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Wednesday, 27 October 2010


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I'm not sure that Nick Galvin has necessarily answered his critics in his "defence"! In addition, the view that "Michelle Sank’s image is one such image that defies simple photographic convention" seems odd to me: superficially it may be the case, but in my view it defies the same photographic conventions that lead me to delete more than 50% of my images at the chimping stage. Perhaps I'm too hard on myself, and have missed out on a glamorous photographic career?

More excitingly though, on that page there's news of a new medium format WA film camera from Fuji:


I think the answer is that the judge cannot classify or pigeon-hole it. As it is beyond the ability of the judge to judge, it should win. QED.

Or is it.

Try, stare at a picture




Still not sure what it is. Ok, the winning picture then.

There is no meaning in the picture or in the award allocation process. What I found out is that the judge, like TOP reader, do not understand what the hack this picture is as well. The difference is that TOP reader and many commentator in the BJP site decide not to give it an award, as the picture fail to give anything. But the judge instead is in a kind of limbo state and he want to be out. Hence, it give himself a kick and get back to the real world by classifying it as a profound winning picture. He then planted a thought in our mind that this is profound that we do not understand how can this can be an award winning picture!

I share the idea that a picture may not need to have specific meaning to be good art. One has to open mind if that something the picture given might not have impact or meaning to me as long as I can understand someone might be affected, influenced, ... by that picture. Even a kind of feeling, history, critics, sensory or simply some good light etc. might do. However, a principle of "do not understand and cannot classify" really cannot be a criteria to judge. It might be QED for the judge, but it is very hard to swallow as a pass-by and onlooker.

Just rubbish, this BJP thing.

I suppose it's unfair to summarize Galvin's justification of the BJP choice as, "I am bored with photography".

But I will.

You know, my initial reaction to the prize winning single image was 'yeah, that's garbage' but then I saw all the comments, and it seemed that EVERYONE was seeing something completely different in the image. At that point, I began to wonder if it was maybe better than I thought ;)

Which is, I think, the point of Nick Galvin's remarks -- it LOOKS like a lousy photo, and maybe it is, but the damn thing has a lot more depth than it first seems to.

Mike, whatever happened to TOP's photo contest? I remember reading that an announcement was coming. Did I miss it?

Maybe not the best of the bunch but at least it doesn't "look" like he cranked the PP.

Mike, it seem to me that Mr. Galvin's criteria for what makes a photograph great is just how much navel searching he must do to find value in that photograph.

So in other words, it's not important what visual impact the piece has, what's important is how much effort one has to exert to discern an impact?

Good photography should challenge...

Maybe, subject to the judges having some ability to read the kind of image presented.
However I don't think it should challenge you to think whether it's somehow good photography or not. You can wrap it in prints of the Mona Lisa to your heart's content - metaphorically, seeking a meta-vision with which to encapsulate something as art - but a dog-product is still a dog-product however you poke it.

The judge didn't seem to have much to really say for why the picture was good, successful, or valuable. Lots of banal generalities about the need to take risks and such (which are true, in broad), but nothing about what this photo actually achieves for its risks.

Having judged a few photo contests, and observed or participated in many more, I think a "winning" image is one that stands out. For example, if you have a dozen excellent wildlife shots, but one street scene, the single image gets more attention just because it is different. It is often much easier to choose second or third than first.

The Saul Bellow rumor might or might not be true, but so far as I know there is no restrictions on the number of Nobel prizes one can get. John Bardeen got two Nobels in physics (one for transistor another for superconductivity) and Fred Sanger got two for chemistry (protein sequencing and DNA sequencing). ICRC got three prizes for peace. Maybe literature Nobel is different.

Reading the judge's thoughts about the merits of the winning photograph just reinforced my earlier decision to never enter photo contests. I would never, ever have taken a photograph like that; don't regret having missed the opportunity; would never want to display it. His thoughts seemed to me to be that he couldn't understand why it was taken, therefore that made it the winner. Why isn't "it's just a bad picture" be the answer? I'm so confused ...

