Winners and Finalists: Document Your Place on the Planet
This photography contest was an invitation for students worldwide to document their place on the planet. These photographs and photographers’ statements highlight students’ unique and powerful perspectives during the global shelter in place orders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In our first student photography contest, Document Your Place on the Planet, we received close to 700 entries from students around the world. Students submitted their photographs from their homelands in Australia, China, India, Israel, Mexico, and United Arab Emirates, as well as throughout North America—from California, Canada, Louisiana, Minnesota and New York City.
The contest was inspired by the film Earthrise by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, which tells the story of the Earthrise photograph. Taken by Bill Anders in 1968 on the Apollo 8 mission, the Earthrise photograph challenged humanity with a new perspective, one that allowed us to witness our planet as one ecosystem and one home without borders or boundaries.
“Earthrise made me consider scale and perspective,” wrote winner Ned Henderson. Scale and perspective were themes that many students considered while taking their photographs. Earthrise also provided a perspective of humanity. Winner William French wrote, “While watching Earthrise, I was inspired by how the Apollo 8 astronauts felt about their place in the universe when seeing the Earth from space….They felt an overwhelming connection to humanity. I see this feeling of unity in my photograph, as well as the beauty and chaos we’re experiencing at this moment in history.”
Students expressed that in isolation, due to the shelter in place orders, the beauty of the world revealed itself in unexpected ways. Iñaki Ramos wrote about one of the busiest roads in Mexico City. He said, “I have passed through that avenue more than a thousand times in my life, and this was the first time I realized that there is a jacaranda tree in the middle of plenty of green trees.” The jacaranda tree, pictured in his winning photograph, is vibrant with violet flowers on a completely vacant and desolate street.
Students turned their cameras on their local waterways and forests, the night skies, ecosystems within their backyards, as well as on their families, friends, and the cultural artifacts found in their homes which contain family heritage stories. Students explored the following questions: What connects us? How can we work together as global citizens? They wrote about climate change, wetland rehabilitation, Indigenous heritage, water rights, and the impacts of COVID-19 in their lives, among many other topics. They also explored how their own place connects to the themes of memory, identity, and remembrance.
Teachers integrated the contest into a wide range of subject areas including photography, history, biology, ecology, Spanish, art, literature and composition, geography, and civic engagement. Photography is a medium that can be used as a tool for students to explore their curiosity and investigate the world around them. The photographer can act as a witness to advocate for our only home, our planet.
Iñaki Ramos (age 15) - Mexico City, Mexico
Paseo de la Reforma
Coming from a city with more than 8.8 million people makes it hard to see our planet as home. The streets are filled with trash, people are scared of each other, and the community is not safe. Every time you go outside you can only hear car horns and people cursing at each other. My passion for photography tries to show how any part of our planet is a beautiful place. Since we have been on lockdown, the streets of Mexico have been empty. I decided to go out and take pictures from the busiest avenue in Mexico City. Not seeing any cars was amazing. I have passed through that avenue more than a thousand times in my life, and this was the first time I realized that there is a jacaranda tree in the middle of plenty of green trees. I was so amazed that I stood in the middle of the street for more than twenty minutes taking pictures. I hope that with this photo, people can realize how colorful the streets are in Mexico and how at the end of the day, these are not only streets but our home.
The film Earthrise made me realize that from another point of view, humanity is insignificant compared to the planet Earth. I wanted to take a picture showing humanity’s connection to nature.
This avenue is an important place for me because I have experienced many stages of my life there. It is also important for millions of Mexicans because this avenue, Paseo de la Reforma, is the largest avenue in Mexico City. It helps you get from any place across the city and normally it is traversed by millions of people in their cars. People don't appreciate how it is connected to nature. I would like Paseo de la Reforma to be remembered by the world as the avenue of life because of its connection to trees, human-made bodies of water, museums, a zoo, and a castle. You can truly see human progress through this avenue.
Gianna Gazulla (age 14) - California, U.S.
