An annual photo contest that lets low or no-income Downtown Eastside residents photograph the community through their own eyes is back, and bigger than ever.

Every June, 200 residents of the Downtown Eastside are offered free disposable cameras from the Pivot Legal Society. Residents have three days to create images that could make it as one of the 13 photos in the Hope in Shadows calendar, as decided by a panel of their peers. The winners are announced every October.

The 2012 cover image, which depicts community volunteer Christiane Bordair reaching through a window to touch blossoming rhododendrons, was taken by Kim Washburn.

Washburn said he was inspired by the juxtaposition with the vibrant colours from the dreary room she was standing in.

"She just stuck out. The sun was just breaking out and … this rhododendron, this woman, these are seeds of hope. And this is what it's really about for me," he said, after learning he had won the photo contest.

Washburn, who is a longtime resident and was illiterate until 14 years ago, said the contest gives people a positive way to give back to a community that is often very bleak.

"I was almost lost down here. There's so much black out there. But now I have a lot of hope. It's not just hope, but faith, that takes us out of these dark places."

More than 4,000 images were submitted this year. Forty images will be on display at the Pendulum Gallery at 885 West Georgia St. from Oct. 11 to 29.

The 2012 calendars will soon be sold on busy Vancouver streets for $20 apiece. Volunteers get to keep half of the proceeds of whatever they sell.

The calendars have sold out before Christmas every year they've been sold.

Last week 39 area residents started training to sell the calendars and another 170 people will be trained this year because of the high demand.  A total of 17,000 calendars have been printed to sell -- a thousand more than last year.

"This project is beyond my dreams of what I thought it would be," project director Paul Ryan said.

"It's people getting empowered, people getting self-esteem. When people know they can make a difference, they're standing up for themselves and the Downtown Eastside. The photos aren't just a contest."

Click here for a list of retailers where you can purchase the calendars