All our own work

An earnest debate amongst Australian professional photographers is currently ensuing online regarding the legitimacy of using second and third party professionals to prepare entries for photography awards.

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Story Bridge + Bird; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 1995.

In this instance specifically, whether professional retouchers should be able to work on an awards entry and whether the resulting modified photograph still remains within the original photographer’s integrity of ownership.

The debate resonates on many levels.

Firstly, the Australian professional institute has encouraged its members to enter the awards with a view to improving professional standards across the broad range of the industry.  Comparing current entries with those of 30+ years ago, this has been achieved well beyond the imagination of the two or three Australian photography industry founding fathers’ fondest thoughts, wishes or hopes.

Secondly, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of first time professional photographers practising their craft without any degree of formal training.

And thirdly, many of these new industry members are trying their hand at entering professional awards for the first time using photographic images that were commercially sound enough for sale to clients – but then fail to attract high assessments from the panel of judges.  The antipodean professional awards of New Zealand and Australia present some of the highest standards in photography, as evidenced by the success of some of their participants on a world stage, so where does the disconnect occur, and why?

That third point is the basis on which many photographers are now questioning their own poor results and looking for answers in places other than deep introspection. Some are rooting suspicion from their discovery that some entered photographs have received post-production treatment that might not all have been the work of the entrant.  A lack of formal training in photography means that some fundamental knowledge of the history of the art is absent, missing in action, from their perspective.  This colours their judgment, hiding the real issue.

Right from the earliest days of photography there was a dependence on skilled third party assistance for the photographer to be able to produce saleable portrait images.  From the late 19th century through the early 20th century the production methods were similar, albeit the materials used varied.  The photographer (usually a male) exposed sensitised material and worked with the clients in The Gallery and behind the scenes vast numbers of staff (mostly female) worked on the production of the finished product.  Some photos of these areas in very large studios indicate an almost Dickensian workhouse nature. In a very real sense however, both sides of the production process were equally harrowing as work places.

The widespread use of colour materials in the mid-twentieth century brought about a dramatic change to the business model.  A host of colour processing laboratories created a revolution where photographers concentrated on finding clients and taking photographs while relying on their finished print production being entirely done by laboratories.  The resulting images were really only packaged back at the studio for delivery to clients.

This reliance on laboratories by domestic photographers was echoed in the commercial world.  The difference being, that instead of processing negatives these laboratories worked with transparency film and offered additional skills for sale.  Compositing two or more transparencies into one, adding text to a transparency, blending several images to create one finished result – something that any half trained photography student could do today in minutes with Photoshop – had to be sent to an expert or experts (often in another city) for completion.

My personal experience of having seen most of the Australian professional awards judged was that this manner of production was always perfectly acceptable.  Whilst the viewer often marvelled at the technical skill required to achieve some of the effects, nevertheless it was the brilliance of the concept, or the execution of the original exposure, that was being assessed and attributed to the entrant.  Today, the common practice of having one’s award entries printed and finished by a master printer is not only accepted, but tacitly encouraged. Judges don’t expect entrants to be master printers, so why should they expect the same photographers to be master retouchers?

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Tokyo Opera House; © Ian Poole, 2012.

The disappointment some new entrants to the awards system face is the discovery that their ‘successful’ commercial output does not rate highly in a peer review competitive situation.  Money from clients (albeit the most important yardstick for a commercial enterprise) while essential, is also on a par with lavish praise from one’s own mother.  The success of the trans-Tasman competitions is that the quality bar has been raised to a very high level.  Something to be applauded, not dragged down to a lesser level by adding the criterion that if the image was adequate enough to sell, it is therefore good enough to be applauded and awarded by a jury of our peers.

Content, intent, story-telling, description, emotion, memory, originality, technique and many other signifiers are the harbingers of an award winning photograph.  Judges tend to wait and hope, looking for photographs that bring a special message and trusting that they will be able to recognise these images when revealed in the dance of assessment in those quiet rooms.

Long may that expectation reign.


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This essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOS, p148, issue 57 :: August, 2016.

August 2016 was a great month

For different but related reasons August 2016 was a great month for me.

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In Good Company

Firstly I had a comprehensive portfolio of my photographs published in the online magazine f11::for PHOTOGRAPHERS AND AFICIONADOS.

