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2022 Banff Center Mountains Photo Essay Winner Announcement

The annual Banff Center Mountain Photo Essay competition sponsored by Nikon represents the best in mountain adventure photography and storytelling from around the world. Each year, we invite photographers to submit selected photo essays to illustrate their mountain-related stories that fall under the sub-categories of culture, adventure, wildlife, sport, environment or nature. ‘natural History. After reviewing many diverse and evocative entries, the selection committee and jury selected one entry that conveyed the most compelling story with images strong enough to stand on their own.

This year, the Banff Center announced Emily Garthwaite as the grand prize winner of the photo essay competition for her contribution to “Guardians of Zagros”, telling the story of her journey through Iran to document the customs nomads of the Bakhtiari tribe. Emily’s winning essay will be featured in the 2022 Banff Center Mountain Film and Book Festival exhibits in the fall, in addition to receiving the grand prize of CA$2,000.

Member of the photo essay jury, Alex Buisse describes the piece; “Emily’s photo essay is a wonderful example of the power of photography as a storytelling tool. In just a few images, she transports the viewer to the distant landscapes of Iran’s mountains and provides insight into its rich culture. how long Emily has been in the area and how well she knows the local culture.In a world full of photography that focuses on the colorful and the exotic through a colonial lens, it is wonderful to see the knowledge and the Emily’s respect for the people in front of her camera.”

Emily calls Iraq home and has traveled more than 1,250 km across the country, including the Arba’een pilgrimage in the south, the largest annual pilgrimage in the world, which she has performed three times. Since 2019, Emily has been documenting a 231 km hike through the Kurdistan region, known as the Zagros Mountain Trail.

“The Zagros Mountains in western Iran stretch nearly 1,600 km from the sands of the Persian Gulf northwest along the modern border with Iraq and Turkey, separating the plains of Mesopotamia from the expanse of the Iranian plateau,” says Emily. “Deep gorges and jagged peaks over 4,250m separated the ancient empires from each other – Babylon in the Fertile Crescent and, to the east, the great metropolises of ancient Persia. This forbidden mountain range is also rich into grasslands and rivers fed by winter snows, and for thousands of years tribal groups have migrated across the Zagros through the seasons to graze their goats and sheep.This grueling and often dangerous feature of nomadic life evolved, but it has not entirely disappeared. It persists to this day not only for practical reasons but also as a meaningful ritual for people whose history is rooted in the mountains.”

Emily’s Experience tells the story of the Mokhtari family, members of the Bakhtiari tribe, ready to leave their summer camp in the Iranian province of Isfahan. Following time-worn paths through the Zagros, assigned by custom to their tribe and clan, they make the two-week journey known in Farsi and the local Luri dialect as Kuch through 150 km of difficult landscapes with horses, donkeys, mules and hundreds of goats and sheep.

Emily Garthwaite is an award-winning photojournalist, Forbes 30 Under 30, Leica Ambassador and storyteller specializing in environmental and humanitarian stories. She has exhibited her work internationally, including at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and EXPO 2020 in Dubai, and in the UK, at the Leica Mayfair Gallery, South Bank Centre, Somerset House and the Natural History Museum. His work has been published by Smithsonian Magazine, Vanity Fair, The Guardian, The Intercept, WeTransfer, The Sunday Times Magazine, SUITCASE, Vice Media, Adobe, etc.

Her work weaves together themes of shared humanity, displacement and coexistence with the natural world. She holds an MA in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism from the University of Westminster.


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