It is vital that we all do our part to see our planet as one home. Earth provides us with all the resources we need, but most of the time we don’t give back and do our part to help protect it. To become closer to our planet, we can appreciate it and be grateful for all of the resources we do have that help us to thrive. As humans, we can change our perspective to see the world as one home. We must recognize that we all need to help each other out to be able to live together in harmony.
The film Earthrise was quite intriguing to me because I have always liked learning about space and other planets. My photograph was taken at Yellowstone National Park. Our world right now is trying to find new technologies to rebuild from all the damage we have done. I would like to be a part of that rebuilding and help to reconstruct the homes of animals that are being swept away by pollution.
Cadence Grandell (age 14) - Colorado, U.S.
Every living thing needs water to survive. The water supply doesn't just come out of nowhere, it is recycled and goes through the cycle again and again. The Earthrise photograph inspired me because it gave humanity a different point of view of the Earth. My photograph is a different view of water.
Especially in this time, people need to know that we are all connected. We may all come from different backgrounds, but we all need water to survive. To take this photo at North Clear Creek Falls in Southern Colorado, I lined up my phone with binoculars to get a good close up on the waterfall. Sometimes you need to look at something from a different perspective to see how beautiful it really is.
Suhayl Wright (age 18) - New Jersey, U.S.
The love of photography and the environment can bring us together. Through photography, we can see that plants make beautiful pictures. The Earthrise film inspired me because the astronauts were talking about their experiences. I wanted my photograph to be an experience. I would like to educate and mentor young people and be remembered for inspiring and changing people’s lives.
Kilian Schoenenberger (age 18) - Burgdorf, Switzerland
After the passing of my Grandmother and Grandfather this year, I decided to document what they had left behind, the spaces they used to live in, and their environment. One image of the series particularly stood out because of its symbolic depth and connection to me, my family, time, and the essence of life.
In this image, there are printed portraits of family relatives propped up on an antique piece of furniture in my Grandmother’s old living room. She used to light the candle in the front left corner in memory of the people she had lost. The large clock is deeply ingrained in my childhood memories. I remember the times when my Grandmother and I would excitedly wait for the hour to strike.
She, Rosmarie, had lived in this small apartment for decades along with the large pendulum clock ticking away the time of her life, her husband's life, and the people she knew. For a long time, she wasn’t among the ones who had passed away, but now her photo fits in this category. In her picture (in the middle) which she had placed there by herself, she’s holding the next generation, her great-grandson. To the left is her beloved and lifetime partner and husband, and her son, who had passed away before she died from severe cancer. To the right are her sister and husband again. As one of her relatives, I can be seen reflected in the pendulum. My time is ticking as well. And so, the cycle continues. With this photograph, I hoped to portray how we are all connected in families, in life, and in death. This place will stay in my memory as a place of peace, happiness, openness, and love. View more of Kilian's work on his website.
Finlay Tease (age 17) - Sydney, Australia
My photograph depicts an Indigenous Australian image on the Sydney Harbour Bridge during the Vivid Sydney Festival. It shows how Australia has changed its perspective on Indigenous culture since settlers arrived. This image shows how Australian people and the government are learning to accept and respect Indigenous people and their culture. The current social issue of our time is how all people can share the planet equally among one another regardless of culture. I am inspired by the film Earthrise and how it provides a perspective of the Earth as a canvas for all cultures. I have explored this in my work by showing Indigenous imagery superimposed over a man-made colonial structure. Architecture and the landscape can be used to synthesize all cultures into one.
This work captures the city of Sydney, which is important to me because I grew up there. I was surrounded by different cultural identities within the city and the landscape of the ocean with man-made elements surrounding it. I would like Australia to be remembered for the reconciliation it has gone through to accept Indigenous people and their culture, but also the struggle in the past for this recognition.
