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Wednesday, 01 July 2009


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Mike: are you sure these weren't the Australian Photoshop Awards? Wow. I guess, once things go digital, there is consensus in the pro photo world about the level of tweaking allowed.

The original (if such an adjective can even be used coherently with digital) images are analogous to what, now? Paint in the tube?

Ben Marks

I admit that if "professional photography" were the only kind of photography there was, I would be in a different field. I don't have any feel for it. Never have.

No judgment in this, just stating my own limitations.


I have to admit that I didn't exactly love the winning entries, many of which seemed overly manipulated. My favorite of the bunch was easily the sports shot of the guys playing what I assume was sepak takraw.


"My favorite of the bunch was easily the sports shot of the guys playing what I assume was sepak takraw."

Mine too.


They really misnamed this competition. It should have been called Illustration Awards, as there was precious little photography to enjoy in the winners' gallery.

Well when you're talking about photography as a whole, which includes advertising and fine art photography, a lot of these heavily altered images would fit right in with the current state-of-the-art.

If you look at something like "The F STOP" online magazine, you'll see what I mean. http://www.thefstopmag.com/>The FSTOP The sub-title of the magazine is "Professional Photographers Discuss Their Craft". It's very interesting to read the articles and see how the actual photography aspect fits into the overall flow of what they do.

I just asked myself whether the wedding photographer (the last 2 pictures) does have a job. I've seen many good HDR images of weddings, but those?

The whole competition looks like "the monthly best" of flickr even though there are some good ones of course.

I liked the piece with the man standing in fron of the white wall with a painted frame on it. nothing particularly new about that idea though i really liked the composition here, kind of bold.
Also the other image of Andrew Porfyri has something disturbing (in a positive way) in it and I don't mean the dolls. Haven't figured it out yet, that's what I like.


The student photographer likes naked breasts.

And, in the spirit of today's idea of prize-winning "photography," I suppose that the intended prints are about the size of a barn.

I think I'll pull a Strand book off my shelf and enjoy.


Dear Folks,

Back in the era of the Film Purists, there were slide snobs who tried to assert the superiority of their form by claiming that prints were not "original photographs" but merely a contrived and derived work, because the photographer could do so much to alter the photograph in the darkroom. Whereas the slide photographer, and most especially the Kodachrome photographer, had little-to-no ability to modify the photograph, post exposure.

So, clearly, that was a purer and superior form of photography.

Ahem, yeah. Sure.

Pull the other one; it has bells on it!

All this wailing and gnashing of teeth over Photoshop sounds just the same to me.

Get over it. Move on. Nothing to see here. Don't block the stairs. Don't worry, be happy.

pax / Ctein

P.S. I only looked at the first five photos, but until #5, I didn't see one that I was sure had invoked Photoshop, based on obvious visual evidence. IOW, had I done them in the studio, they'd have looked just about the same.In which case, I DON'T CARE. So much for the overwhelming presence of Photoshop.

Thanks for the link Mike, it was interesting and unexpected having read other comments beforehand.
Every time I buy a "Professional Photography" magazine it reminds me that I'm an amateur shooting for myself and presumably the nasty stuff the pros produce is to please their clients.
This selection however was different, not really "photography" but "art" - not "fine" art but trendy, shallow, commercial art.

Cheers, Robin

Truly depressing to see such a collection of banal and formulaic images given any kind of award.

The sports picture is the only one that I felt was in any way genuine -- and sports photos don't particularly interest me. Ironically, this photograph is credited to Getty Images, with no mention of the photographer's name.

Many years ago, when I was at university and had just started taking photographs, I entered a couple of prints in a photographic competition. I can't even remember what those pictures were or whose pictures won. What I've never forgotten is that, after the prizes were awarded, the judge showed a selection of his own work. They were all portraits, exquisitely printed on Agfa Portriga Rapid paper. Someone asked why all the pictures were head-and-shoulders shots on a mottled background with the subjects facing the camera at precisely the same angle. "Because that's the way you take a portrait," said the judge without a trace of hesitation.

