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Keith_A_Howe
05-01-2010, 04:02 PM
Over and over on this forum the same question keeps appearing - "Is this worth entering?" or a small varitions like I don't feel my work is good enough or am I ready etc etc.

I never know how to answer that question. When someone asks is it worth entering, what exactly does that mean? Are they asking "will I be embarassed?" or "will it merit?" or "will I get best of show?" or just "will entering this print help me improve my work in the long run?".

I think most of the time what they are asking is "will this merit". The reality is not all prints will merit. Not even the majority of prints. And they shouldn't! What meaning would a merit have if it was easily acheived and the majority of prints entered were merit images? If that's the kind of system everyone wants then we don't even need a competition. We could just send in a check and get merits back in the mail. The things that are most worthwhile in life are often the most challenging to earn.

I know I sound like a broken record but I entered for four years before I ever got a merit. Then it was only one. That merit had real value to me because it took a lot for me to get there. I felt a sense of pride with what I had achieved. I don't think I would have valued it as much if it had been easy. So when people say the judges were tough or too picky, to me it's like they are asking for it to be easier. Judges as a group just want to set a standard that you will be proud to achieve. We aren't tough, we just all believe that everyone is capable of greatness.

So the answer to "is this worth entering?" is always yes. Yes if it helps you get to your goals. Not every goal can be achieved in one competition. The really lofty goals take time to achieve. The answer to "am I ready to enter?' is, are you ready to improve your work? The answer to "I don't feel worthy" is, print competition has nothing to do with your worth. It's just about the work. Being a worthwhile person is about character, not about what you produce with your camera and computor.

Keith

Tiffany_Schmitt
05-02-2010, 02:38 AM
Keith, Thank you for your views on this. I agree and think the standards should be set high. At our PPA affiliated judging this spring the judges were deemed as 'brutal' to say the least. I had two of four that merited and felt that the two that didn't, did not deserve to. I took them home and made them better...hopefully deserving now...but I learned from it. And that is what this is all about. To learn and get better. I know I have become a better photographer because of competition and if everything that I had ever entered merited, I wouldn't be as conscientious of my photography.

Thank You for all you do!

Keith_A_Howe
05-02-2010, 04:59 PM
At our PPA affiliated judging this spring the judges were deemed as 'brutal' to say the least.

This is my personal opinion. It has nothing to do with PPA or PEC policy or opinion. No one has mentioned this to me. I came to this conclusion on my own. Now that I have the disclaimer out of the way, here's what I think.

For years we would go to competition and see scores across the range. It was not unusual to have several prints in the bone pile (score 69 or below) and have an 88 as the highest score in the show. Then digital came along and gave us all kinds of magic tools to correct what was previously unfixable with traditional artwork. Scores started getting better and 69's became unheard of. Prints that previously would have been kept in the 80's by problems with the print were now elevated to the 90's because the maker could address those issues in PS. So we all got used to high scores. But along with digital came another change to our industry. There are all kinds of deragatory terms like momarrazia and soccer mom or digital Debbie, but I prefer NTTs or non-traditionally trained. We have had a huge influx of people who enter our industry with no other background or training then owning a camera. Of course the level of technical know how is not there. How could it be? So this new breed of photographers has now started entering competiton. What do you think that lack of technical background is gonna do to the scores overall? No wonder people think some judgings are brutal. There are more lower scores then we were seeing a few years ago. That doesn't mean the judges are getting tougher. The standards are the same. The work is what has changed. To prove my point, while we do see more lower scores and a lower overall percentage of merits sometimes, there are still as many or more high 90's and even 100's then there have ever been. What I think has happened is the quality of the work has spread out again. The good news here is that these NTTs are entering. They will reap the benefits of improved work through competition. And comp is helping them get the training they lacked coming in. I fully expect that we are going to see the quality of photography rise in the next few years.

The other thing I have seen is more complaints about judges being too "brutal" or not "getting" the entrant's style. Again I think this is a result of the NTTs. If you haven't been taught what proper exposure looks like on a print, or what flattering poses and appropiate lighting patterns are, then how can you recognize when it's lacking in your own print. Steff Milner knows about dogs and dog grooming. If I was to groom my own dog I might think it looked awesome. Then when Steff was on a panel to judge my dog grooming, I would probably score in the low 70's. I could say she is too tough, or that she didn't understand the style I was going for but the reality would be that she can see all the mistakes I made. I wouldn't know enough to recognize them. But because I put myself out there and took a chance, if I pay attention to what she as a judge has to say, I will learn how to recognize good dog grooming. When there is a problem with my doggie haircut I will understand what's wrong. I will get better. Hopefully I will realize that it's not that Steff got easier or that she finally thought outside the box on style, but that I improved.

One more disclaimer before I get off the soapbox. I am talking in generalities. Of course there are lots of acceptions to what I am suggesting here. Nothing is ever 100%.

Keith

samgardnermcr
05-02-2010, 08:43 PM
Keith!!! This is a fabulous essay, and thank you so much for penning it. It addresses many of the seemingly dis-jointed judging results of the last few years. To further this concept, I offer the following thoughts as well:

1) For those who will say, "Judges use a cookie cutter formula", take a close look at a loan collection to enjoy the tremendous variety of styles and creative, wonderful imagery-much of which is non-traditional.

2)Traditional training in most fields will help prepare one for creative efforts beyond what the traditions of that field already contain. (some successful heavy-metal singers have very traditional opera/voice training for example)

3)Please make every effort possible to attend a local/state/regional judging at least once a year and listen carefully to the challenges of the panelists to grow your own understanding of style, art, technicalities, and the current state of photography-an ever changing field.

