The judges sat like monarchs in wing chairs as footboys served them drinks. The room teemed with a thousand fans who had all paid 30 bucks (okay, so it was Canadian money) to watch a quartet of slide shows. When the lights dimmed, the crowd quieted, and people moved to the edge of their seats.
It was the hottest spot in Whistler: The Pro Photographer Showdown, part of the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF). Despite all the pomp and circumstance, the format was simple enough: Three renowned pro photographers, plus the winner of WSSF's Pro Photographer Search, would have 12 minutes each to present their life's work on the big screen. This year, shooters Mattias Fredriksson (skiing), Warren Bolster (surfing), and Jon Humphries (skateboarding) were joined by Search winner Sterling Lorence (mountain biking).The judges included J. Grant Brittain, Transworld Skateboarding photo editor and 2000 Showdown winner; Dave Heath, 2002 Best of Show winner; Jon Foster, director of photography at Transworld Snowboarding; Flip McCririck, pro photographer and former photo editor of Freeze magazine; Scott Markewitz, ski photographer and 1998 Showdown presenter; and Fred Foto (Mark Frederick), who was dispatched by Skiing to snag these exclusive images.
Although the skateboarding shooter won the event, "it doesn't matter whether it's skiing or surfing or biking," says Foto. "All these photographers got into it through the love of their sports-and that shows. They aren't outsiders looking in. Sport is their passion, and they use photography to express it."
"I started out as a newspaper writer a long time ago," says Fredriksson (pictured below)-who's only 28 years old. "But after I wrote about a famous Swedish shooter, Lars Thulin, I decided I wanted to be one, too." Since then, he has appeared in over 30 ski publications, including Powder, Skiing, France's Skieur, and Sweden's à…ka Skidor. "I think out of the box and go beyond the usual powder shot, the ski porn," he says. Fredriksson is known as one of the most tireless workers in the business. "He's always thinking, always working," says Foto. "And he was raised in Scandinavia's unique light, that midnight sun. He has access to the photographer's cookie jar all the time."
Humphries grew up skateboarding in Portland, Oregon, and started bringing his camera along as a junior in high school to shoot his friends. Although he has worked for Nike, Burton, Adidas, and Salomon, his biggest impact lies within the issues of Transworld Skateboarding. "His stuff stood out because he's working in this urban, unnatural environment, with the angles, the stairs," says Foto. "But the energy and passion are the same."
Lorence, a 31-year-old shooter from Vancouver, British Columbia, is a senior photographer at Bike magazine. His work has also appeared in Maxim, Men's Journal, and National Geographic Adventure. "When this shot came up on screen, the crowd buzzed," says Foto. "The whole theater was having a moment."
One of the world's leading surf photographers, Bolster is also one of the sport's hardest workers and boldest innovators: He has hauled his equipment to the beach and into the waves for decades, survived near-death experiences at Pipeline, and driven Honolulu cabs to make ends meet. His book, Masters of Surf Photography: Warren Bolster, was published by Surfer's Journal last year.