Despite some bad weather, close to 40 people attended the Waterman Conservation Education Center on Saturday, Jan. 25, where the winners of Waterman’s first photography competition were announced. The first photography competition held by the Waterman Conservation Education Center, organizers were amazed by the over 250 submissions from as far away as Tel Aviv, Israel.
“We didn’t expect to get as many entries as we did the first year and to end up profitable. We didn’t make buckets of money, but we are well into the black which for a first year concept is almost unheard of,” said Chris Audette, executive director of Waterman Conservation Education Center.
The grand prizewinner was Robert Nowak of Oregon, who despite not being able to attend did send a statement.
“I would like to thank the judges and all the people at Waterman Center for not only the opportunity to submit my work, but for the important work they do. As a nature photographer I have a great appreciation for both the efforts in education and conservation that organizations like the Waterman Center promote,” Nowak wrote.
Nowak went on to say he is glad that his photo will able to assist the Waterman Center’s conservation efforts.
Part of the reason the competition was started, along with promoting conservation, was to give the Center’s nature photography students a local photography competition as an outlet for their work.
“It all started from a blog, of all things – Natural History Through the Lenses. So that blog evolved into a workshop series for nature photography that we have done the last two seasons,” Audette said.
What was started as a place for a workshop for students to showcase their work turned into something more successful and gives Audette confidence that more workshops will be offered.
“Without a doubt this was a success, we are super excited about it and it gives us that much more enthusiasm to offer more workshops,” Audette said.
The popularity of the photography competition means that the competition will likely become an annual event.
“We would like this to be an annual thing, to keep up the momentum,” Audette said.
Judging for the photographs was done blindly, with judges unaware who the photographer of a given photograph was.
“They had no idea where it was taken or by whom,” Audette said.
A big reason for the success of this year’s event is due to the presence of nature photographer and Waterman Center Board Member Teri Franzen.
“She spearheaded our Natural History Through the Lenses blog, which was started in 2018 with the goal of getting people to engage with nature in a different way,” Audette said.
Gina Vaughan won the Waterman Properties category, Renee DePrato won the birds category, Lars Gesing won the wildlife category, Lucas Wagnar came in first place in the youth category, Robert Novak won the Plants and Landscapes category, and Cindy Ruggieri won the People in Nature category.
“When Gina Vaughan was accepting her prize she said something very poignant that to me sums up what the center is all about. She said, ‘When I am walking around brick pond and taking photos here it becomes my special little world.’ That is exactly what the Waterman product is; we provide that feeling of being in a personal wonderland. That magic of totally being plugged in with nature feeling,” Audette said.
Audette said that sponsors of the competition included Two Rivers Photography Club, Beyond The Print, Wild Birds Unlimited, Hunt’s Camera, Unicorn Electronics, Red River Paper, Long Creek Photography, JW Johnson Photography, and Teri Franzen Photography.