A young man standing in front of the U.S. Capitol
A young man standing in front of the U.S. Capitol

J. "Storm" Childress at the U.S. Capitol. Photo: David Childress
J. "Storm" Childress at the U.S. Capitol. Photo: David Childress


Standoff in the Swamp Sends Young Photographer to the Capitol

Estero High School student Storm Childress' image wins annual art contest.

On what seemed like an ordinary April day at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, 17-year-old J. Storm Childress strolled along the boardwalk, camera in hand. While he frequently enjoys taking photographs of his natural surroundings, he had no idea that one could result in a visit to the Capitol. But that’s exactly what happened!

The Photo

The circle of life plays out in real-time for visitors on the Corkscrew boardwalk, especially in late spring when low water levels confine aquatic animals to smaller pools. On that day, Storm’s attention was drawn to activity at the Lettuce Lake where people had gathered along the railing, watching with rapt attention as an American alligator taunted a family of river otters. The mother otter bravely (and literally) stood up to the alligator several times as it approached her kits and did everything in her power to distract it so they could move to safety. Storm snapped the shutter at the perfect moment to capture the “standoff.”

The Art Contest

Through a special art contest, U.S. House of Representatives members invite one high school student from their district to place artwork in an annual exhibit at the U.S. Capitol to be seen by thousands of visitors. Called “An Artistic Discovery,” the U.S. House of Representatives’ official art competition for high school students is sponsored by the Congressional Institute.

For the past three years, Congressman Byron Donalds (District 19) has hosted an art showcase locally to select the piece of art to represent his District, which includes Lee and Collier counties. Storm’s art teacher at Estero High School encouraged him to submit one of his photos for consideration. The Congressman viewed the works, which included several different types of media, and selected Storm's photograph from the submissions for the prestigious exhibit. See all contest winners here.

At the Capitol and Beyond

As an exhibitor, Storm and his dad, David, were invited to visit Washington, D.C. for an artists' reception, hosted in the Capitol Visitor's Center with airfare provided pro bono by Southwest Airlines. Storm’s artwork is now on display in the Cannon tunnel, which connects the House Office Building to the U.S. Capitol, until next summer. 

The Lee County School District honored Storm for his achievement, and Storm, in turn, honored us with a framed copy of the print for display in the Blair Visitor Center. According to David, the high school senior is looking at colleges and educational programs that will springboard him into a profession that "makes a difference."

We look forward to seeing more of Storm’s nature photography from the swamp in the future.

Two people holding a framed photo posing for the camera
Storm Childress and Sanctuary Director Keith Laakkonen with the framed "Standoff" photo. Photo: Cecilia Benalcazar/Audubon Florida

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