I wonder if there's not, as David Bostedo's comment implied, a similar kind of orthodoxy going on here with the AIPP awards. The 655 entrants knew what was expected and produced accordingly. Then the judges, secure in their understanding of the norms, chose the "best" of the 2,367 entries.

It would be great to imagine that one or two rebellious souls entered photographs which, with quiet understatement, conveyed an emotional connection with their subjects coupled with a respect for the qualities that make photography so uniquely expressive. Needless to say, these pictures would have been ruthlessly eliminated by the judges. But they are, nonetheless, the photos we'd wish to carry in our hearts.

Landscape photography seems to be heading this way down under too. Most of what gets the oohs and aahs these days is heavily manipulated, and don't forget that we are the home of Ken Duncan who brought you vulgar colour long before digital.

I printed some of these, two gold and four silver (that I know of). The works shown don't have to bear any semblance to the photographer's day-to-day professional work (and rarely do) and as such is mainly an outlet for their creative talents and technical skills. The awarded images reflect current standards. It's all taken a bit too seriously by those involved though, IMHO.

I should stand behind Australian photographers, I guess, (being an Aussie) but for these photographs I just can't come up with any enthusiasm.

I have to say that I am disappointed in the lack of story behind these images. Some are so strong, I am just yearning for more info, and I don't mean f stops and camera makes. It seems to make the images more of a product, a commodity.

I refuse to join the AIPP after watching one of the judging sessions at the local state level. The words nepotism and cronyism come to mind. In the last ten years all we have seen come out of the competition is very formulaic over photoshopped work by the same few entrants. In fact its a bit of joke here among some pros that there is a special AIPP photoshop action that you have to enter the competition.

My wife and I went and watched some of the judging which is done by our peers. We were quite gobsmacked (in a bad way) at the stuff that kept ending up with the gold awards.
But a lot of the other stuff we saw was, in reality, trite, slight and ill conceived.
Despite the fact that the pictures shown are done so without name (and in a fairly small size too - no bigger than about 12-14 inches - they most certainly ARE NOT mural size), I can't help but feel that the judges would have recognised the style of some of the recipients AND would have recognised the style of previous winners (being the same people too).
As for Yervant's photo's - well - it's just HDR vomit to me.
He has a following here, and more so in the US where a lot of you seem to enjoy tack... but it's outside my taste.


First, you really should look through all of the pictures to get a better sense of what people are responding to. The first five aren't as over-the-top as the others.

Second, I don't have anything against photo manipulation, whether in analog printmaking or in Photoshop. I don't even have anything against Photoshop, except that it's too expensive. But it seems to me that if you are going to manipulate a photograph as heavily as some of the photographers in this competition did, then there ought to be a good reason. Why? Because otherwise the manipulation per se overwhelms any other message that the image could hope to convey.

To borrow an example from one of my college professors, if we are all sitting around the dinner table and I say, "Ctein, could you please pass me the potatoes?", then you won't hesitate to pass me the potatoes. You will focus on what I am saying. But if I say, "Hey there Bud, pass me a spud.", then you will pause and give me a puzzled look before eventually passing the potatoes. You will first focus on HOW I am saying what I am saying, before then getting around to WHAT I am saying.

That's all well and good when we are talking about a simple rhyme (not very distracting) and passing potatoes (not hard to understand), but it's a much greater problem when we are talking about heavy manipulation in a picture (very distracting) and the artist's intent (very hard to decipher under the best of circumstances).

Of course manipulation can actually BE the message, rather than a distraction from it, but then it seems odd that the judges selected so many photographs that were about photo manipulation per se. Anyway, all of this points to part of the problem with the slideshow of winning entries: there is very, very little information provided. As some have indicated, even the name of the photographer isn't listed for some of the pictures! How are we supposed to know what is going on or what a photographer is trying to communicate by looking at 2 or 3 random pictures (small JPEGs at that) without any accompanying information? We can't. And as anyone who has spent any time discussing modern art with others can testify, people naturally have a hostile reaction to that which they don't understand. Lamentable? Perhaps. It is certainly human, as history demonstrates. But I continue to maintain that a large part of the onus is on the artist (or the contest organizers who put together the slide show) to at least provide the audience with a few clues, a toegrip that can be used to begin an exploration of a work.

