I took this year out of competition. A few reasons;
Tied up with MA I was producing different work and wanted to focus
I knew would not be to judges eye, rule book.
I saw some judges voting for a friend images, who whispered “they are mine” I lost faith.
So it made me re look at what I was doing and what I could expect. It gave me a chance to reflect on what success I had with competition previously and I came to a few conclusions about what you need to do to have awards.
Ensure that the judge is in no doubt what the picture is all about - if he or she has to guess what it is, then their guess could be wrong.
The judge does not have the same emotional attachment to the picture as you have. So if you have a picture of the landscape from your honeymoon bedroom and it brings back wonderful memories for you - remember the judge wasn’t with you (hopefully - unless you are married to them, in which case they shouldn’t be judging your work!)
Lots of judges judge on what they have heard other judges say…. what I personally call “ticking boxes. I have also seen work on friends Facebook pages which they then go on to enter with. How is that fair? They all know who produced it.
Having been on several social media pages reading remarks about images and even had feedback on mine here are some of the stuff I have heard.
You haven’t left enough space/room for the model to move into
You shouldn’t have two catchlights in the eyes
You shouldn’t have the nose intersecting the cheek in a profile portrait
I would have moved a foot to the right/left
You haven’t left enough space at the top/side/ bottom
This ”thing” takes your eye out of the picture
I find this “thing” a distraction
You’ve cut the models/subjects fingers, foot, elbow off
The model’s head should be tilted to one side
I have photographed this
It would be better if the model was on the third
The subject/model should be looking at the viewer not looking down/to one side
There is no connection with the viewer
The subject shouldn’t be in the middle of the picture
The horizon shouldn’t be in the middle of the picture
but (explains why his/hers is a better version than yours)
Why are we ruled by rules? Please don’t say that we are following the rules of art and artists because I can show you (and I do in my presentation) lots of examples of where famous artists do not adhere to “the rules”. For a start I will point you in the direction of Degas - have a look, he actually went out his way to produce work that broke rules or was not pleasing.
Okay, I hear you reply, there are thousands of pictures and paintings that stick to the rules and you are right of course, there are. Sticking to the rules could indeed help you when your picture is being judged by someone who is giving out points in a club comp or awarding distinctions.
So, what happens the next time someone composes a picture or puts a composite together with competition in mind…. they try and adhere to the comments of the various judges they have heard and thus produce a picture that tries to ‘tick the boxes’. This then, in my humble opinion, continues to shape what is deemed “acceptable” in competition whether it be internal or external and so it rolls on year after year. And then new people to the art actually think that this is what is desired, when actually it is what is desired by a set of rules and not by the viewers opinion.
I’ve heard people say, “I photograph what I like and if the judge likes it ,then it’s a bonus. I only photograph what makes me happy, I do it for my own pleasure” that’s fine, crack on, but don’t be surprised if the judge doesn’t give high marks to your picture, especially if you enjoy taking pictures of bathroom rugs (or similar). If you are entering a competition you are … to put it bluntly, guess what? Being competitive, so why on earth would you put something in front of a judge that he or she may not like/appreciate and will therefore probably not score well? Especially if you are paying for the privilege So, if you don’t know what scores well then I would suggest that you look at the images in the various winners awards and see what IS scoring well.
But, thereby lies the problem - in my opinion, competitions are driven by what is popular…. Because a certain subject matter/genre is doing well people produce the same sort of thing hoping to catch the judges eye. A photographer I like, Joan Blease states, I have seen puffins, puffins with a sand eel in their beaks, puffins with their beaks stuffed with sand eels, kingfishers on twigs, kingfishers diving into water, kingfishers emerging from the water with fish in their beaks, hares, white hares, white hares in snow, snow, snowy landscapes, lone trees, lone trees in snow etc etc etc. Some people it seems, think that if it’s popular and its winning medals then why not clamber onto that particular bandwagon ….. fabulous idea, until that particular picture/genre falls out of favour with the judges “I’m sick of seeing that particular model”, “not another bloody kingfisher”, “white horses galloping…. seen it so many times before”, “wizened old ladies ….. not again ” etc etc
I realise that personally have tried to follow “the rules” and have not tried to break them, it was one way I learnt to be a better photographer by following rules and looking at what the judges wanted, so I could win awards. Moving forward I am feeling a little rebellious, the MA has done a lot but certainly opened my eyes to the photography world. Only because when I was at the Grand Palais, I saw a lot of work that broke rules. Some of it was in my opinion poor or images with no meaning I could understand. The more I looked at art in the Palais, the more I questioned what is art?
It’s amazing how long some people can look at a photograph. I observed the observers, stock still before illuminated images that I really couldn’t look at for more than a few seconds.
That is because when you put a photograph on the wall I cannot help comparing it with the paintings whose framed grandeur it emulates, and I can’t help finding a lot of photography wanting. Maybe that is why I need to create more depth in my images. Oh to have the time to create a masterpiece like Caravaggio.
Paintings are made with time and difficulty, material complexity, textural depth, talent and craft, imagination and “mindfulness”. A good painting is a rich and vigorous thing. A photograph, however well lit, however cleverly set it up, only has one layer of content. It is all there on the surface. You see it, you’ve got it. It is absurd to claim this quick fix of light has the same depth, soul, or repays as much looking as a painting by Caravaggio – to take a painter so many photographers including myself emulate.
I guess a part of the procedure of looking at how to showcase your work, what paper, what frame? Maybe with the help of a curator who hasn’t got your vision of what you wanted to produce when you started, or even how you finish it. The curator sees what the public want and not really what you want, after all they want to make money and so do some photographers.
So this highlights the difference between a good photographer and an award winning photographer. The former is linked to creativity and the latter is about having a formula surely?
To get acceptance you need to be a good photographer but to win awards you need to have a thought out formula.
If you took this image would you keep it or bin it? Degas has ignored all rules.