Ready, Steady, Snap: Photographers Take to the Streets for PDXSquared

The annual photography contest unleashes contestants for 24 hours on downtown Portland.

By Anyi Wong-Lifton May 18, 2017

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Documentary Photography winner from 2016's PDXSquared, by Christopher Onstott

Seventy-two photographers, 24 hours, more than $15,000 in prizes, and one evening of food carts, beer, and live photo judging: photography fans should focus their lenses on the sixth annual PDXSquared this weekend. It’s a quick-shootin' contest that not only challenges its contestants to take the best photos during the timespan of just one day, but adds a geographic restriction, with each photographer randomly assigned just one square of the city as a canvas.    

PDXSquared is organized by the Oregon chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), and according to current ASMP Oregon president Grant Mott, it has become one of the local group’s biggest events since it kicked off in 2011. The contest is open to professionals and amateurs alike—past competitors range from nationally recognized photographers to beginner-level high school students. 

“One of the cool things about this event is that it’s not cliquey," Mott says. "It’s a great way for us to create contact with the photography community in Portland, and create a place for everyone to get together once a year.” 

Between Friday at 5 p.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m., the competitors will be searching for great shots in their assigned squares, which are sections of approximately 16 blocks spread throughout downtown, inner Southwest, South Waterfront, and inner Southeast. While some squares might include more notable landmarks than others, the notoriety of the subject does not necessarily guarantee award-winning photographs. In the experience of Tom Rooney, an ASMP Oregon board member who is helping in the event’s organization, “photographers shoot based on whatever inspires them.”

“In reality, people have different ideas in their mind of what will be a good square,” Rooney says. “We encourage photographers to keep an open mind. You never know what you are going to run into and some of the best shots have been of relatively mundane subjects.”

After their cameras are turned off, contestants can submit their photos for consideration in eight categories and then join non-competing guests for beer from Breakside Brewery and a food cart dinner. During the meal, three judges will review, offer critiques of the finalists, and select the winning photographs live in front of the competitors and guests.

By the end of the night, recipients of nine awards for best use of photographic tool or principle will be announced, along with the winners of awards in eight categories: model portrait, creative storytelling, real portrait, documentary photography, urban landscape, natural world, series, and Portlandia. These honorees will receive prizes that include photography equipment, software, and gift cards.

All of PDXSquared’s 72 competing spots have been filled for this year’s events – Rooney says registration for photographers has closed before the event for the past few years – but tickets are still available for the dinner and live judging portion of the event. If you can’t make it to this whirlwind competition, keep an eye out for Pro Photo Supply’s showcase of PDXSquared’s top photographs, which will be printed and displayed in the store later this summer.

PDXSquared Dinner 

6 p.m. Sat, Splash Worldwide, $20

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