I think the picture was well chosen as I've hardly ever seen/read a more vivid discussion about and beyond an image submitted in a contest.
Even though the rational of Nick Galvin is rather poor in my opinion, the image did indeed work well as a catalyst for further thinking which is probably_the_foundation of contemporary art.

I like controversies.


I can see why people would get suspicious when a blurry mess like that ferry picture wins a huge prize !

I thought the only qualification for being elegible for a Nobel prize was being nominated by a qualified nominator. I know that physics prize has been awarded twice to the same person (John Bardeen - for the transistor and for his theory on superconductivity).

If you're a prospective photo contest entrant it's useful to take a wide-angle view of such contests.

First, realize that they are -all- publicity stunts for the sponsors. All photo contests, from the highest of brow to the lowest flowers-and-kids, share this primary objective. To this end, Mike has greatly aided the BJP contest by highlighting an unpopular winning selection. There are, in fact, contests who strategically select eccentric judges specifically with such results in mind. (Not saying Nick Galvin is eccentric.)

Second, photo contests are often excellent money-makers. Charge $15-$75 per entrant, get a thousand+ entries and... To a magazine, for example, this can be a big source of income particularly since the profit margins on these things is generally pretty high.

Third, rarely do judges see each other. They make their reviews from (that's right) a Web browser. Sites such as Slideroom facilitate entrant's submissions as well as the judging/review process for very small fees. Slideroom has, in fact, become a boon to the contest game. Yup, the same crappy sRGB 72dpi images that you'd post on some photo forum are what the judges will view for your entries.

If this seems a cynical perspective on photo contests, well, it is. But the popularity of digital photography have made these contests pure gravy for sponsors. That's why Mike (and nearly every other blogger and his family members) gets hundreds of contest notices each year. They're losing propositions* for nearly all participants but they're all win-win for sponsors.

So for these, and other, reasons I have a very hard time getting worked-up over most photo contests. They fall into the same pay-little-mind category for me as marathons, triathlons, and other such p.r. events. Yes, there are a few noteworthy contests but most are...

* Yes, your chances of winning a photo contest are slim, particularly the popular ones. But I do not completely discount the value of participating. There certainly can be personal value in simply participating, much like a marathon. If a contest provides you with wind and purpose you'll win no matter what the official results are.

FWIW- I pretty much agree with said judge- it's just not the photo I'd wanna hang my hat on.

Of course, should Ms. Sank go on to leave her more classic portraiture behind and develop into A Major Star with a "New Vision," he too will be heralded as a visionary who saw it all coming- and the rest of us end up looking pretty damn silly...

PS- His reasoning basically goes back to a previous post where a judge picked a not so technically proficient shot that exhibited some measure of life over the technically entombed perfection of the other submissions (though I highly doubt the latter was the case here.)

I found other images to be more evocative than the winner, but that the florescent purple background for the display of the finalists is downright unpleasant. Kind of like a visual interpretation of cheap bubblegum. For me it did not do justice to the photographers or their works.


Yes, yes, I am now "acting as the judge" but yech ...... I was not tempted to spend time looking at the images.

Thanks for your recent posts about contests and grants. I thought I'd expand the playing-field to include fellowships.

The 2010 California Community Foundation's Fellowships for Visual Artists awarded $105,000 to seven "emerging" artists this year. Each recipient received $15,000 -- which is pretty amazing considering how tight funding for the arts has become.

The downside? Six of the seven recipients were from CalArts -- and so were two of the four jurors. One juror was a classmate of five of the seven recipients.

In a city the size of Los Angeles, with such a diverse population and range of artistic production, this should have been an outright scandal. It wasn't. Partly because people seem to expect this sort of thing.

