IMG_1456-2The plane trip home to Brisbane from Sydney takes about 75 minutes and during that entire time I pondered the complete failure of my entries in the recent Australian Professional Photography Awards (APPA).


Kawarau Trees; © Ian Poole, 2014

Four photographs entered and not one getting a silver award!  Disappointing to say the least; chastening certainly since I had judged other photographers work constantly over three days.  In my humble opinion one of the entries was the best shot I had taken in a decade.

But hang on a moment – my placing of entries into the very system that I had just actively participated in was not a failure, but a vindication of the system that I have promoted and supported for over thirty years.

This led me to take a closer look at the concept of success and failure.

As photographers we have many methods of judging success.  Maintaining a viable business that keeps customers coming back, pays the mortgage on life’s necessities, supports a partner and family – surely they are measures of success?  For the amateur photographer it may be a case of participating in an active camera club, entering competitions or improving one’s technique.


Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; © Ian Poole, 2014.

With the average person having an intelligence quotient (IQ) of over 100, you don’t need a membership of Mensa to realise that there are many pathways to measuring success.  For some it is physical possessions – sports car, medium format digital camera, fast processing computer.  For others it is winning competitions.  Good grief it could even be garnering Facebook ‘likes’!  But there is a success in returning effort into an organisation or club that has given you support over a period of time.  Even giving effort back to an industry that has supported you well over a lifetime.


Rear View; © Ian Poole, 2014.

As a teacher it is a joy to be confronted by a former student who is now a practicing and successful photographer.  One of my current business partners is a former photography student who is now recognised world wide for his photographic prowess.  He certainly didn’t learn his water-based skills from me, but he did get imbued with genuine excitement for photography whilst working in my environment.  I will claim success credit for some of that.

I have now reached a point in both my life and my career where I well know my own limits.  Being ‘photographer of the year’ will never feature on my curriculum vitae, but having my photography judged by a panel of my peers is a valid method of assessment of personal visual output.  Nevertheless I will continue to teach, mentor, assess, write and think about photography.

And yes, I will put my four best images in front of the 2015 judges.

Count on it.


Soho Moment; © Ian Poole, 2014.


37This essay appeared in issue 37, f11 :: for photographers and aficionadosimage001


13 thoughts on “Failure

  1. The failure is not yours Ian, in fact I see no failure instead I see evolution, the problem is you are still a photographer competing in an awards system that is by necessity slowly becoming more illustration than photography. As David Oliver observed to compete in the over saturated world of imagery commercially, either as end user or creator, one must be able to overwork an image to stand out in the crowd. My advice is to remain a photographer and promoter and supporter thereof, you may well never be POTY doing that but as you know the rewards can be much greater and far more permanent.


  2. Good stuff Ian – and profound thoughts that have often been echoed over on our side of the ditch. Maybe it was because you mis spelled Kawarau? My observation is that the judges can on occasions get unhealthily obsessive & finicity about things that are totally irrelevant to the “bigger/whole picture”


  3. It’s fairly obvious Poole!…. I’ve gone over your images with a fine tooth comb, and in none can I find a tiny little bird, or a tiny little man, or a tiny little sheep or cow or giraffe…… it just needs to be so small that you can’t really see it unless you view the print from 50cms……..


      • We judges like early adopters, so unfortunately prints including tiny little things at APPA 2015 will more than likely to be viewed with contempt rather than lauded….. tiny little things were de riguer at APPA 2013 and the canny students of ‘formulae for APPA success’ were right on the ball this year!…… I have just tried to view the 2013 winners on my AIPP thumb drive [takes pride of place in my bookcase!] to see if this theory is indeed justifiable or just a figment of my fading imagination. Unfortunately the image files are too small to ascertain if many of them do indeed contain tiny little things.


  4. APPA is not always a judge of great photographs, it is an animal that takes on a momentum of its own over the course of a weekend. It is both important and fickle. There are many great photographs, by many well known photographers that would not “get up” at APPA. Your images are meaningful and important, that constitutes success in my books. Thank you for your ever wise words and your marvellous pictures.


  5. Thank you for posting your images Ian, and for the great read your a top wordsmith. I cannot understand why the Kawerau Trees didn’t get up, that’s worth way more than silver.
    Its demoralising when i see overworked images getting high scores, and images like yours and from other great photographers missing out. And i do not know what the answer is.
    Keep on trying doesn’t seem to be the right answer either.


    • David, we have spoken of this a lot. No answers to offer, just that you and I need to keep putting good photographs “out there” irrespective of others. We both know what keeps us happy, that is all that counts.


  6. Thank you, for a great article! And of course for your photographic contributions. Maybe it makes you sort of my ‘photographers of the year’ that you and Frenzy instilled me with a virus that is starting to drive me to wanting to be more than a documentary photo taker and occasionally drive me to participate in a competition, one on my own level of course. It is not about winning but about sharing and maybe sending out messages and be inspiring. You certainly do that and I love most of your articles, language and content. I am not the one to judge photographs because I look at them differently. One of your photos here will however stay in my memory for a long time to come. Thank you.


    • Thank you Patrik for your kind words. Please keep coming along to Frenzy, there are some other really great people there and they have a lot to offer also.


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