Fraud Blocker

The season for photography competitions now appears to be an all year thing. I remember years ago the “Fairfax” Awards were the only comp in town. From there it has just escalated, and now they just keep coming.  So I thought a little personal reflection about photography and the “hysteria” of competitions was overdue.

Firstly, photography comps ain’t the Olympics, where we clearly see the winner  “beat” the others across a line. Sport by its very nature is about winning and of course losing. Photography competitions also give us a winner, however winners here are calculated and judged on a whole other set of rules and experience(s) ie the judges’ understanding and knowledge of photography. Some judges I find a little suss arethe ones who don’t know much about the medium.

I remember in the 70’s Bronwyn Thomas, who was a co-director of the first ACP, did a photography course so as to understand the medium better. I thought this was marvellous, and wonder if this would happen today.  (After all, everyone is a photographer aren’t they?)

It never ceases to amaze me how little classical photography is understood or valued or taught. Few emerging photo artists know of, or have even heard of, Max Dupain or the other great masters of (“western”) photography – those that created the “language” that we spring from today.

Nothing, especially art, is ever created from the air we breathe, but rather from what went on before. We absorb the work of others, we become inspired, and we give it a go. Inspiration is the key. This is our greatest teacher. To love the work of Cartier-Bresson or Vivian Maier or Diane Arbus or Edward Curtis or David Moore or … you get the idea… by loving this work we find something in ourselves to love to do!  

TS Eliot said it in another way:

“Steal from the best, know tradition, add yourself”

The thing I find frustrating about most competitions is the entry criteria: only 1 to 3 images can be submitted.  No portfolios.  Only a very few images are  “judged”, due to the logistics of holding (and paying for) a competition in the first place.

Three images are hardly enough to demonstrate to us the persistence of vision required to show we are serious, tenacious and hard working. Anyone can do one great photograph.  It takes an artist to create a series that shows, without doubt, our commitment to our work.

I tell students to “be suspicious of anything that is too easy”.  It’s not meant to be easy.  We struggle to be seen, heard and understood.  We want people to get it and acknowledge us for who we are and what we create.

This diatribe may be seen as “dissing” the hand that feeds me, however, at the end of the day Head On continues to offer a forum for ideas, workshops and exhibitions that engage, inform and show all that is good in photography.

I’m hanging out for the surprises.

Jon Lewis

ps If you are serious about photography, think about doing a Portfolio Review . Details coming soon….

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Head On Photo Awards 2024

Entries to the Head On Photo Awards 2024 open in May/June.

Image detail: Gary Ramage