Epping Forest

Photo of the Epping Forest by Diane Barker

Student Contest

The Spirit of Reciprocity: A Student Photography and Original Illustration Contest

Document Your Place on the Planet
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Contest Details

In this contest, students will take a photograph or create an original illustration that reflects the spirit of reciprocity and kinship with the living world. 

Inspired by the writing of Robin Wall Kimmerer, this contest encourages teens to reflect on their relationship with the living world. As we continue to be challenged by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, how might we bear witness and listen to the living world in new ways?

An author, botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Kimmerer writes in her well-known book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants: “Paying attention acknowledges that we have something to learn from intelligences other than our own. Listening, standing witness…creates an openness to the world in which the boundaries between us can dissolve in a raindrop.”

What is the spirit of reciprocity?

Reciprocity is an act or process of exchange where both parties mutually benefit. The origin of the word reciprocity in Latin, reciprocus, means moving backwards or forwards. The actions of giving and receiving are both included. 

For example, if you look up a diagram documenting the process of photosynthesis and respiration, you’ll see a circular motion. Plants are living and breathing systems.

According to Kimmerer, “Reciprocity is rooted in the understanding that we are not alone, that the Earth is populated by non-human persons, wise and inventive beings deserving of our respect.”[1] As she writes in Braiding Sweetgrass, “We are surrounded by teachers and mentors who come dressed in foliage, fur, and feathers. There is comfort in their presence and guidance in their lessons.” 

1. Robin Wall Kimmerer, "Returning the Gift." Center for Humans and Nature, October 1, 2013. [^]

Guidelines and Rules

  1. Contestants must be ages 13 and up in the U.S. and 16 and up globally. Check our Submission Guidelines and Rules and our Terms of Service for more details.

  2. All entries must be related to the contest theme: the spirit of reciprocity. Students will submit one photograph or original illustration which is a response to at least one of the following excerpts from Kimmerer’s writing. How might the excerpt you select help to inform your photography or illustration?

    • “I hope my grandson will always know the other beings as a source of counsel and inspiration, and listen more to butterflies than to bulldozers.”
    • "Birds, bugs, and berries are spoken of with the same respectful grammar as humans are."
    • “Do we treat the earth as if ki is our relative—as if the earth were animated by being—with reciprocity and reverence, or as stuff that we may treat with or without respect, as we choose?” (As Kimmerer writes, “Ki is a parallel spelling of chi—the word for the inherent life energy that flows through all things.”)
    • “To replenish the possibility of mutual flourishing, for birds and berries and people, we need an economy that shares the gifts of the Earth, following the lead of our oldest teachers, the plants.”
    • “Living beings are referred to as subjects, never as objects, and personhood is extended to all who breathe and some who don’t. I greet the silent boulder people with the same respect as I do the talkative chickadees.”
  3. Photo entries and original illustrations must be accompanied by a short artist’s statement (a minimum of 100 words and a max of 600). Artist’s statements can also be in the form of a poem. The aim of this statement is to tell the story of what is captured in the photograph or illustration. Statements must respond to at least 2 of the following questions:

    • What informed your decision to take your photograph or illustration?
    • In what ways has the COVID-19 pandemic revealed new ways of seeing and being with the living world? Has the pandemic increased your compassion for the living world? If so, how?
    • What story does a plant (or other living element) in your life have to tell? How are you included in that story?
    • What are the names and origins of the plants that are captured in your photograph or illustration?
    • In what ways can we listen to the living world with our whole selves?
  4. Images should help to express students' human relationship to the living world. Students can include themselves and others in their photographs. Be creative! If your photograph contains a person, you will need to fill out and return the Photo Subject Release Form.

  5. The photograph or illustration submitted must take into consideration the Global Oneness Project’s mission statement: Planting seeds of resilience, empathy, and a sacred relationship to our planet.

  6. Each photograph or illustration and response must be original and previously unpublished. Photographs may also include photo collages, but not be heavily edited (e.g. photoshopped).

  7. Eligible entries will be judged by a qualified panel consisting of professional filmmakers, photographers, and authorized personnel from the Global Oneness Project. Only one entry per contestant.

  8. Prizes. Winners will be awarded $200 USD each and photographs will be published on the Global Oneness Project website. 

  9. All entries must be accompanied by this signed Parental Permission Form

All entries must be received by May 6, 2021. Winners and finalists will be announced and notified on May 25, 2021.

Enter the Student Contest!

Submit your artwork, statement and forms through Submittable.

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Get Inspired!

For inspiration, read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s essays and consider the following illustrations and photographs from our stories.

Birds in nature

The Serviceberry: An Economy of Abundance” by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Original illustration by Christelle Enault

Branches of an Oak tree

Speaking of Nature” by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Image: “The Branches of an Oak Tree” by Eugene Stanislas Alexandre Blery, 1837, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Archives.

Living roof with grass

On the roof, a meadow of wild grasses and flowers have taken root, spilling over the concrete edges.  Photo Essay: “Living Buildings” by Mark Andrew Boyer.

Related Resources

Enter the Student Contest!

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