More than one billion people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water. With this startling fact in mind, the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru, marked World Water Day 2011 with an online digital photography contest to raise awareness of water as a precious resource. FOTOTIERRA! ("Earth photo") drew an unanticipated and widespread response from young photographers and environmentalists throughout South America who submitted more than 450 photographs. On April 18, Ambassador Rose Likins and Lima Mayor Susanna Villaran launched an exhibit of the winning photographs that is now touring Lima, drawing crowds and sparking discussion about the importance of water conservation.
FOTOTIERRA! tapped the creativity and activism of 18- to 30-year-old photographers from South American countries who were invited to submit pictures highlighting the importance of water conservation, water use in cities, and climate change. In just four weeks, a massive community formed around photography and water conservation as more than 2,500 people became fans of the FOTOTIERRA! Facebook page. Hundreds more submitted photographs, and the entire online community followed and commented on the contest and photographic submissions.
A panel of four professional photographers -- Renzo Giraldo from Peru, Andrea Juan from Argentina, Federico Estol from Paraguay, and Dan Taylor from the United States -- had the daunting task of sorting through the entries and picking three winning photos. They awarded first place to Pablo Lopez from Chile, whose photograph depicted a glacier melting and forming a waterfall in the Chilean Andes. "This is a classic and beautiful landscape photo in the tradition of Ansel Adams," Taylor remarked. Second place honors went to Victor Castelletto Puño, also from Chile, and Felipe Pereira of Uruguay won third place.
The three winners (see Flickr gallery here) and nine additional honorable mentions (here) were announced on Facebook on March 22, which is World Water Day. After the exhibition of the photographs in Lima, U.S.-Peru Binational Centers and other galleries throughout the country will host the traveling exhibit until June.
The impact of FOTOTIERRA! has been phenomenal. By implementing the contest through a popular social media platform, the embassy was instrumental in creating an online community of thousands of youth and others throughout the continent who could examine environmental issues through art. The traveling photo exhibition is permitting a whole new audience of Peruvians to see and appreciate the precious resource of water in a whole new light -- through the eyes of artists with whom they share a continent of abundant but endangered natural resources.