Secondly I gained my Master of Photography (M.Photog) status with the (AIPP)

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In Equally Good Company.

The first achievement was the result of over nine months of submission and collaboration with the f11 Publisher and Creative Director, Tim Steele.

With some gentle (and often times not so subtle) prodding, Tim was able to move me away from a grab-bag of retrospective images culled from a lifetime of photography into displaying a targeted and curated array of complimentary shots.  For this I will be eternally grateful.  Whilst I have a fair record in curating photographic shows for other people this was proof positive that the artist should rely on the input of a dispassionate party in such an exercise.

As a long time exponent of the black and white process and genre, it was an eyeopener to me that not a single monochrome image was included.

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Istanbul Dolls; © Ian Poole, 2015

The wonder of colour was never more evident than in this portfolio.

Issue 57 commencing at page 98 gave a comprehensive survey of my more contemporary photographs.  The supporting essay alluded to a voyeuristic photographic eye – a statement that I don’t shy away from, albeit not in the wide angle, camera in the face documentary style that is employed by some practitioners of so-called street photography.  I am no Vivian Maier!

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Observations; © Ian Poole, 2015.

What this project did do for me was to isolate a not strongly held view that I was attracted to people and place.  Having been fortunate to travel a few times over the past few years it was obvious that I would document those moments.  But it was the urban landscape (with its attendant population) that attracted my lens more than “the landscape”.  It took an analysis of various submissions for Tim to make this point so strongly – a fact with which I am pleased.

The second part of the bookending of the month of August was my gaining my M.Photog.  The road to this achievement has been paved with many challenges (I Earned a 73 ……. and a few other scores) and (Failure) and (The 2015 APPAs).  In this 40th year of the APPAs (Australian Professional Photography Award), it was a nice co-incidence for me.

I had attended the “test run” of the APPAs 41 years ago at the HYPO Convention at Broadbeach on the Gold Coast, and entered the second APPA and earned a Silver Merit.  Having decided early in my membership of the AIPP that I was a better Judge than an Entrant I chose for a long period to restrict my involvement to the judging table – UNTIL!   Some six years ago a few of my Institute “Friends” took me aside at an Awards Dinner and monstered me.  “Put Up or Shut Up” was the demand.  Thank you Mike Langford APP.L GM.Photog FAIPP,  Jackie Ranken, Peter Eastway APP.L GM.Photog FAIPP FNZIPP Hon. FAIPP Hon. FNZIPP, Ian van der Wolde APP.L M.Photog III Hon. FAIPP, Andrew Campbell APP.L GM.Photog and David Oliver AAP.L GM.Photog.  So, with the exception of the disastrous 2014 Year of the Bronzes, I steadily worked my way through gaining my Associateship and then Masters.

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Birmingham Gallery Cafe; © Ian Poole, 2016.

This year’s Award images also contributed to my gaining a Master of Photography within the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography Iris Award system.

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Tallin, Estonia; © Ian Poole, 2016.

Huge thanks need to go to Living Image Print and Andrew Merefield (and Darren Jew who was away swimming with whales) for the care and professionalism given to putting these pixels onto paper.  A skilled job for a pair of skilled professionals.

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Opposite The Ritz; © Ian Poole, 2016.

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Edinburgh; © Ian Poole, 2016.

……and a final comment must be made to my talented mentor Adam Finch M.Photog.  Adam has continually challenged, critiqued and encouraged my photographic output.  No good photographer can exist without a mentor (or an Editor).  Thanks.


 

 

 

 

The 2015 APPAs

With the sad story of the 2014 Canon AIPP Professional Photography Awards now behind me – well almost!!!  That was the year that the Judges turned their backs on my entries and threw them all into a shredder; but I did front up again for the 2015 event.  For a moment it looked like a repeat of last year with an outrageous non-award “bronze” for the sweet and cute Kewpie Dolls.

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Istanbul Kewpie Dolls; © Ian Poole, Istanbul, 2015 (no award Landscape Category)

Storm Over Constantinople was one of those magic moments that you see shaping up in front of you and you make snap decisions on the fly; and then run like crazy to get out of the rain and the hail.  No raincoats of course!

