Meet Your 2020 AMC Photo Contest Winners

February 27, 2020

We’re thrilled to welcome back the AMC Photo Contest after a hiatus of two years. Replatformed and rejiggered for its 23rd installment, the contest this year was open to non-AMC members for the first time, capturing vibrant, new perspectives and yielding a record high number of submissions over the course of its six-week run. Here we’ve pared down more than 1,300 entries to a Grand Prize winner, three runners-up in each of the two entry categories (Outdoor Adventure and Lands, Waters, and Wildlife), and a special Conservation Award winner.

The Conservation Award is a new addition to the contest that recognizes an outstanding image either of active conservation or a habitat impacted by conservation at any scale. This year’s inaugural winner, “A Pony Approaches,” by Ben Erlandson, features one of a herd of feral ponies in Virginia’s Grayson Highlands State Park, a popular attraction since the U.S. Forest Service released them into the area the 1970s to help manage brush growth.

Erlandson’s image poses more questions than answers about conservation, highlighting a relatively small but compelling example of what the writer John McPhee once dubbed “the control of nature”—specifically by government—a topic that won’t be going out of style any time soon. Perhaps that’s what we like about it. We love it for its purposeful use of black and white, for the shadow betraying an unseen sun’s high noon position, and for memorializing what we can only imagine was a failed citizen’s arrest of this pony for the crime of having simply too much gumption. We also know it’s a welcome moment for Appalachian Trail thru-hikers who look forward to their encounter with these creatures on their months-long trek.

Other winners hailed from all across the AMC region and offered fresh takes on familiar subjects or were simply unlike any we’d seen before. That’s certainly true of Sam Moore’s Grand Prize-winning landscape, an entrancing artwork by any standard. But you don’t have to take our word for it. Click through the gallery above and see for yourself.

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A note from President & CEO, John Judge:

The return of AMC’s photo contest to the pages of our magazine is such a welcome sight during this in-between season of ice and mud. Not that joy isn’t present in either element, but it’s nice to be warmed by the views, the stories, the adventures, and the humanity that this event calls up from all across the region.

It’s a good reminder, too, that as much as photographs are an easy and powerful addition to everyday communication in the smartphone era, framing is everything. Two pictures of the same subject might tell us disparate or even opposite tales. And the skill and experience of the person behind the camera—like that of the person grasping the felling ax, on the other end of the climbing rope, or astride the kitchen stove at day’s end—impacts us in profound if not always perceptible ways.

Perhaps more than anything, I want to recognize what a generous act of hospitality it is for every one of these photographers to have shared their experiences with us. Thank you for bringing your lives to ours in full color and without agenda—your favorite places and things to do, your families and pets, your inspirations, your achievements, your solitude, your socks, your sandwiches, your stuff, your ice, and your mud.

Uniting it all, of course, is the outdoors. In framing our pursuits as one AMC community, the outdoors illuminates our purpose together so richly. And it’s worth considering what our world might look like were we to consider every aspect of our lives not just in the context of our relationship with the outdoors, but as if it were being preserved by a camera, too—every relationship, every job, every big decision, every little purchase, every vote. It’s not always possible, I know, but it’s always revealing to try.

See you on the trail,

John Judge


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AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.