Alternatively, the photographers weren't trying to communicate anything. They were just trying to come up with pictures that "look cool" for the sake of it. If so, then a lot of these pictures didn't strike me as strong enough to stand alone in that light.

And I stand by the comments above, regardless of whether the pictures were edited in Photoshop or not. As you rightly point out, manipulation isn't limited to what you do after the shoot.


It's not about photography. It's about illustration, sponored by Adobe (aka Photoshop). Not my cup of tea.

Funny, I'm just learning about Henry Peach Robertson and Oscar Rejlander.

Some of these photos speak to me and some don't, but let's not assume this is the first time artists have stretched the meaning of photography past what we may feel comfortable with.


I am not a photo purist as far as Photoshop is concerned. John Delacour's trenchant comment probably summed up best my own emotional reaction, which was: "Hmm. So that's all you've got?" I have no doubt that it took a lot of technical proficiency to produce the images in the winning categories. And that is the state of the craft. But, unless it is a technically perfect image of socks for a catalog (and, without a doubt, there is a commercial need for hat sort of image), I expect an image presented as the winner of ANY sort of prize to make me feel _something_. Hell, that's what I expect of any human work that is supposed to distract, communicate, transport (fill in your favorite medium here: dance, painting, sculpture, drama). Although I conveyed this poorly, what I should have said was that the images left me untouched. (And this is the leap) I assume that the image-makers were trying to convey something and that each image took some non-trivial amount of time to produce. But what seems to have taken place during the no-doubt arduous and technically proficient creation process was, for the most part, a careful leaching of all emotion-inducing qualities that the images may once have possessed.

Ben Marks

"Needless to say, these pictures would have been ruthlessly eliminated by the judges. But they are, nonetheless, the photos we'd wish to carry in our hearts."

Jonathon - I just hope you're open to the possibility that the judges did, in fact, choose the images that they'd wish to carry in their hearts. Tastes vary wildly in sometimes strange and inexplicable ways. Chalking results you don't like up to pure orthodoxy is usually (maybe not in this case - but usually) simply a rationalization of why the judges tastes may differ from yours, and why you feel your tastes are better.

Dear Adam,

First off, rest assured that I have no quarrel with your earlier or later posts. If people don't like the work, that's fine with me. And while I am not someone who enjoys Monday-morning quarterbacking, so I don't engage, it's a harmless pastime that lots of people enjoy. If everyone wants to talk about how they would've done the judges one better, I'm cool with that. I very much doubt I would have made the same picks they did, as most of the posted work is not to my taste.

What I am not cool with is the kind of narrow-mindedness that arbitrarily declares that such and such is not Photography. Fergodsakes, we photographers have suffered under that kind of prejudice since the medium was invented. We all got it from Artists who claimed that Photography could not be Art. (If you think that nonsense is dead, I can point you to a contemporary thread elsewhere on the web debating just that point, by otherwise apparently intelligent people.)

Then we had the Photo-Impressionist/f-64 wars, in which the Impressionists got so badly trounced that they were entirely expunged from the cannon for half a century. Yes, a lot of the P-I stuff is way over the top and schlocky, far worse than anything we just saw in Australia. And some of it is really, really good art. But it was declared "not of the body" and made to disappear.

(And, as a pertinent aside, I have visited the "Holy Temple And Keeper Of The Flame Of f-64" (that would be the Weston Gallery in Carmel), and, big surprise, most of what is there is schlock, which it manages to achieve by being banal and pointless in contrast to being over-the-top and pointless. That's what happens with would-be art; most of it isn't very good nor thoughtful.)

Are we done yet? Hardly! We were subjected to the Film Purists, discussed previously. That ate up a couple of decades. And, surely no one here is so young that they can not remember the screams in all the magazine letter columns from the Real Photographers asserting that digital photography was not and could not be Real Photography.

And still, people don't learn! Look at the number of posts in this thread declaring exactly the same thing; except now it's "Photoshop" versus photography. They're the ones I have a quarrel with, not with you. The ones who adamantly declare that such-and-such simply doesn't belong. It's amazing! Taking that position makes about as much historical sense as would a post-Holocaust Jew arguing for racial purity.

