The 11th annual Winter X Games isn't the only reason Aspen will be aglow with energy next weekend. The inaugural Red Bull Illume Image Quest exhibition is set to light up Aspen Mountain from Thursday 25th Jan until 4th February.
The project - the first of its type in the world - brings together the 50 finalists from an international action and adventure sports photography search. More than 2,000 professional and amateur photographers submitted over 7,000 images from 90 countries in nearly every extreme sport. The result is a one-of-a-kind outdoor exhibition of the top 1 percent of applicants that is certain to be nothing short of breathtaking.
"When we had this concept, we didn't want the imagery to be hidden by walls," says Project Manager Wil Tidman. "This is a show of amazing outdoor athleticism, and Aspen offers the perfect location and the perfect audience for this type of show. "
The production crew spent months planning and developing the layout of the exhibit, which consists of 25 8-foot stand alone architectural cubes scattered on platforms on Aspen Mountain's Little Nell Run. Two sides of the cubes are made of glass while the others are made of metal. At dusk, the insides of the cubes illuminate allowing the image to be seen by spectators.
"This is definitely one of the most unique exhibits I've ever seen," says Tidman. "We were blown away when Aspen Skiing Company offered us such prime real estate on Aspen Mountain. If you're standing in Aspen at night, you'll see it. The show will also be open during the days, and while you can't see the images, the glass acts as a mirror and offers different views and angles of the Aspen valley."
The Aspen launch is just one of five North American and 10 international stops on the Red Bull Illume Image Quest tour. The judges will also unveil the top 10 photos at the Aspen debut, while exhibition spectators can vote for their favorite to determine the people's choice award.
"There are so many different styles and different angles represented," says Tidman. "The images are so diverse, and I'm sure it's been a difficult job for the judges to get the list down to 10 images."
But while the process was certainly a taxing one, the Image Quest judges are more than qualified. The panel of 37 judges consists of photo editors from the top outdoor, extreme sports and lifestyle magazines around the world. "You look at the list of judges that they have and it's pretty amazing," says John Clark, a finalist in the competition. "It's both scary and exciting to think that photo editors from places like ESPN, Sports Illustrated and National Geographic are looking at your stuff. It definitely makes me feel pretty good."
California-based Clark, 42, has been a professional photographer for about six years and also owns his own motocross parts and accessories business, Hammerhead Designs. He has been published in numerous magazines and is also a regular contributing photographer for Racer X Illustrated and MXP.
"I had just started my new business and we had a lot of advertising brochures we needed," says Clark. "So for me it was really one hand washes the other. I have photo shoots for magazines and I also can take shots that highlight my products and use them in my company's ads."
Clark was also a former motocross racer and says, like many athlete-cum-photographers, that there is an undeniable advantage to being or having been a competitive athlete when it comes to action and adventure photography.
"I was a racer and what that does is allow me to feel a bit of a connection to what's going on," he says. "You can really see when something is about to happen."
German-born Yorick Carroux, an Image Quest finalist now living in Whistler, British Columbia, agrees with Clark.
"My experience allows me to think like an athlete," he says. "It's not just about pulling your trick or skiing your line; you have to work closely together and have great communication."
Carroux has worked as a photographer for more than a decade and says he was pretty involved in alpine mountaineering in the early '90s. After studying photography in school, he sought a way to connect his two passions.
"I figured there had to be a way to combine my sport and photography, and I ended up shooting extreme sports," he says. "It's a pretty amazing field. I've traveled to Nepal to climb a couple of nice mountains, summited the highest peak in Iran, photographed athletes a lot in Namibia and South Africa and even climbed Everest."
While Carroux says his image selected for the contest isn't his favorite piece he's created, it, as well as the other finalists' work, is a photos where "it all came together."
"All the photos are very solid," he says. "They have perfect lighting, perfect location and a perfect trick. What I've learned in all the years I've been doing this is that people get really excited when you can bring it all together."
And even though the Red Bull Image Quest is a competition with the winner receiving a two-week paid photo shoot anywhere in the world with the Red Bull athlete of their choice, most of the photographers seem to focus more on the opportunity to showcase their work on the international stage.
"For me it's about being a part of the family," says Carroux. "I'm not really competitive with the other photographers. I see them as good friends. I want to win because it's great to get a prize, but just being part of the exhibition that goes around the world is a super thing by itself. Anything on top of that is just icing on the cake."