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Colleen Wright won grand prize in Friends of Columbia Gorge photo contest with 'moody image'

COURTESY PHOTO: COLLEEN WRIGHT - Lake Oswego resident Colleen Wright snapped this photo on her husband's iPhone 6 camera. In an era of Instagram filters and powerful smartphone cameras, seemingly anyone can fancy themselves a photographer.

But while the average photo of a sunny beach or enticing meal can be forgettable, some amateur photographers, like Lake Oswego resident Colleen Wright, use their devices to capture something more profound.

Wright has no photography training but she says she has an eye for it and has received a few pointers from her husband Kevin Ebel, who takes photos as part of his job at the KGW news station.

And, during a recent hiking trip, a single photo she took on Ebel's iPhone 6 camera showed the resilience of the Columbia River Gorge in the aftermath of the Eagle Creek Fire and won her a surprising accolade — the grand prize of the Friends of Columbia Gorge's fourth annual photo contest.

"I know it's a little bit weird for someone who points and shoots to win a contest," Wright says. "It's definitely a different age."

Wright says she and Ebel hike the Columbia Gorge almost every weekend. PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Colleen Wright won the grand prize in the Friends of Columbia Gorge photo contest.

"Every time I go through there it takes my breath away," Wright says. "I could go through there a million times and it still wouldn't do it. It's such a magnificent place."

And when the Eagle Creek Fire, which burned thousands of acres of trees in the Columbia Gorge in 2017, broke out, she was devastated.

Yet, when some trails were opened up again, Wright found beauty in the transformed landscape and even smeared charcoal on her face while walking the Herman Creek Trail.

"It's absolutely gorgeous in the burn," Wright says.

On the morning of the winning shot, Wright and her husband arose at 6 a.m. on a rainy and foggy day and headed to the Nick Eaton Ridge loop trail at the Columbia Gorge, which was in the burn area of the fire.

Because of the rain, Wright decided not to take photos, which was unusual for her.

But witnessing a landscape with trees covered in fog and the sun inching out of the clouds and burning through the mist, Wright grabbed Ebel's phone and snapped the only photo she would take the whole trip.

"The sun just started burning off that mist pretty quickly," Wright says. "It was pretty magical."

Wright can't remember the specifics of why she submitted photos to the contest but remembers thinking that another photo she took — of orange lilies in front of a charred tree — had a better chance of winning.

But the judges thought Wright's photo of the trees on that misty day better represented the contest's theme: resilience.

"This moody image evokes both the devastation of the Eagle Creek fire, while hinting at the resilience of the forest, as the sun cuts through the mist, and patches of green are revealed in the ground cover on the hillside," says contest judge Vince Ready in a press release.

"The lighting is fantastic...the photo just sums up the resilience of nature in general and the Gorge in particular," says contest judge Brian Chambers.

Wright says the contest win won't motivate her to take photography more seriously but, during her upcoming treks, she will continue to memorialize moments when she feels inspired.

And Wright appreciates the positive response she received from the photo.

"I was amazed," Wright says about when she learned she had won the photo contest. "It's humbling to think you just take this one picture and ... it's

really telling to understand what people's different views are what they were looking for."

Wright's winning photo, and other winners from the contest, will be displayed throughout May at the Columbia Center for the Arts in Hood River. To view photo winners from the contest, visit

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