"Photography has the capacity to provide images of man and his environment that are both works of art and moments in history." -- Cornell Capa

With new advances in digital cameras, editing software and Net-based photo communities, photography is now accessible for the public in ways it never was before. Its very nature is changing rapidly before our eyes -- and for some, the sharing of experiences through the eye of a camera has become not only a powerful form of visual storytelling about us and our communities, but also a great way to build new communities in a world the camera can't really capture. .

This summer, The Tyee announced a photo contest entitled "A Day in My B.C." for the members of our popular Flickr photo pool. This pool, started only half a year ago, now includes more than 5,000 photos of our province from more than 300 Flickr members. The contest results, shown together in this special Tyee photo essay, are powerful examples of this new type of citizen-sourced, Net-fostered, community sharing. And every day we're proud to display these photos on our home page, and as the art that accompanies some of our stories.

For the contest, we recruited three judges -- Christopher Grabowski, Elaine Briere and Jay Black -- all respected and experienced photographers -- and asked entrants to submit their three favourite photos showcasing their B.C. Our judges received hundreds of exceptional photos depicting different visions of our province, choosing nine favourites with three winning a grand prize worth $150. Together, the winning photographs paint a picture of our province through the eyes of its own residents.

Place-Based Photographs of a Complex Province

What's most compelling about the winning photos is the fact that they share spots unknown to the casual tourist. They are taken in the photographers' homes, in their backyards, and at their favourite weekend hideaways. From a crumbling roller coaster at the PNE to highly saturated shots of city streets, they showcase varying renditions of our province firmly rooted in each photographer's sense of place and community. In doing so, these photos show us just how multi-faceted our province really is.

For Dawn, one of our grand prize winners, the act of photographing her winning photo was inspired by a specific, place-based moment in time. She shared the inspiration behind her grand prize photo, "Looking Towards Downtown," with me via email -- a medium I found apt considering the virtual world that introduced us to her work. "I took the photo in front of a house I used to live in on East Georgia street [Vancouver]. I think I was puttering around in the kitchen or something and peeked out the window, and there was this amazing light... an amazing double rainbow. This shot... captures something about the vibe on the street and in the neighbourhood."

For Federico Barahona, another grand prize winner, the importance of Internet-fostered place-sharing lies in the fact that it can reveal the political and societal undercurrents that affect one's community. He writes, "Our photos are largely about an absence of space specifically. In a context where public space is quickly disappearing -- with private security guards patrolling our streets, surveillance cameras, and with only commercially-mediated activities allowed in public spaces -- photography can help us see the gap between the promises of a billboard and what we encounter as we walk the streets."

Photo Communities Built On Sharing

This type of exchange is fostered most effectively through popular online photo-sharing sites. Flickr, arguably known as the "site that started it all" and the service that manages The Tyee photo pool, was launched in 2004 by a Vancouver-based company and now hosts more than 4 billion images from around the world. It also operates as a hub for photo-centered social interactions, with users connected through topic-based groups called "photo pools" and user-written encouragement and comments on submitted photos.

For some, the inclusivity of photo-sharing communities like Flickr have made them more fulfilling than those found on other social media sites entirely devoted to personal relationships.

"I must admit, I much prefer browsing my contacts on Flickr to using a service like Facebook," says Dawn. Perhaps this is because Flickr's photo-sharing capabilities connect individuals through something that's more timeless than mere social networking -- the sharing of experiences via photography.

Plus, Flickr offers the ability to license photos using one of the Creative Commons licenses, which can, depending on the chosen license, makes it easier for people to "share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright," rather than a one-size-fits-all form of copyright. This remarkable image-sharing freedom, reinforced on other web portals like the Wikimedia Commons, is an example of a worldwide open-source movement, which lauds the sharing of Net-based media. It is a movement based on the concept that collaboration is an essential element of modern virtual communities.

The conception of this "Creative Commons" license for photographs has allowed the public to access rare pieces out of our collective history. A few years ago, the Library of Congress submitted 3,500 of its historical photos to Flickr's Creative Commons service. It now adds 50 new photos a week to the delight of countless Flickr communities that have risen out of a shared love for historical photographs.

Photo Communities Built on Profit

Other photographers are less than impressed with sites like Flickr, saying that its inclusivity is marred by the existence of its paid accounts that provide "increased" services and because it has been bought out by a large company (in this case, Yahoo!, which acquired Flickr in 2004 and instituted upload limits on free user accounts.)

Avenida Once writes: "I am weary of the idea that Flickr can help us foster community. We have to keep in mind that Flickr is a private enterprise [with an] objective to make money for its parent company... the only people that can comment on its content are those that have opened a Flickr account. That move, by definition, is meant to exclude, not to include."

Others condemn Flickr for fostering photography for hobbyists, diluting the value of old-style photography as art. Last year, New York Times writer Noam Cohen famously wrote that "Nothing better captures how much of an afterthought photography is today than the banal miracle that is Flickr."

Regardless of Flickr's shortcomings, it cannot be denied that the existence of online photography communities has allowed us to see local places through new eyes. These photos share our province with anyone who is interested in seeing its various renditions.

As Avenida Once notes, "'Place' truly means something different to every person who experiences it." Indeed, these nine prize-winning Flickr photos show us a B.C. that is diverse, varied and highly personal. It's a province that looks a little different to every eye that captures it.  [Tyee]

Flickr Pool Winners!

Grand prize selections:

-WAXY: "Do Not Enter"
-Avenida Once: "Untitled"
-d∂wn : "Looking Towards Downtown"

Other selections:

-md&r: "Snowy Roller"
-Modified Enzyme: "Grocery Lines"
-TFM: "Kinaskan Lake"
-Gaz3: "Strange Day"
-WrenRed: "Fish Farm Die off Clayoquot Sound"
-LeonaShanana: "Untitled"

Winners selected by Christopher Grabowski, Elaine Briere and Jay Black.

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