Judge's comment: When I did the first run-through of the contest entries, "Dahiana" was not one that I thought would make the list of finalists: my first choices were based on more formal qualities. As the number of possible finalists dwindled, though, it became apparent that "Dahiana" packed in qualities that many of the other photos lacked. That is, you could tell endless stories based on this one shot: about women, about men, about sex and its symbolisms (the pushed-up breasts, the "access" zipper on the bikini bottom), about commerce, about work, and about grace and beauty. This photo is not one for formal analysis (although I could spend some time on the missing head, which both objectifies and universalizes the body) but has immeasurable philosophical and psychological depth. I also like the frontality of it: the photographer is there, doing something that is hard, and there's no chance involved. This is tough stuff.
Judge's comment: This contest asked for photos on the subject of work, and none of the entries said "work" more definitively than this one—two big guys caught in the act of doing the roughest kind of job. Formally, the curve of the curb and paving stones, echoed by the curve of the hose, help focus the eye on the two main characters, and the exact point of the work being done. The stones, bricks and rubble add a variety of textures to the mix. Values range from near-white to near-black, with everything in between. And, of course, there's a touch of humor and humanity: do jackhammerers have to be, um, "husky" guys? Maybe not, but you'll see few of them who aren't.
Judge's comment: This photo incorporates all the good qualities of a fine photograph: the composition is excellent, the colors are harmonious, the focus is precise, the accents (the magenta chairs) are fine, and the action is crisp and caught at exactly the right moment—the actor has one foot in the air, reminiscent of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photo of a man caught jumping a puddle. "Vincent Manna" also captures exactly what the man is doing: working through a script with great concentration. This is a shot that could have been painstakingly composed by a painter, getting each element just right. In my mind, this was the most sophisticated color shot of the contest, except for one that didn’t make the finals.
Judge's comment: There's no work being done, but these are guys who work, and everything says so: their faces, their clothing, their attitudes, even the truck behind them. And they reflect the toughness of their jobs: they're dirty, they're rumpled, they're a little beat-up. But: it would be easy to take a photo like this that's just a snapshot. This one captures a good-humored moment, and even though the photo itself seems, at first glance, to be a little rumpled, it's actually quite precise, in formal terms: the two biggest guys are on the ends, framing the others, while the two smaller guys, in the center, form an overlapping unit, and actually seem to be telling us a story. A funny one. As with the jackhammerers photo, the range of values goes from near-black to nearly blown white, and all the values in between. Okay, this is silly: are the truck's mirrors "quotation marks?"
Judge's comment: This made the finals because it is an excellent and non-obvious street shot. Some shots simply demand to be taken—with this one, you had to be looking with a photographer's eye. There was some luck involved: the colors are exceptionally good, and the reflections add a nice abstract element. But the framing and positioning of the two men, along with the barber's gesture, make the photo, and pushing the button just then...that wasn't luck. A lot of formal qualities with a nice touch of humanity. The barber's saying something like, "No, the Cubs don't suck...."
Judge's comment: Not much to say about this one: everything is right there in the photograph. This is a man working at a nasty job, and his whole stance, dress and expression feeds that right back to you. This has a powerful serio-comic impact: you can't help think of Woody Allen, but you also can't help thinking of Arnold Newman and the Alfried Krupp photograph. This photograph is about the meaning of work, in all of its complexities—some sad meanings, some bad ones, some funny, some just tiresome. Work like this is like pushing a boulder up a mountain: boring, tedious, discouraging. The Turkey Man takes all of that to the nth degree.
[The judge prefers to remain anonymous. —Ed.]
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
William Barnett-Lewis: "I did not post earlier, as I felt others had said anything I felt well enough.
"In the end, my own criteria for judging something like this is simple enough—what picture would I be most proud of having taken and hang a print on my wall? From that perspective, Turkey Man leads by a long margin. Having grown up on a small farm tending the family's birds, I can empathize with him and with the turkeys that would grace that fall's holiday tables. There is a certain honesty in the work and in the way that it is captured in the shades of white, grey and black. Finally it is an image that would not work in color—the actual colors would wash out and dilute the meaning of the image.
"Similarly, the Actor is an image that I do not think would have worked in black and white and, as a result, is my 'winner' of the colored images. The judge makes all the important technical comments above; all I wish to add is that belief that it's the only image of the finalists that requires color to work; the other two could be converted and continue to work just as well if not better (the Bikini).
"Thank you, all of you, for some fascinating images."
David Miller: "My commendations to the judge for perceptive and articulate comments. The judge's response to The Turkey Man, however, reminded me how much our reaction to a work of art is a comment on us and not on the work itself. I suspect the judge is an urban person (or, if rural, escaped the farm with a sigh of relief). Having myself been a farm labourer, a construction worker, and an actor, I see nothing 'boring, tedious, discouraging' in the Turkey Man's work. I recall, instead, my Dad's laconic comment about life as a farmer: 'No matter what else was going on, I always knew I was producing food for people to eat.' Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder."
Jim Simmons: "I got my prize before the finalists were announced—comments that showed kind, insightful appreciation of my Funeral Guys. Thanks to Mike for giving the images an audience and all of us a forum for viewing and discussion."