Cochrane photographers and good friends Jo-Anne Oucharek and Jacquie Matechuk went on the same trip to Alaska this fall. They often stood shoulder-to-shoulder, looked at the same scene, and each applied their own creative lens to the wildlife they observed.
Now, they both have been named to a short list of wildlife photographers who will represent Canada in the World Photographic Cup (WPC), an annual nature and wildlife photography competition.
And they are each other’s biggest cheerleaders.
Matechuk, a bronze medallist at the WPC in 2020, is thrilled to see her friend enjoy the fruits of her creative labours, just as she herself did a couple of years ago.
“It’s kinda fun. I had a huge opportunity a couple of years ago in the competition, I got my time in the spotlight so it’s fun to step aside and share it with someone else,” she said. “It’s really exciting for her.”
She said she doesn’t feel like she’s competing with Oucharek at all. The longer the conversation goes, the more it starts to sound like a ‘passing of the torch.’
Matechuk is getting a kick out of watching her close friend’s enthusiastic response to the recognition.
“This is her big breakthrough for an image that is fantastic, really – and I couldn’t be more excited for her. I can sit back and take in her excitement, listen to her tell her story and light up like a tree,” she said.
Matechuk flew to Rome, Italy in 2021 for a WPC-sponsored event, where she rubbed shoulders with an even larger group of talented photographers – previous award winners from around the world. It’s an experience she won’t soon forget.
“It was the most amazing time – I made friends from all over the world, most [of whom] I’m in contact with today,” she said. “It was incredible. It was funny how much we all had in common.”
Matechuk is also an ambassador for Canon Canada, which entails putting on seminars and training talks for budding photographers. Getting paid for doing something she loves is a dream come true.
“It feels like that’s my retirement, and I won’t be working anymore,” she said.
She’s been a Cochranite long enough to remember when there were no traffic lights in town.
“Back when we used to exchange phone numbers with just the last four digits,” she said with a laugh.
She is also co-owner of Cochrane Floors and More with her husband.
Matechuk’s Reportage category entry, ‘Connected’ is a picture of sockeye salmon clustering in a stream while a park ranger approaches the school of fish. Her wildlife entry, ‘The Tender Side’ is a shot of a mother grizzly nose-to-nose with her cub.
Oucharek’s entry, ‘The Catch’ depicts an Alaskan brown bear right before it catches a salmon in its jaws in Katmai National Park in Alaska.
“We chartered a float plane, flew into remote areas and hung out with the brown bears,” Oucharek said.
As a certified bear guide, she said she is aware of the sensitivities involved in encroaching on their habitat.
“It’s amazing watching how they react to people, to other bears,” she said.
A passionate nature photographer, Oucharek took a course to obtain her bear guide certification earlier this year, and is currently enrolled in an ornithology course. Capturing images of birds in her backyard was where it all started several years ago.
International judging for the WPC has already concluded and the World Top 10 images will be announced in January, followed by the big reveal on March 17, 2023, when the WPC panel will unveil a new collection of visual artistry live from Singapore. The ceremony will recognize outstanding achievements in each of the eight categories before tallying combined points to present one country with the World Cup.
Canadian entries can be viewed on the Team Canada website: wpcteamcanada.com.
Some of Oucharek’s work is on display at the Route 22 Artist’s Collective Gallery in Cochrane. Her work can also be accessed at natureinmybackyard.ca.
Matechuk’s work is available on her website: broughttolife.shootproof.com. Her next free workshop, scheduled for Jan. 16, is on sports and action photography. For more information, go to canoncreatorlab.ca/events.