Maybe it was just planetary alignment, and ALL of the rest of the applicants were not deserving...but then again, maybe it had something to do with the relationships between the winners and the jurors. Err, uh, judge for yourself:

Elana Mann -- MFA from CalArts 2007
Ryan Inouye -- CalArts Curator
Ciara Ennis -- Pitzer Art Galleries Curator
Ronald Lopez -- 18th Street Arts Center

Danielle Adair -- MFA -- CalArts 2007
Liz Glynn -- MFA -- CalArts 2008
Danny Jauregui -- MFA -- UCSD 2006
Adrià Julià -- MFA -- CalArts 2003
Julie Orser -- MFA -- CalArts 2005
Vincent Ramos -- MFA -- CalArts 2007
Kara Tanaka -- MFA -- CalArts 2008

If you are at all curious about what work "won":

As to the controversy with the Moran prize, well the photo community in Australia is small and very clannish. You only have to look at the APPAs and it's the same few people winning every year. If you can't gain entry into one of the cliques you're pretty well scuppered.

Some really nice shots in that contest. 5 or 6 outstanding photos caught my attention quick. It would be hard to pick a winner but with that much talent I wouldn't pick the same guy twice. Reminds me of Massachusetts politics.

This discussion highlights the broad gap between the worlds of art and photography. With photography, there are image quality guidelines to be followed; sharpness, depth, tone, lighting. OTOH, with art, there seem to be no guidelines, allowing technically-deficient images to be named as winners. That's why I call myself a photographer, not an artist, and why I never enter photo contests.

When I've judged photo contests in the past, I always tell the participants, "You're getting one person's opinion here. You can feel good if you win, but you shouldn't feel bad if you don't".

A stupid question maybe, but aren't entries to photography contests judged anonymously? Of course they couldn't be in the case of photo's that have been published before the contest (e.g. World Press Photo), but in all other cases it woul be the only fair way to go - or wouldn't it?

The Saul Bellow rumor might or might not be true, but so far as I know there is no restrictions on the number of Nobel prizes one can get. John Bardeen got two Nobels in physics (one for transistor another for superconductivity) and Fred Sanger got two for chemistry (protein sequencing and DNA sequencing). ICRC got three prizes for peace. Maybe literature Nobel is different.

I may be way off base, but my impression is that the literature Nobel is treated like a lifetime achievement award, and is based on a writer's entire body of work. While it's theoretically possible for a writer to win a second award, in practice it never happens because writer's usually win fairly late in life, and they would have to write an entirely new body of work that merits another award after winning the first.

FWIW- I pretty much agree with said judge- it's just not the photo I'd wanna hang my hat on.

I agree, but that's a fundamental problem with his argument -- it's true as a general matter, but he hasn't made any real effort to apply to this photo.

It's not a bad photograph. Maybe even a very good photograph, in an Eggleston sort of way. But I must say that if this image had been posted by an anonymous photographer on Flickr, even Nick Galvin would not have given it a second glance.

There's no doubt in my mind they knew the photographer and her award-winning background when they viewed her submission. I think all photo contests should be done blind - without the judges knowing the source. Then, you might get a fairer picture.

Given the brilliant competition I find it very strange that Sewell's photo was selected as the winner. So many of the other pictures were clearly better.

Uninteresting in the sense that a well-paid Art Professional who who works for BJP in the UK looks at a picture of an anonymous black guy lying in a field in South Africa and gets exited.

I found the comparison to Eggleston's Tricycle odd. The Tricycle, while it's just a tricycle, is a good photograph. Why it's a great photograph is more because of when it was made, but it's still a good photograph.

This one? Not so much. In 50 years time, if anyone sees it, it is still not a good photograph.

OTOH, it does have one attribute in common with a good photograph. That is, with a good photograph, nothing can be removed from the image without affecting its goodness.

This one, removing any single element and you will have a truly unmemorable snapshot, unlike the current state - an unmemorable snapshot.

Mark H- Great point! I don't know about fairer, but definitely less biased.

Eggleston's best work is visually extraordinary while made from ordinary everyday scenes. His images generally aren't hard to read with regard to meaning or content, but are rich to see if you amenable to them. I fully realize many either don't like or don't get his photographs, but there is little stylistic or semantic analogy to this Michelle Sank photo.

On the other extreme of visual literacy, Nick Galvin strikes me as a little too inside here. It may be that the photos he had to choose from simply bored him and this one rose above that ennui. Which would be fine, but arguing for photography changing with culture and challenging the status quo is dissembling when applied to this photo.


In this case, the choice of the judge says more about the judge than it does about the photo in question.

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