncle is a professional photographer, and his dad takes photos while running his Antarctic tour business. German has been working on his craft for five years. Like Mitchell and Chotiprasidhi, he sees photography as a way to be more observant of the world around him.
“It’s a great way to express and show the beauty of the world around you and appreciate the little things. It gives you another lens to look at the world,” says German.
“A ‘place’ doesn’t have to be confined to just one city or town, but can represent a connection to various landscapes. My home in Calgary, AB, is the perfect example of this, being at the confluence of the Rocky Mountains and urban environments. I feel a sense of place skiing, climbing and running in the mountains near Canmore just as much as I do walking on pavement along the river in Calgary. These places may be far apart, but the Bow River connects both of them in a way that makes my home greater than just my address.
Connecting to this vastness is how I’ve come to understand that a sense of place is also about the way an individual fits into their environment. While some places diminish our physical significance, we often overlook fine details in others. The cumulation of these feelings offers the spatial perspective necessary to feel at home in an area. Connecting with the land this way is an intimate experience that I have tried to capture with photos on my iPhone 6, but everyone undergoes this process in a unique way. The individualistic relationship that people form with the area here is what makes it so special. For me, this land has made me into who I am today.”