Ned Henderson (age 17) - Queens Park, Australia
I am fortunate enough to witness two worlds in my country: the continual game of monopoly within the urban sprawl of Sydney and the often forgotten rural hearts and souls. This macro perspective of the inevitable devastation of our bushfire season was a message to the world. Being located within the city of Sydney NSW during the 2019-2020 fire season, I noticed a disconnection between people around me and what was happening only a couple hours drive west. This alarmed me, as I was viewing updates hourly for months whilst the majority were not concerned. With many family members having to evacuate multiple times, and watching the map for fires near the family farm, it wasn’t the greatest summer. After a fire storm swept through the rural town of Bilpin NSW, I was eager to examine the results. It honestly shocked me, as you cannot prepare yourself for what you see. To think that this is just one handful of ash and one small town upon thousands.
The film Earthrise made me consider scale and perspective. We could see the fires from space and feel the ash in New Zealand, but my image considers the inverse of this by examining the slightest fragment of the big picture. It is important to acknowledge the close connection between cities and the bush and the world's interconnectedness of ecosystems.
The gesture in the image is a transactional exchange of what we have offered and what the natural world offered in return—45 million acres of flaming earth.
Gabe Marusic (age 16) - Ohio, U.S.
When we think about our planet, we tend to think close-mindedly. We think the Earth is only the home of humans, but it’s the home of all beings. The fish, the birds, the plants, the bugs, and the germs all live on this planet with us. I want others to take a moment and look at their surroundings and really take it in. We tend to get so involved with what separates us from each other that we don’t realize how small we are in the history of this planet.
The Earthrise photograph puts the world in perspective. The life we lead can seem so large, but when you see the Earth all in one photo, you realize how small we are. This small robin in central Cleveland reminded me of this. As I think of how small this bird is in comparison with the rest of the Earth, it would seem almost unseen by most. I will never see that exact bird again, and yet I captured it forever in a photograph. That in itself is very beautiful. The bird is isolated, but the cigarette butts, the peeling concrete mold and flooring, and iron railings show that people have been there.
I want Cleveland to be remembered. In the Shaker Heights area, there are so many trees, rabbits, squirrels, and foxes that live there. Humans tend to dominate and we need to conserve nature for what it is, not what we want. Being trapped inside now from COVID-19 makes me realize just how much animals do in a day. Watching the squirrels is almost exhausting, as they do so much. This planet does not belong to anyone. We’re all renting out space until we’re gone. So while we are here, let’s make the most of it and cherish this big blue beauty of a planet.
William French (age 16) - New York, U.S.
My photograph is an interpretation of how we are all interconnected. It is an abstract close-up of a wire horse sculpture my father bought for me in Bogota, Colombia.The sunlight shining on the out-of-focus foreground makes the image feel curved like a sphere or a planet. The background is in focus and unlike the foreground, feels shaded in darkness. The intersecting lines are symbolic of how we are all connected to one another as human beings that share the same home.
While watching Earthrise, I was inspired by how the Apollo 8 astronauts felt about their place in the universe when seeing the Earth from space. They felt humbled to see the Earth from that perspective. At the same time, the experience allowed them to see the Earth without countries or borders that separate people. They felt an overwhelming connection to humanity. I see this feeling of unity in my photograph, as well as the beauty and chaos we’re experiencing at this moment in history.
I see a duality in my photograph. Sometimes I see it as a nest that provides safety. I also see the barbed wire of a prison that confines and isolates. This is a metaphor for our relationship to the Earth, especially during the pandemic. As people have been sheltering in place, pollution has been decreasing and the natural world has started to heal. Will we nurture Earth so it is our sanctuary? Or will we continue to destroy it and make it a prison? Like the Apollo 8 astronauts, I want to feel humbled about my place in the world, knowing we are all connected despite the divisions that prevent us from caring about each other and the Earth.
Enora Le Moal (age 16) - United Arab Emirates
We can change our perspectives to see our planet as one home by observing animals. In an ecosystem, there are thousands of organisms which rely on each other. They work together. Unfortunately, humans tend to forget about the importance of collaboration. We are so busy thinking about our own problems that we forget how important the people around us are. With global warming, pollution, and deforestation, it is time for us to work together to make this planet a home. By seeing each other as one family, we become more aware of our actions and become more careful towards our surroundings. We need to stop putting people in boxes because we are all humans in the end.
