By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
A Jackson-based photographer known for his up-close-and-personal wildlife photos has won a prestigious international photography award – for the third year in a row.
Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven was recently named one of the top 35 photographers in the world by the 35PHOTO Professional Photo Community. This is the third year that Vangoidtsenhoven has been honored for his wildlife photography, and some of his individual images won awards in the competition as well.
Vangoidtsenhoven’s honor was not just for being one of the top 35 wildlife photographers in the world, but for being one of the overall top 35 photographers in the world across all categories.
124,827 professional and amateur photographers from 174 countries participated in the annual 35PHOTO competition, and Vangoidtsenhoven said his images were chosen as being among the best of 470,000 photographs submitted.
A Life He Chose
Vangoidtsenhoven’s journey to Wyoming began in an unlikely place. Born and raised in Belgium, Vangoidtsenhoven told Cowboy State Daily he was able to travel to the United States as a young man to work in computer technology.
“When I graduated, and I traveled to the U.S. more and more, I was finally thinking, ‘I’m tired of living in Belgium,’” he said. “It’s too crowded. There’s no wildlife there. There’s no mountains.”
Vangoidtsenhoven said the one thing that he appreciated was the vacation time, which allowed him to travel.
“In Belgium, you have pretty good vacations, you have almost a month of vacation a year,” he said. “And so I would come on these month-long vacations to the U.S. after I graduated.”
Vangoidtsenhoven found work in various U.S. cities, earning his green card and eventually citizenship (he’s a dual citizen in the U.S. and Belgium), but gravitated toward the places where he could practice his passion – wildlife photography.
“Being more around wildlife and reading more about preservation, the national park system, wildlife refuges and all that good stuff, I started to realize more that maybe someday I’ll be able to forget about all my computer stuff and just basically dedicate my career to wildlife in general, and nature,” he said.
Vangoidtsenhoven was able to realize that dream in 2018, when he quit his computer job and devoted his full attention to wildlife photography.
“My number one interest for photography is grizzly bears and wolves and everything that Wyoming has to offer,” Vangoidtsenhoven said. “So that’s why I find myself in Wyoming most of the year, obviously, especially fall and springtime.”
Paparazzi To The Bears
Vangoidtsenhoven said springtime in Wyoming, when the bears come out of hibernation, is an exciting time to take pictures. He said he’s met fellow wildlife photographers, such as Thomas Mangelsen, who specializes in photos of bear 399 and her famous cubs.
“Some of those bears have become real celebrities in a way,” Vangoidtsenhoven said, and his own images of the famous mama grizzly enhance that reputation.
Vangoidtsenhoven acknowledged the difficulties in becoming noticed as a professional wildlife photographer in a region flooded with wildlife photography. What got him noticed, he said, was the stories he puts with his pictures.
“I noticed early on when I tried to make the switch to wildlife (photography) that it’s very tough to make a living simply by taking a good picture and then saying, ‘Hey, do you want to publish my one good picture?’” Vangoidtsenhoven said. “It’s easier, I notice, to write an article about it, and then provide your pictures along with it, because it provides the whole story and it’s an update that many people around the world are interested in.”
Much of what drives him, Vangoidtsenhoven said, is playing his part in encouraging conservation efforts.
“It’s fun, and it’s rewarding to be able to help in spreading the word,” he said, “especially about the large carnivores that are predators, that always seem to be under attack, especially by people whose livelihoods (are affected by) those carnivores maybe eating a cow from their land. So there’s always a battle going on between people who want to preserve everything and people who want to kill all the predators.”
Vangoidtsenhoven said he appreciates his role in educating both sides of the conservation argument through his photographs and stories.
“Especially on social media, which is kind of like a mixed bag, it’s great for publicity, but at the same time, we do get a lot of mixed reactions,” he said. “People either don’t want to learn or they don’t care, they’re stuck in their ways. And so it’s interesting to be able to tell people, ‘Hey, you may want to read this, and then maybe you’ll change your mind – your prejudice you have against whatever may be happening in the animal world, and how we treat them.’”
Wildlife Photography Year Round
Vangoidtsenhoven said he lives in Wyoming for about five to six months a year, Alaska about three months, and then someplace warmer in the winter – lately it’s been New Mexico for three to four months.
“I’m in Alaska now,” he said. “The vast majority of people who do come to Alaska for photography come for the grizzly bears, especially because they have the salmon run.”
And Vangoidtsenhoven said his choice to leave his native land has resulted in a life lived in wild places, creating images that he shares with thousands of people all over the world.
“In Belgium, we don’t have that much nature left,” he said. “It’s people everywhere, and hardly any wildlife.”
“I like the American openness, and just the amount of wildlife, especially on the west side of the Rockies,” he added, “and the fact that there’s more wildness still available.”
Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven’s photos can be found on his website, vangophotos.com