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Hammered again! Why do I do it?

Hammered again! Why do I do it?

You’re probably thinking at this point that by hammered I mean blind rolling drunk. Regrettably, no, although I wish I had been. What I actually mean is that yet again I enter a competition in good spirit and faith only for my images to be misunderstood or worse still, sidelined. Now, before going further I need to come clean and say that these two particular images actually did reasonably well, one getting 17/20 and the other 18/20. It is however not so much the scores, judging is highly subjective after all, it is the comments that I find the most telling.

Let’s start with the candid image above. Firstly, in your whole life, how many times have you seen an image like this? Seven lads, all obviously together, all on their phones rather than chatting or interacting. It’s unique. You’ll never likely never see this image again, ever. It’s also a social statement, about how we now interact with each other. We all do it. I do it everyday. Sit with friends and tap away on my phone. With regards the judges comments, the most pleasing was that it was reminiscent of Martin Parr. I was happy when I heard that as I am a huge fan of Martin’s candid photography. Thank you judge. Less pleasing was being told off for the title “The future of social interaction” as it was unecessary to spell out the obvious. Not sure about the relevance of that one. Beyond this the judge did praise my ability to “get the shot” without being sworn at, beaten up or chased off but then she went on to say that had I got lower, I could have got more of their faces. I personally think that lying on the ground in front of them would have probably given the game away and I would have lost the opportunity to take this uniquely candid shot. Worse still, it might have offered the opporunity to give me a good kicking! Personally, I know the value of this image, both to me and as a unique and hard-hitting comment on society today, and for these reasons it is priceless.

If my first image failed to capture the imagination and wonder of the judges, my second one (see above) did somewhat worse. Personally, I love this image and as for the first one, it captures a moment we see all too often today. The loneliness and isolation that the pandemic has created for so many of us. It is an image of our time. Simple, elegant, dark, asking lot’s of questions. Err, not exactly (imagine sound of a needle scrapping across a record)!! According to our judges, it’s probably a personal trainer on a break! Oh, and they wanted to see more detail of the head. Apparently, capturing him wearing a hoody or a hat was simply not good photography.

With comments such as these, and bearing in mind that critiquing other peoples work provides an opportunity to “do better next time”, I am really not sure what I am supposed to do with these. My normal approach is to fester and froth for a while when I get bad feedback, eventually coming around to the idea that I can learn from it. Thie real problem comes when you get no useful feedback as you really struggle to know how to improve and move forward as a photographer. If the assumption is that to do better in club competitions you need to get better at taking the types of photos that do well in clubcompetitions, then that’s simply not going to happen. It’s not important enough for me to want or need to do that.

I write this piece tounge-in-cheek really as I knew I was on a hiding to nothing entering images with a social, urban context in a photography club competition. My entries were actually unique in that the vast majorit of the 60 entries covered the more usual genres of abstract, wildlife, sport and portraiture. Within these there were some wonderful photography, worthy of high points and placings in the top three. Would I have chosen the same ones? Truefully, no, but then again I have a particular perspective on photography and what I like doesn’t necessarily resonate with others. Does this experience make me want to enter competitions? Sadly, no. I think I am much better suited to project work and that is probably where I will focus my attention in the future. I think creating a body of work has more meaning in the overall scheme of things and ultimately is the evolution I seek.

Bonne chance mes amis.

Taking criticism on the chin!

Taking criticism on the chin!

Man and dog relaxing

If you pick up almost any book on modern photography, whether about a particular photographer or about photography in general, and take a look at the images they contain, you’ll find very little in common with the images that do well in club photography today. The simple fact is that so often, revered and highly regarded images from some of the best photographers of any generation would most likely bomb in club competition anywhere in the world. Would Saul Leiter, Shirley Baker, Vivian Maier or Fred Herzog do well in my club competitions? I’d really ike to think they would but I suspect there’s a fair chance that they would struggle.
Conversly,  I feel that the types of images that do well in club competitions would not necessarily acheive critical claim in the broader world of photography. To my mind there is good photography, and there is good club photography and the overlap between the two sometimes appears to be quite marginal. For this reason, I’m not a huge fan of club competitions because I often feel alienated as my interests lie in general, in reportage and documentary, and outside of the more popular genres of landscape, portrait, sport and wildlife photography more associated with my club and indeed other clubs I know of. That being said, I’m not adverse to participating in any of these other genres of course, in fact I love to spend time with my fellow photographers irrespective of where we find ourselves. If that is in the studio or on Dartmoor that is absolutely fine with me. It’s just that if I have a preference, I would be shooting urban and social documentaries rather than seeking out the natural landscape.
This brings me on to my main reason for posting today. Now, I will be the first to admit that the image above is not “typical photography club fare”. It is however what attracts me to photography and it is what continues to make me want to take photographs. The sad thing is that this image, although having much more in keeping with many of the photographers I admire, is never going to win over the hearts and minds of the typical club judge. That is a dissapointment to me, and I would assume it must be a disappointment to many other documentary and reportage photographers who take what they see. It’s this diversity in photography, just like any other art form, that makes it such a special genre.

All of the above being said, the one thing competition does deliver is criticism or more importantly, a critique that you can often work with and which helps to improve the image. The header image above is from a recent club competition and while in general the comments were bland and meaningless, the judge did suggest that perhaps it could be improved by converting to B&W. Now normally, I prefer my street images to be in B&W because, as the judge concluded, colour often distracts but I chose colour for my submission because I felt that the colours and tones better played to the deprivation of the scene and so added something positive to the image overall. In hindsight though, I think that the judge was right to suggest going with B&W as it does produce a particularly gritty image that adds rather than detracts from the social message I was trying to put across. If I was putting the same image in competition tomorrow would I choose B&W? You can make your own mind up as to which image, if any, works best for you and if you have any comments, it would be good to hear them.