Award winning photographer (part 1)

Wow, you are an award winning photographer? you must be amazing?
— Anonymous
07230 CPH ATEP award logo_overall-winner.png

What a year 2017 has been so far, I had planned to lie low, progress my medical career and get my head down and bum up to make more bodies of work. Over the past few years I've had some great success being featured by various media outlets for various reasons, this year was supposed to be a quiet one. 

As a self taught photographer, I am keen for critical feedback. Don't get me wrong, the social media 'likes' and comments mean a alot, they mean that my target audience have stopped, even if just for a millisecond, looked at my post/image and taken the trouble to press the like button, or spent a few seconds bashing out a quick comment. The worst thing that can happen to a creative soul is to produce work and there be no reaction. Is it self gratification? yes, to a certain extent it is, however, what means alot to me is when the social media comments have depth and thought behind them, for me this is a modern form of critical feedback, however, for a self taught artist without the benefit or the art school 'crit' sessions, finding their path on their own, it's not enough to just be 'liked' - I strive to realise where I sit in the quality of the other artists out there and always striving for self reflection and improvement. 

My 'quiet year' started to get a bit noisier in February/March when I was looking for ways to get constructive criticism of my work, I submitted a portfolio to Lens Culture with the promise of a critique of my work. It took a few months, but the return was very interesting and positive. The crit was written by one of their staff portfolio reviewers. 

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Like a carrot dangling in front of a donkey, the Lens Culture reviewer emailed me a list of other outlets to submit my work to for further feedback, I spent an afternoon submitting my portfolio to various outfits, one of which was Capture Magazine

A few months passed by, and I started getting more frequent emails from the editor of Capture magazine asking for higher resolution images initially, then for a bit more info about myself. He told me I was in the top 10 finalists for Emerging Photographer 2017 award, you could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather. When the winner of the award was announced, and I found out that I had taken out both the Portrait category and Overall winner, my vision started to go fuzzy - I couldn't really make any sense of what it meant to be to have this 'award'. The self gratifying side of me was siting back in its comfortable chair having a beer and celebrating, while my self doubting conscious was still asking "what does this mean?". For quite a few days, I struggled with the award, I was stoked, confused, proud, shocked and many other emotions - more so when I saw the quality of other category entrants. The accolade of being the 'Top Emerging Photographer for Australia 2017' was great, the materialistic gesture of a cash prize and a new camera was also welcomed, however, the real 'reward' for me was when I read the list of judges and realised their caliber - I was blown away, to think my work has potentially passed by the noses of hugely respected international photographers - I was humbled to say the very least and to be brutally honest, if I had known the list of judges looked like it did, I wouldn't have entered.

Through the passage of time, the materialistic accolades, the awards, they will fade - however, for me, what lives on to inspire me, learn, self reflect and better myself and my photography are the critique of the judging panel (see below).

Fast forward a few months, I was looking forward to a low-pressure mid-winter 'holiday' in June to Wellington, New Zealand to the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography (NZIPP) annual conference called 'Infocus' - there were some international speakers that I have huge respect for and who have had a big impact on shaping my personal style. A few months prior to the conference, serendipitously, I was contacted by a book making company in Australia called Momento Pro who asked me if I was keen to make a photobook for the 2017 NZIPP Iris Awards. My initial gut reaction was to decline, although it had been one of my lifetime ambitions to make a photography book, I didn't feel ready. What did I have to say? what content did I have?  Why would anyone be interested in my photobook? I mulled over this for a few days, there was a looming deadline for the Iris awards, I had to collect my thoughts quickly. I had a reasonable body of personal work to show, I didn't really have any messages or story to tell other than the story of the individuals I have photographed - was that enough? I was coming around to the idea of making a photobook that would serve as my personal portfolio if nothing else, and if I could put it together in the time required to enter the Iris awards I would have the privilege (or dangling carrot) of some constructive feedback from a judging panel of 4-5 judges.

Cutting a long story short, I got my 'A into G' and worked solidly over a few weeks to design, curate, edit and re-edit a photobook that left this country to be manufactured in Australia and then sent back to New Zealand to be entered into the NZIPP Iris Awards 2017 - it got there 2 hours before the deadline closed.

The day of judgment came and I was fortunate enough to have been in the crowd for the judging. There were 15 entries into this new category for the Iris awards and my book came up last but not least. Having listened to the eloquent judging panel discuss other books in the category in detail, from the photographic content, through to typeset to paper stock, I was pretty nervous but enthusiastic to hear them pick apart my effort. When it actually came to the judges comments, I struggled to hear them over the noise of my pounding heartbeat in my head, here's an abridges transcript of the comments;

The 15 entry in the book category is entitled ‘ ARTEFACT - judges please enter your scores
— Ollie (facilitator)
This for me, out of all of the books, felt the most personal to this photographer, had a sentimentality that really appealed to me, it’s a book I would pick up over and over again. I don’t tend to go in for the overuse of the type of photography it is, that shouldn’t be the most compelling feature and often it is in this technique, but in this the photography and portraits are incredibly strong. Like a high-board diver, they are trying something quite hard here and the easy things don’t look like they have been struggled with, but I’m picking the photographer has worked incredibly hard here.
— Simon (judge)
I think the portraits are fabulous, but is using a process that hasn’t transferred very well into the form of a book. I was longing to see a the actual original medium and material of the collodion process, which is a very different thing to what we are seeing on the page. To me they look like reproductions from the 19th century rather than a re-use of the process to make contemporary portraiture.
— Anne (judge)
I enjoyed the title, I felt it was appropriate to the paper stock and the presentation of the imagery, because as artefact, it shouldn’t have tried to modernise the process. I feel the photographer has made a very humble representation of these people. It’s sublime. I feel it’s complete.
— Johan (judge)
The title really dissolves me in a really nice way, it’s about the photography and these portraits. In a photobook, what we are really asking and what a book maker is asking the viewer is “what happens next?” - we are turning pages, and if we are forced to ask what happens next, then it’s a success. For me I went though every page, so for me the book is a success.
— Simon (judge) - rebuttal
OK judges, good conversation, please re-judge the book ..... we have a ‘90’ GOLD award - congratulations to the author
— Ollie (facilitator)


Thankfully, the awards were live streamed and I was able to review the judges comments. Between the deafening heart beat and hearing the word 'GOLD AWARD' I didn't really know what to think - I had no basis to celebrate as I couldn't remember what was said. People asked me "how did your book entry go?" I replied sheepishly "it scored a gold". The replies were "WOW that's amazing, well done!", I replied with honest thanks, but I still didn't really know what it meant to have a book that has scored an award - was I an award winning author all of a sudden?

After I reviewed the judging comments later that night, it began to sink in that had actually done a pretty good job with my entry and I was able to reflect on the constructive criticism I had received, it was very helpful and I again, thank the panel for their excellent commentary.

I will continue the rest of this blog in a part 2 ............  


#carrot #donkey