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Storm Over Constantinople; © Ian Poole, Istanbul, 2015 (Silver Award – Landscape Category)

Le Marais Self-Portrait was the result of sadly looking through the doorway of the Parisian apartment that we were departing after a few glorious days in the city of light.  The passageway that I wanted to photograph could only be seen by using my reflection to mask it – this is how easy it is to find masterstrokes.

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Le Marais Self-Portrait; © Ian Poole, Paris, 2015 (Silver Award – Illustrative Category)

Barbès-Rochechouart was the result of looking for a shot like this at several Parisian stations.  I started to see the theatre of the occasion forming in front of me and so I stayed and shot and shot and shot.  Not being able to art-direct was frustrating, but eventually this tableaux dropped into place.  Speaking French and using a megaphone may have lessened my blood pressure, but patience is essential.

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Barbès-Rochechouart; © Ian Poole, Paris, 2015 (Silver + Distinction – Illustrative Category)

Whilst I did judge in the Illustrative Category it must be declared that I did NOT judge my own work.  The rules are stringent in that regard.   But the judging process that I have enjoyed for so long is just that little bit better by having a few of your own images being considered by my judging peers.  Frustrating sometimes, but still a nice feeling.

And of course John Ansell must be congratulated for his stunning set of tintypes that won him the title of 2015 Canon AIPP Professional Photographer of the Year.


Stories with a similar vein –

Failure

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Soho Moment; © Ian Poole, 2014.

 

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

 

A Quick Visit to New Zealand

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Enroute to Palmy; © Ian Poole, 2014.

At the kind invitation of the NZIPP Honours Council, I have just returned from a lightning visit to New Zealand.  Five days, four cities and four presentations later I am home in BrisVagas getting my breath back.  The AIPP Awards Team were generous enough to allow me to show the high scoring (85+) images from the 2013 APP Awards held in Melbourne.  My presentations talked about the importance of visual literacy in judging images and the manner in which the photographs entered into both the New Zealand and Australian Awards are viewed and assessed by judges.

Arriving into a rain soaked Christchurch late at night (and 30 minutes late at that), I was met by the patient Ann Worthy-Stephenson and her husband Tim.  Tim had been a student in my 2013 workshop held under the auspices of the Wanaka Autumn Art School hosted and arranged by the legendary Robyn van Reenan.  The School celebrated 25 years of quality operation this year – congratulations.  The hospitality of Cantabrians was further demonstrated when flood waters blocked access to the chosen venue and local commercial photographer Richard Linton opened up his Studio, at very short notice for the event.

B&W Fokker © Ian Poole, 2014.

B&W Fokker; © Ian Poole, 2014.

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Poole has an Even-handed Approach in Wellington; supplied.

Utilising the vast network of internal air services criss-crossing NZ, I was met by Jason Naylor at Wellington Airport and delivered a presentation to an enthusiastic group later in the afternoon.  Ester Bunning and I discussed various aspects of the functioning of the Honours Council and it was good to chat with experienced Panel Chair Terry Hann.

Flying in a plane where every seat had a window, I was met and hosted in Palmerston North by Gerald Wilson in a generous and affable manner.  The presentation was well received with some strong support from experienced NZ Judges Tony Carter and Richard Wood.

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Poole in Auckland; © Gino Demeer, 2014.

Another quick plane flight had me at Auckland Airport where local NZIPP identity Gino Demeer was on hand to transport me into the city.  Our presentation space was at the new Auckland campus for UCOL and I was welcomed by current NZ Photographer of the Year and lecturer Kaye Davis.  A robust discussion ensued with some good questions and debate about creativity and the judging process.  Awards printing guru Sean Dick (and his delightful wife Sue) ensured that my last night in NZ was amicable and enjoyable. (nice hi-fi gear Sean……)

More comments to be made about the Awards systems of both countries.  Keep an eye out for that.

Right in my Back Yard

f11 Sept '13

f11 for Photographers and Aficionados (page 148, September 2013)

Having despatched my entries to the Australian Professional Photography Awards, I realised that two of my entries were taken in New Zealand and two were taken in Japan.  What does this tell me?  Am I the next up and coming travel photographer for iconic Lonely Planet publications?

No, far from it!  My entries were New Zealand landscapes and interpretations of Japanese life style as seen through through Western eyes.