In the film Earthrise, the Earth is described as a “blue marble.” I created this image by using a telescope from Al Wathba Wetland Reserve in Abu Dhabi, or United Arab Emirates (UAE). The black color of the telescope surrounding the image represents the infinite darkness of the universe while the lake and flamingos represent our Earth. The Earth in the Earthrise photograph is also observed from afar, which is shown in my photograph through the use of a telescope. I wanted to convey that we should admire the beauty of nature instead of trying to control it and interfere.
The UAE is important to me as a European citizen. It allows me to become more open-minded by discovering new traditions, cultures, and religions. Interacting with different people has enabled me to view the world from different angles. I want the UAE to be remembered as a country that is multicultural, and which has shown that perseverance and cooperation is the best route to success. People of diverse religions, cultures, and nationalities live in the UAE. It is a country that embraces this idea of being ‘one.’ It takes in people from all around the world and it doesn’t judge them. It accepts people no matter who they are.“The Abrahamic Family House project” (where a synagogue, church, and mosque will be built in the same location in Abu Dhabi) is a perfect example of respect and harmony between people from all backgrounds, beliefs, and nationalities.
Emily Williamson (age 17) - Christchurch, New Zealand
Everyone needs to take time to appreciate our planet a bit more. We can see the negative effects we have made to the Earth and how it tries to heal itself. I believe my relationship to the planet is a protective one. My ancestors once believed that they did not own the Earth but cared for it. Papatuanuku was the earth mother and they worshiped her. She provided them with what they needed, and they did not abuse this relationship. Today, we are greedy humans who believe we own the land and all that resides on it. We take and take but never give back. The bee in my image does the exact opposite of this. When it takes pollen from a flower, it gives some as well, providing a fair exchange. I believe our relationship with the Earth should be the same.
I would like this place in the world to be remembered for giving back to the creatures of the land and restoring what once was— an exchange to Papatuanuku for being able to reside on her own Earth.
The Earthrise image inspired me to change my perspective, not just in photography, but in my life and in decision-making as well. For this image, Earthrise inspired me to look at the world from not only someone else's point of view but from the point of view of something else. Bees work together to create and support each other and unlike humans, they are not selfish or greedy. They work individually to come together and combine their efforts. I chose this bee in particular because it worked by itself on a single flower. Despite being alone, it has a team and a hive that supports it. This mirrors the epidemic we face currently, and serves as a reminder that we may be alone working, but we are alone together. We are working as one to save lives.
My image was taken at my home. This image always reminds me that sometimes the wonders of the world are right under your nose. You just have to look. We can be content with where we live and what we have. This bee does not complain about the size of the flower or lack of pollen. It simply does what it needs to do. I should not complain about the size of my home or the lack of friends currently visiting me. My home is special to me because it is where my family is. They are the ones who support me through everything, just like how this flower supports the bee.
Ian Gomez (age 18) - California, U.S.
A Blue Marble and A Mound Of Salt
I believe that the way our society views nature is doing more harm than good. We tend to romanticize only the most beautiful spots on our planet and ignore the rest. If it’s not a tropical paradise or pristine woodland forest, then our appreciation veers away from it. If it doesn't fit the mold of pure wilderness, and natural beauty that we expect, then it’s tainted. This reflects our ignorance as a species to feel apart from, or above, nature. Our impact as a species is global; there is not an ecosystem on this planet that is free from our influence. We have to accept that our actions, no matter how benign, have consequences and that there is still beauty in the world we have tainted. We have to focus our attention close to home. When we pivot our attention away from the global theater to our own homes, we can recognize the environmental issues affecting us and our communities. Hopefully, this can foster a sense of accountability for our local environment, and shift our perspective as separate from nature, to an intrinsic part of it.
