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Hood River Photographer Wins Grand Prize in Seventh Annual Gorge Photo Contest

June 13, 2022
Categorie(s): Latest News

Press Contacts 

Burt Edwards, communications director, Friends of the Columbia Gorge | 703.861.8237 (Cell) | (email)

Stan Hall, digital communications manager, Friends of the Columbia Gorge | 503.307.3228 (Cell) | (email)

PORTLAND, OR – In celebration of Nature Photography Day on June 15, Friends of the Columbia Gorge has announced Jesenia Robles of Hood River, Oregon, as the grand prize winner of Our Gorge Connections, Friends’ seventh annual photo contest. Seven category-winning photos, a special sub-category winner, and 12 honorable mentions were also announced. All winners and honorable mentions were selected by a panel of four professional photographers whose experience includes landscape and portrait photography, conservation advocacy, and promoting diversity in the outdoors.

Robles’ grand-prize winning photo, the first non-landscape shot in the contest’s history to win the contest, was taken in Hood River last July. Robles used her Canon EOS Rebel T7 with a 18-55 mm lens to capture a close-up of her father Enrique’s hands, laden with just-picked apricots. It’s an engaging image that illustrates the Columbia Gorge as more than just majestic waterfalls and windswept vistas, it's also vibrant, living place with a rich and diverse tapestry of community and culture.

"My dad has always been in agriculture. His family comes from a long line of farmers in Zacatecas, Mexico," said Robles. "My grandfather was a bracero in California, and both my dad and my mom have worked at Diamond Fruit Growers for 30-plus years. My dad’s favorite hobby is gardening. In the summers he will spend all day outside tending to his garden; it’s who he is,” Robles added. “And to me this picture represents my family history, and a beautiful cultural legacy of caring for the Earth and providing sustenance for generations.”

Over the past seven years, Friends' photo contest has received over 2,000 entries and given photography enthusiasts—professional and amateur alike—the opportunity to capture the sense of awe and wonder that the Columbia Gorge instills in both its residents and the millions of people who visit the Gorge a year. The theme of this year's contest, "Our Gorge Connections," was designed to acknowledge the multitude of ways those who love the Columbia Gorge feel connected to its unique natural environment and distinct communities contained within.

"While I’m definitely a landscape photographer, this photo is technically great, with the complementary colors,” said contest judge Sanjana Sachdeva, a Portland-based professional photographer and civil engineering creative manager whose company is working on the Oneonta and Mitchell Point Tunnel restoration projects along the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. "The image is not polished. It tells a story in the way the hands hold the apricots. The hands show experience. Culture is such a big thing in the Gorge."

In addition to Sachdeva, the panel of photo contest judges also featured Vancouver, Washington-based destination Adventure & Lifestyle photographer Nic Raingsey, whose work emphasizes diversifying the outdoors; and Hood River-based professional photographers Paloma Ayala and Vince Ready, the latter of whom is also a member of Friends’ Board of Directors. The panel was assisted by Friends staff, who helped screen initial entries and develop a slate of finalists for the judges’ review.

"The Columbia Gorge is a natural wonderland, a major tourist destination, and a world-class venue for wind and water sports," said Ready, owner-operator of Lasting Light Photography.

"Those are important qualities. But as a full-time resident I am very aware that community and culture are also central to the Gorge, which is why I appreciate photos like Jesenia’s which is not only technically impressive, but also rich with identity, history, and family bonds. There’s so much to unpack in this image," Ready added.

The contest called for photographers to submit photos in any of seven categories: Community & Culture (photos taken of people in and around Gorge communities, or of infrastructure, art, or examples of the sustainable built environment), Scenic Eastern Gorge, Scenic Western Gorge, Waterfalls, Wildlife, Wildflowers & Other Flora, and Youth Photographer (under age 18). In addition, a camera phone sub-category was added, that included photos of any category taken with a cell phone. The submission period for contest ended on Feb. 6, 2022.

The grand prize winner will be awarded $250; in addition, the grand prize and category winners will receive gift cards from contest sponsor Pro Photo Supply; and the Camera Phone sub-category winner will receive a Moment brand Starter Kit package from Pro Photo Supply. All winners and honorable mentions will receive a large print (developed by Pro Photo Supply) of their respective photos.

Friends' seventh-annual photo contest received a total of 528 entries. The winner of Friends’ previous annual photo contest, Picturing Protection, was Dan Hawk of Portland.

Our Gorge Connection Photo Contest Winners

  • Grand Prize – Jesenia Robles, Hood River, OR
  • Community & Culture category – John Pfeil, Portland, OR
  • Scenic Eastern Gorge category – Christopher Baker, Portland, OR
  • Scenic Western Gorge category – Christian Platt, Portland, OR
  • Waterfalls category – Daniel Rappaport, Corbett, OR
  • Wildflowers & Other Flora category – Bill Kirkland, Portland, OR
  • Wildlife category – Heidi Cardoza, Hood River, OR
  • Youth Photographer category – Zach Spidell (age 14), Portland, OR
  • Camera Phone sub-category ­– Robert Meyers, Hood River, OR

Honorable Mention: Christopher Baker (Portland, OR), Joshua Barza (Husum, WA), Justin Bernal (Portland, OR), Heidi Cardoza (Hood River, OR), Carolyn Huber (White Salmon, WA), Don Jacobson (Portland, OR), Finn Lin (Portland, OR), Robert Meyers (Hood River, OR), Daniel Rappaport (Corbett, OR), Kyle Rosso (Vancouver, WA), Paul Thomson (Vancouver, WA), Maggie Troxell (Tigard, OR)

Additional Resources

View photo galleries of photo contest winners, honorable mentions, and finalists

Learn more about Friends’ annual photo contest

Learn more about Friends other public engagement activities

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