Whilst judging at the New Zealand professional photography awards (featured in the September issue of f11 Magazine), offering comments to potential entrants in the forthcoming Australian photography awards and doing portfolio reviews at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale – I’ve noticed a common thread. Our professional development programs might require concerted effort but they absolutely reward diligence and persistence.
In an industry that frequently complains about competition, low prices and difficulty in finding clientele, thoughts to which I don’t necessarily subscribe, it is amazing how much assistance is made willingly and freely available to the truly dedicated, interested and inquiring photographer.
As one of many photographers gathered in Queenstown to find the New Zealand Photographer of the Year, it was a delight to be given such a privileged opportunity to assess fine quality work up close and personally. The peer review system used requires photographs to be not only assessed by practitioners, but compared against similar genres of images. The eclectic selection of rotating judges means that a photograph is given as broad an interpretation as is possible, and ensures that a variety of opinions are canvassed. This entailed gathering a wide selection of photographers capable of judging from both sides of the Tasman Sea, and from many different photographic areas. The education for both the entrant and the observer, comes from the very candid comments offered on most prints while ensuring that the creator of the work remains anonymous. A lifetime of experience is contained behind the opinions given, and a great deal of information is given freely. All that remains is interpretation on the part of the viewers and watchers, regardless of whether they have any skin in the game in that session, or on that day.
This was also the case in the print critique evening I attended. It was an opportunity for photographers considering entering the Australian awards equivalent program. Photographers were invited to show works-in-progress to a collection of experienced judges with the intention of receiving an indication as to whether the image had real award potential. Many images were shown, and some astute observations were made, in front of a large crowd. This process then becomes educative with the comments being made for all to hear and note.
If all this sounds like a university tutorial – you are correct! Knowledge is freely available at these events if you are prepared to see and listen. The result? Organisers, judges and participants are steadily inching the bar higher on every such occasion. It’s a collaborative effort.
The upcoming Australian Photographer of the Year Awards follow a similar style to those just experienced in New Zealand. There is no doubt that a similar vibe will exist in Melbourne this year. Value can be gained with the entrant receiving a ‘peer review’ assessment of their photographic submission, and an observer can gain from looking at, and listening to, experienced value judgments given by some of Australasia’s best photographers.
A different style of education was delivered at Ballarat. The concept of portfolio review is less well known in the southern hemisphere, but it is a staple at photo festivals in Europe and America. In fact the Ballarat winner’s prize is a trip to Houston, USA to attend the 2016 Foto Fest Biennale to show their portfolio to a potential panel of over 150 reviewers.
The review process involves a financial fee and bidding to spend limited available time with a small number of reviewers. This has huge rewards for the organised photographer who has done their homework and identified people who may have skills relevant to their photography, and connections to aid their future direction. The variety of reviewers available stretched from gallery owners to academics, from photographic agents to practicing photographic artists. These were people who were giving their time and skills freely and readily.
From where I sat the bar was raised a couple of times over the past few weeks with the NZ winner, and subsequently the announcement of the Guy Vinciguerra Fellowship at Ballarat.
Congratulations to Tracey Robinson in NZ and Kerry Pryor in Melbourne, and to all those who experienced success, in all forms, great or small.
The process of a personal commitment to professional development and a mantra of ‘never stop learning’ certainly requires effort, enthusiasm and dedication from its seekers, and it absolutely bears fruit for those who stick with it, read the signs and follow the road markers.
The process works
This essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOS, p158, issue 47, September 2015.