I took this photograph in the salt lagoons of the South Bay in Chula Vista during a cleanup effort put on by our local nature conservation center. A thunderstorm the previous day had flooded much of the gravel paths, but the salt mounds still towered over us. As a team leader, I lead groups of community members throughout the area with buckets and trash pickers. A lot of eastern Chula Vista was built on top of an estuary. Bits of this ecosystem remains walled off by development. It is a crucial area because it is a rest stop for many migratory birds and houses its own variety of native species. The large mounds of salt and gigantic rusting industrial equipment betray signs that this area is still tied to our ecosystem. Despite being choked off by a city of a quarter-million, the estuary persists. Local organizations such as the Living Coast Discovery Center, play a huge role in alleviating the stress on our local ecosystems. We host clean up events regularly alongside other community events that focus on education and sustainability. Our clean up initiative works its way around the south bay area, including a lot of the industrial zones such as the South Bay Salt Works.
Earthrise had the same impact on me that it did on the astronauts of Apollo 8; it made me realize that there is no second chance. Every square inch of this planet is invaluable. We should be working not only to protect what is left but also to rehabilitate the areas we have disturbed. When I looked over the salt mounds and rusting equipment and glanced over at the salt lagoons dotted with birds, I understood that although we can pave over the estuary, poison the bay, fill the area with steel giants, and reap the ocean of its salt, parts of the ecosystem remain. And these parts deserve just as much consideration as the forests, streams, and lakes that we have yet to decimate. Through my photograph, I want to showcase these areas and highlight the organizations that are fighting to keep them alive. At this point in time, my state has lost more than ninety percent of its wetland area. Eventually, I want the ongoing conservation and rehabilitation efforts in my city to become the precedent for the rest of the country. There is no other Earth, the blue marble we call home is all we’ve got. Every part of it.
Tom Nesti (age 17) - Nantes, France
I have a reverence for nature. It was the season of roses and they were in full bloom. I rode my bike through the woods to a rose garden in my city. I had a feeling of wonder— there were thousands of roses, hundreds of hues, the smell of infinite fragrances, and the humming of innumerable insects. I caught a glimpse of a beautiful rosebush. I set my camera ready, I bent forward, intensely aware of everything around me, and waited for the perfect frame and the perfect moment when an insect would come and stay on my selected flower. A ladybug came. This powerful moment reminded me of the beauty of the symbiosis between all the beings of nature. We are nothing without this connection and link. I am nothing without it.
I know that when inspiration comes to me, I have to capture it and not let it slip. I learned how to recognize when I have inspiration. The film and the Earthrise photo informed me and inspired me to always seek new perspectives when shooting photos.
My beautiful city is important to me. It is where I grew up, where all my loved ones are living, and where I learned photography. I would like my place to be remembered for its beautiful gardens and flowers. I would like my city to be remembered for its commitment to protecting the environment, to protecting the planet, because we only have one—whether it is seen on a galactic scale, like in Earthrise, or on a minuscule scale, like a rose.
Samira Cackovic (age 13) - California, U.S.
Our planet holds countless artifacts of beauty, peace, and love, while simultaneously displaying tragedy, death, and heartbreak. Our planet gives us everything we need to survive and thrive, yet we slowly destroyed it. Our planet gives me a home where I feel fear yet safety, sadness yet happiness, and hate yet love. Our planet helps me realize how small I really am compared to the millions upon billions of vast astronomical wonders. Our planet also helps me realize how, despite my size, I can create a difference.
This wonderful beautiful planet allows countless organisms to call it home, yet we have devoured its distinctiveness and beauty. I believe the Earth is a gift— a sad thrown-away gift. It is the only planet in our solar system that is suitable for living beings. Pollution has led to the loss of entire ecosystems and species. The Earthrise photograph displays the vast space and infinite darkness that surrounds us. It puts a perspective on the size of each of us. An endless amount of possibilities surround us yet we are confined to one planet. My picture displays the North Star which has led people to freedom, possibilities, and discoveries. With Lake Tahoe beside us, my family and friends sit and watch the sunset, sunrise, or the stars. It provides a sense of peace to me and helps me detach from the horrors of the modern world. It opens my eyes to the beauty of the world and the universe around us. A beauty people can easily forget about. I would like to have a strong and powerful impact on the world. I want to be remembered as someone who has changed and helped the Earth.
Photographers’ statements have been lightly edited.