THE STORY OF THE OPEN
Every year they do this, it gets better – MTV
W1 has been producing live photography events since 1998. Every event is an evolution of the one that preceded it.
The Open’s roots can be traced back to the resort town of Whistler, Canada where founder Doug Perry had previously created an event called the World Ski & Snowboard Festival. From its inception in 1996 through 2006, Perry’s company W1 was the driving force behind the festival’s exponential growth into a massive gathering of athletes, artists and musicians. It grew to an annual attendance of 250,000 with 50 live concerts each year and a vast collection of events featuring over 700 artists pushing the envelope of creativity. In 2006, W1’s final year of production, the festival was credited with generating over $7.5 million in media exposure and $37 million in economic activity. It was an economic and exposure powerhouse.
In 1997 when the festival was in its infancy, pro photographer Eric Berger and writer Jack Turner had just returned from a Transworld Snowboarding magazine assignment to cover an epic snowboarding adventure into post-revolution Iran. They suggested to Perry that his festival would be a great venue for a little slide show from that trip. So, in a tiny bar in Whistler, Berger and Turner set up a home projector, unrolled a simple screen and ended up packing the place to the rafters. The show was stunning. What was an unscheduled underground event turned out to be the talk of the festival.
It only made sense that if one photography show was great, more would be even greater. Jack Turner gets full credit for suggesting the festival invite a handful of the world’s best action-sport photographers to put on a bigger show the following year. Perry listened and the legendary Pro Photographer Showdown was born.
Year by year over the next decade, W1 and its production team grew the Pro Photographer Showdown from a simple analog slide show into one of the largest live photo events in the world. It became the hottest ticket at the World Ski & Snowboard Festival, selling out every year. It evolved into a major digital production with 10 screens and enough high-end audio to power a Rolling Stones concert. It took days to rig the venue. It was televised in 122 countries. Some of the very best action-sport photographers in the world have shown at the Showdown. Those awarded Best of Show over the years include Eric Berger, Aaron Chang, J. Grant Brittain, Dave Heath, Jon Humphries, Jason Childs and Blake Jorgenson, among others.
W1 developed its live photo productions with its signature 'Open Design' philosophy. This means inviting top photographers to a free-flowing, round-table interactive session, usually over a few pitchers of beer, to let the artists design the event. After all, it’s about showing their work. The photographers would decide everything – formats, show lengths, technology, judging, prize money breakdown, lighting, sight lines, event details, its future. Perry always felt this was the best way to keep the event on the cutting edge.
But the real magic of the live format is in the artists producing their own shows. The photographers created their shows not necessarily from the work that they earned their living from, but from the work they were personally most proud of. As a result, much of the photography had never been seen before, and it gave the audience insight into the true depth of these great artists.
As 2-time Pro Photographer Showdown winner Blake Jorgenson describes: "These shows are cool because normally your photography is diced up, and then goes to different places – it’s chosen by photo editors and art directors. The photographer himself has very little choice in how the photography is represented, so having a show where you get to creatively display your whole life’s work is pretty much the best thing you can ever do as a photographer." (- Pique Newsmagazine)
It was an epic run for more than a decade, sold out show after sold out show. The festival was voted Whistler’s Event of the Year every year. Perry was awarded Businessperson of the Year. In 2006, Perry sold his founding stake in the festival to the resort and moved W1’s HQ to Vancouver to develop new projects. One of those projects is The Open.
The Open grew from the W1’s behind-the-scenes vantage point of the photo events it produced. Each year, countless portfolio submissions would arrive from all around the world. It was as inspiring to see the images of the heavily-published legends as it was to see those of completely unknown artists whose careers hadn’t yet taken flight. The problem was that it wasn’t possible to show all the great work. It underscored the fact that most great photography is seen by too few people.
Seeing more great photography than W1 was able to show naturally raised questions: How can more photographers be given the audience they deserve? How can the audience that a photographer reaches be expanded? How can undiscovered artists be discovered? How can photographers generate more business opportunties from showing their work?
W1 decided the time was right to blow the doors open and launch a truly global search. The Open’s online SOLO competition is open to any photographer in the world. Social networking and online voting now play a major role in discovering new artists and bringing the best to the forefront. The Open’s audience reaches across 100 countries and includes over 50,000 creative industry professionals who influence the buying of photography.
The Open is the pure evolution of all the photo events developed by W1 since 1998. It exists to discover – and rediscover – the greatest photographers of our generation.
We hope you enjoy the search as much as we do.
THE OPEN is a worldwide photo competition to search and recognize the most inspirational photographers of our generation. The competition is for pros and aspiring pros from any country in the world. The categories of competition are: action, street, nature, people and ‘open.’ Learn More