Banff Centre’s Mountain Book Competition

  By John Veldhoen

Recently one of the Camera Store’s owners made me aware of the Banff Centre’s Mountain Book Competition Award. The award acclaims the work of publishers, photographers, and writers, who use the mountains as a backdrop or theme for their work. It got me thinking about the nature of the photographic book once again, and books in particular, and asking a question about why it is that books are not printed more often. It stands to reason that with more access to more and vastly different kinds of cameras, and more technology to print books on demand, that one would see an expanding variety of books on every subject, with wildly differing appearance. Yet it seems that the process of funnelling work through publication filters has made it so there is less to see, and most of it is roughly of the same interest. Gratefully, in Alberta there are a few apertures through which a little light can get through, and the Banff Centre has steadily remained. I thought I would write this simply to let others know that this contest exists, and perhaps encourage anyone who might be reading to participate with their work, and to challenge those who do to participate. 

Reading on the subject of mountain photography, I came across work by Penelope Umbrico, and a body of work she names  “Mountains, Moving”. I wanted to share this inasmuch as I find a spirit of formal adventure in the images. They remind me of a synchronicity found by some between a Zen proverb, and a Christian scripture from the Gospel of Matthew. One states that at first there appears that there is a mountain, and then there is no mountain, and then there is. The other states that faith can move mountains. Umbrico’s work uses the mountain as “oldest subject, stable object, singular, immovable landmark, site of orientation, place of spiritual contemplation”, and then she uses canonical photographs of mountains and a smartphone camera in order to create what she calls “proximity and distance”, and a dialog between “singular and multiple”. These binaries call to mind another problem, cited in painting, and Gestalt writing, about the psychology of vision called “figure and ground”. Photography can be visual shorthand, a way of expressing sight, and it means a great deal to make these expressions, as space becomes substance. In this way, one observer of Umbico’s work might see that she has not adventured at all, not approached the mountains, while another might have found that with the use of the language of photography she was able to make the mountains move. Just as silence can give form to a note (I am borrowing a concept here, the Japanese concept of Ma), one can make something out of nothing. 

I have spent a considerable period of my life thinking about books, and photobooks are my nearly favorite form of art, they can do things like a novel can do, and things that cinema can do, and theatre, and all at the same time, or they can be their own, definite expressions. My hope is that some of you out there send some work out, because I want to see it, as each expression becomes part of my own.


The Banff Mountain Book Competition is now accepting entries. Entry deadline is June 30th, 2015. For complete rules and regulations, click here.

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In addition to being on our sales team, John curates The Camera Store's book selection and is a contributing author of our blog. He likes to think about photography, talk about photography, and sometimes write about photography.