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Photograph for Nokia in Puerto Rico Competition

When we launched the inspiring Photograph for Nokia in Puerto Rico Competition we knew we’d need a pretty special individual to judge it. That’s partly because we don’t take these things lightly – but mainly because a key part of the prize is an amazing mentoring road trip with that very same individual.

Photographer and filmmaker Stephen Alvarez was the perfect choice. He pushes the boundaries of his photography by pushing himself to the limits – so who better to judge a competition based around stretching the boundaries of camera phone technology? We thought you’d like to get to know him better.

Meet Stephen Alvarez

Based in Tennessee, US, Stephen has been shooting for big name magazines since 1991, when his images first appeared in Time. But it’s for his work with National Geographic that he is best known, having published more than a dozen photographic stories with the magazine, in assignments that have taken him through North and South America, to the Black Sea, Europe, Africa and beyond.

Stephen is a founding member of the Photo Society and he’s won a whole raft of international awards for his work, some for his skills in capturing natural beauty, others for capturing the human stories behind cultures, religion and the aftermath of conflict.

Going underground

Since launching the competition, we’ve seen lots of examples of Stephen’s mastery of capturing massive landscapes and epic views. Another awe inspiring theme that runs through his work is that of subterranean photography. His underground assignments have taken him to locations as diverse as the caves of Sarawak in Borneo, Chiquibul, the longest cave in Central America, a poisonous hydrogen sulphide cave in Mexico, and even the catacombs and subways beneath Paris.


Epic big, epic small

On his website, Stephen describes his work as producing “global stories about exploration, adventure, and culture”. His work is global in that it has taken him around the world. But for me it has another meaning: whether he’s shooting epic landscapes, mummies in caves or the quiet stories of everyday lives, you always get this sense that the images you’re looking at are part of an epic world view. Of course there’s bigness to his work when he shoots the Milky Way from Easter Island – but there’s something of the same scale even in his portraits.


To the limits

It was no exaggeration when I said that Stephen pushes himself further than most to capture his visual stories. Consider this – if you’re a professional photographer, what’s the most disastrous physical condition that could afflict you? Losing your sight, perhaps? Well that’s exactly what happened in Peru during Stephen’s first National Geographic assignment, when high altitude took its toll and triggered a blood clot behind his left eye.

He temporarily lost all sight in that eye and, although he didn’t realise it at the time, the condition could have been life threatening. But there would never be another opportunity to capture these images, so Stephen kept his blindness to himself and carried on with the long climb to complete the shoot with his right eye.

Take a look at this behind the scenes gallery to get more of an idea of the lengths Stephen goes to for his photography.

Exploring the wilderness with the Nokia 1020

But what lengths are you prepared to go to for that perfect image? Wade through rivers? Scale tall buildings? Hang from a cliff face? The knock-out top prize in the Photograph for Nokia in Puerto Rico Competition is to head out on a mentoring assignment with Stephen, to push your photographic skills further than ever.

Don’t forget, the competition closes at 10am on October 10. That gives you a month to get shooting before heading to Talenthouse to upload your entry.