Yes it's human nature for people to point fingers and declare that they are better than Those Others. It's my nature to point out that such comments demonstrate that they are not.

OK, rant mode off.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Photography, or image making can, I suppose be many different things, and no medium will ever stand still..and will always push new boundaries. So, on one hand, if one is open minded, I suppose one should not be quick to condemn these images.
But, on the other hand, one can also question the direction that the medium is taking with the advent of the digital era. The worrying thing for me, I suppose is that in a new flood of millions and millions of images every day on all sorts of capturing devices from cellphones to cameras, and on websites from Flickr to Facebook, eveyone is now a "photographer" and there seems to be a current of thinking that one has to be more and more outrageously manipulative in terms of technique in order to get noticed.
In other words, like so much of our 21st century world, it's all about form and look and surface, rather than content and meaning. In essence these images could have come from a illustration stock catalogue.
One wonders if a simple yet powerful Cartier Bresson image would have even been noticed in this stream of photo bling.
For photographers like myself, one faces the choice of retaining one's own integrity or like Madonna, constantly reinventing oneself. And that makes one ask the inevitable self analytical questions about whether one is stuck in a rut, left behind in a new age of photography...or simply a classic documentarian for whom there will always be a space, like a pair of jeans in a world gone bling crazy.
I'm not sure, but a believe that these sorts of images and there growing acceptance force us to look not only at the direction the medium is taking, but deep within our creative selves and our own photographic life paths.

"My favorite of the bunch was easily the sports shot of the guys playing what I assume was sepak takraw."

"Mine too."

Mine three. I think that's because it shows real people doing something real. And it's a bold image taken at just the right moment in time.

I must agree that the HDR wedding photo (first one) was the worst shot of the lot. Insane distortion in the edges, which I see a lot in pro wedding shots. I guess some are blind to the limitations of their wide zooms? Or is this just naturalised as the way things should be?

Dear Peter,

That's a very thoughtful post. I have pondered similar issues. In one sense, nothing has changed since George Eastman told everyone that all they had to do was push the button. Photography got established as the premier folk art form and those of us who are serious (or professional) about it have been competing with that ever since. The Web, though, has radically upped the ante, by letting people see far more examples of the folk art form than they ever could have before.

I expect the situation will become more extreme pretty quickly. Photograph indexing, searching, and evaluating are very important and hot topics in software research. Within 10 years, search engines will be able to do a pretty good job of coming up with pertinent photographs based on a description or sample image that you provide, and they will do at least an adequate job of separating the wheat from the chaff.

That will present artists like me with an interesting problem: how good am I, really, in comparison to 1 million other photographers? Even in cases where my subject matter is unusual, if not unique, there are still a lot of other photographs out there. There's pretty much nothing that I have photographed that hasn't been photographed before.

Lest people think this is idle musing, I've already run into this. I have several nice photographs of Comets Halley and Hyakutake on my website, but you will find none of Hale-Bopp. That's because the latter had several very good photographic websites devoted to it, and I pretty quickly decided that there was work on those sites as artistically good or better than anything I could do. I had nothing to say, aesthetically, that hadn't already been said eloquently. I simply decided not to make any photographs of that comet.

In 10 years, I may find that I may not be able to make photographs anything like what I'm doing now and still make a living at it. Honestly, I have no way of knowing, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility. In which case I will have to reinvent my art if that's how I want to continue to make a living.

Nothing new there; the collective corpus of photography has reinvented itself several times over the past 150 years, in reaction to changing tastes and technology. It's not quite so abstract, though, when the "political" becomes "personal."

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Believe me, the AIPP/CANON awards do not truly represent the standard of professional photography here in Australia. They are the product of many, many years of inbred navel-gazing amongst some members of our professional community, particularly amongst the Wedding/portrait crowd... interestingly enough, that is the very reason that Canon Australia put 99% of their local professional sponsorship budget into to APPA's (as they are known locally) because they see the Wedding/Portrait market as their key pro market now... very sad! So please don't judge our local industry by the quality of some of the pap in these awards, as we are really quite talented.....

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