I suspect that my eyes are more finely attuned when I am outside of my comfort zone; and that I am more capable of distilling visual information while in new surroundings.  This is a reverse or mirror version of the NIMBY syndrome – not in my back yard.  A case of distant fields being greener; when we tend to overlook what is commonplace and familiar, and get excited about new places, spaces and environment.

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Lonely Sheep, Queenstown; © Ian Poole, 2013.

Yes, as a boy born in tropical North Queensland, I have to acknowledge that the soft beguiling light glancing across a Central Otago mountain range has a visual seduction that is hard to deny.  And underneath the Blade Runner movie set location that Tokyoites take for granted when they head out for an after work drink and snack, I get photographic visual palpations.

Should I relax, have a cup of tea, a quick lie down; and then take up my camera and head out into my neighbourhood and shoot some images?  Yes, of course I should – and of course I should take my camera on my next visit to the seductive depths of New Zealand’s South Island.  As if a visit to these parts could possibly be undertaken without said apparatus?

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Berry Street #2; © Ian Poole, 2011.

I have indeed documented the environment within the block where my inner city apartment is situated.  I even forced myself to shoot with one camera, one lens and one film.  Yes, film!  With my trusty and now aging Russian Lubitel medium format camera, I was forced to slow down, and observe.  It was a wonderful challenge, and a test of my years of research, knowledge and ability.  The results became the basis of a small exhibition.  I turned opportunity into interpretation.  The opportunity was the ability to keep coming back to locations at the appropriate time of day – the interpretation was my ability to use all that is creative in my being.

Like forcing one’s self to shoot with one lens and one camera as a form of visual mental exercise, we should also attempt to look at our backyard through new eyes.

Try setting out for an afternoon and re-interpreting the neighbourhood down the street as seen through the eyes of a visiting photographer who has just arrived from distant lands.

I feel that as photographers we have an obligation to document our environment – we are the inhabitants, with easy access to local knowledge.  Look at the protracted argument following the Christchurch disaster, when no local photographers were contracted to document the damage.  Out-of-town photographic eyes are valuable, but local eyes are aware of nuances and feelings and history – and their interpretation is valuable.

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Skippers Canyon, NZ; © Ian Poole, 2013.

Reproduced with kind permission of f11 Online Magazine for Photographers (September 2013 edition)

I Earned a 73 (……and a few other scores)

As a long time member of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography, I have been involved with its annual peer review (2013 Canon AIPP Professional Photographer of the Year) of Members’ imagery from the second year since its inception thirty-seven years ago.   My skill is probably more in the area of assessment as a Judge, but for the past few years I have shown support for the system and entered my own photographs.   This year was a reward for solid consistent work.

Congratulations to Tony Hewitt for his win in the Landscape Category and becoming the 2013 Australian Professional Photographer of the Year.

With a limit of four images, I choose to enter both the Landscape and Illustrative Categories.  These are my results:

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The Road to Skippers Canyon; © Ian Poole, 2013.

The Road to Skippers Canyon was my most successful with a score of 83 (Silver Award).  I had two Judges scoring in the Silver Distinction range, but their arguments fell on deaf ears. 🙂

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White Island; © Ian Poole, 2013

White Island was my second Landscape entry (and my second New Zealand image) – it also scored a Silver Award.  Many thanks to the lovely photographers at Tauranga who arranged such a  wonderful trip for me earlier this year.

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Tokyo Opera House; © Ian Poole, 2012.

In the Illustrative Category I chose two Japanese images.  Firstly the enigmatic foyer of the Tokyo Opera House scored a Silver Award.  This visual interplay with the striking abstract sculpture dominating two pedestrians, is a bit of favourite of mine.

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Under the Tracks, Shimbashi; © Ian Poole, 2011.

………and then we come to the 73.  A classic case of “I wuz robbed“!  Photographers are notorious at being unable to assess/judge/choose their own images; but in this case I was certain that it was a winner.  Even my very good friend Adam Finch agreed.  Adam is more than a good friend, he is a talented Judge within the APPA system and both a talented photographer and has a great skill in getting pixels onto paper via ink.  Under the Tracks, Shimbashi was one of those typical Tokyo locations where salarymen go for a welcome drink after work.

APPA is done and dusted, and as I retire to lick my wounds, I am gladdened by the thought that several entrants were given high scores as a result of my assessment and judging.  Congratulations to all entrants and see you next year.