Picture Hillsboro winner says people need to 'see with intention'
Aaron Andersen didn't expect to photograph the perfect urban wildlife scene while he was out enjoying the autumn weather with his three daughters at Hillsboro's Amberglen Park last year.
But his work is now being recognized by the city of Hillsboro, which last week selected Andersen's photo as the winner of the 2021 Picture Hillsboro Purchase Award.
The photograph, "Amberglen Lunchtime," depicts a great blue heron hunting by a waterfall. Andersen said while the opportunity for the photograph wasn't planned, such chance moments occur often.
"People just need to slow down a little bit and see things around them," he said.
Andersen's photo was selected out of more than 70 submissions and seven finalists. It will be purchased by the city and added to its public art collection, to be displayed in city buildings for years to come.
It is currently on display at the Hillsboro Civic Center through March 5, as part of the Picture Hillsboro Finalists exhibition.
Andersen, who lives in Hillsboro, works as a photographer with the Washington State Legislature. Being highly attuned to his surroundings serves him well, but it's a skill he learned in crisis — Andersen lost his dad to suicide when he was 16 and he said photography helped him deal with his grief.
"I lost something that shouldn't have ever been lost, especially in that way," Andersen said. "It kind of put me in this mindset of holding onto things."
After his dad's death Andersen said he found himself often wandering around his hometown of Longview, Washington, feeling depressed.
Photography became a source of healing.
"Once I realized I could take my camera with me, pretty much anything that moved me — where I felt something that was changing me from feeling crummy — I'd capture it," he said.
"Now I hold onto basic moments because they come and go so fast."
Later on, as sharing photos online became ubiquitous, Andersen started to realize that his photos moved people too, he said.
"They were really channeling and feeling something that I was feeling," Andersen said.
Experiencing the feelings apparent in the subjects of his photos can remind people to maintain that emotional vulnerability in their everyday lives, he said.
Andersen has shot a lot of intense moments in his career — from end-of-life situations to protests for racial justice in Hillsboro last summer to portraits of people experiencing homelessness, which he displayed in downtown Hillsboro in 2019.
In every situation, he's drawn to the vast depth of emotion that can be apparent in a single moment. He says capturing a snapshot in time can tell a story.
With "Amberglen Lunchtime," Andersen hopes the heron's intense focus can affect people to focus more on their own surroundings.
"With Amberglen, there's quite a bit of buildings and condos and what not around there, but here's this amazing (park), like, right there," Andersen said. "I'm just so thankful I found it."
For more on the 2021 Picture Hillsboro contest, visit the city's website.
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