Sam Gardner M.Photog.Cr. CPP Int. Juror

Mark_Levesque
05-02-2010, 09:33 PM
There is one other thing that I think should be mentioned. The bar has gotten higher. One only needs to compare the first loan books with the latest to see that there are a number of images that would no longer merit (in large part because the means to address the deficiencies has become widely available.) As time goes on, what is considered to be the baseline of professionalism changes. Additionally, treatments which were considered groundbreaking become banal over time. "We've seen this before." Impact is lost with repetition. Thus excelling requires continued innovation. It is as it should be.

Angela_Lawson
05-03-2010, 02:13 AM
Thank you for these thoughts Keith. It made me rethink entering this year. I know that I'll have to pay a late fee, but I may still pull together a couple of images.zaX

Angela_Lawson
05-03-2010, 02:15 AM
Keith,

Sorry about the previous messed up post. My dog crawled up and hit the enter button before I could finish my thoughts. Anyway, long story short, I appreciate all the time you take to put competition in such a positive light, and I will try to pull it together and still enter, though late I will be.

Angela

Stephanie_Millner
05-03-2010, 10:36 AM
Yes, Mark brings up a really good point. Often something that is just so out-there merits based on impact and originality (I think that's a good thing, IMHO.) Last year two of the highest scoring prints at VPPA were things I have NEVER seen before - one was almost a pencil & charcoal technique looking kind of like a photographic sketchbook, and another was a solarized + neon outline of a bridal dress. Just stunning images, technically speaking.

For the record, Steff doesn't know nothin' about dog grooming. Seriously.

Missy50
05-03-2010, 02:46 PM
A photography instructor I had is really into orginiality. Always wanted to see something he had not seen before. One of those instructors that you loved or hated b/c he was so critical. I learned so much from him. And if you could produce with the least amount of equipment, the better.

I can remember hearing him say, "I am sick to death of that dead tree against the horrizon..." When I saw some of the images at imaging, I thought of him.

Keith_A_Howe
05-03-2010, 03:12 PM
The bar has gotten higher.

Maybe a little. But it's also gotten lower. When was the last time you heard a judge challenge a print because the nose shadow did not meet the corner of the mouth? Or a profile was a little split? We have gotten way way looser on demanding precise lighting patterns and exact posing. Plus with digital and PS ( like Mark says) it's gotten so much easier to do artwork and make correct or improve lighting etc, that overall it's still a LOT easier to create a merit print even if the bar is higher. I kinda disagree about what would no longer merit. There are prints every year in current loan books that one wonders how they even merited. Unless you are sitting on the panel looking at the actual print, you can't say. So looking at a loan book from 20 years ago is not a way that even an approved juror could make that call. What you have to remember Mark is those first loan books were not created from a file, they were reproduced from a copy neg then a seperation, so you are looking at third generation reproduction. Even coming from the file like they do today, it's still being reproduced in a whole different media. It's not the same as seeing the actual print. Yes, style has definately changed, but that's such a basic concept that I don't think it's even something we need to point out. Cars designed 20 years ago are out of style, clothes change, popular food trends change, music evolves. Change and innovation is not something that's remarkable. It's the expected. So innovation doesn't necessarily raise the bar, it just puts it in a different place.

Keith

Keith_A_Howe
05-03-2010, 03:22 PM
I can remember hearing him say, "I am sick to death of that dead tree against the horrizon..." When I saw some of the images at imaging, I thought of him.

But just because it's been done before doesn't make it bad either. If something is cliche but is still done exceptionaly well, it deserves recognition. For every dead tree against the horizon that hung in this year's show, there were probably 10 or 12 similar that didn't make it. When I was using the example of Steff and dog grooming it was learning to see those nuances, that seperate ten average cliche dead trees from one amazing dead tree, that I was alluding to. But you and Mark are both right, it's easier to be amazing with something different then it is to inspire awe with something mundane. So that brings up a question, which requires more talent? innovation? or awe inspiring images of common subjects/styles?

Keith

Keith_A_Howe
05-03-2010, 03:25 PM
Thank you for these thoughts Keith. It made me rethink entering this year.

You made my day!
(and now that you know how happy you made me, it should put extra pressure on you to make it happen!:D)
Keith

samgardnermcr
05-03-2010, 03:27 PM
Keith et al,
"Art is almost never an image of something extraordinary, but rather it is almost always an image of something quite common, yet seen with extraordinary vision or captured at a time of extraordinary light" Sam Gardner adapted from James Wood

Missy50
05-03-2010, 07:27 PM
Keith et al,
"Art is almost never an image of something extraordinary, but rather it is almost always an image of something quite common, yet seen with extraordinary vision or captured at a time of extraordinary light" Sam Gardner adapted from James Wood

Thank you for posting this Sam. :)

Missy50
05-04-2010, 04:52 AM
But just because it's been done before doesn't make it bad either. If something is cliche but is still done exceptionaly well, it deserves recognition. For every dead tree against the horizon that hung in this year's show, there were probably 10 or 12 similar that didn't make it. When I was using the example of Steff and dog grooming it was learning to see those nuances, that seperate ten average cliche dead trees from one amazing dead tree, that I was alluding to. But you and Mark are both right, it's easier to be amazing with something different then it is to inspire awe with something mundane. So that brings up a question, which requires more talent? innovation? or awe inspiring images of common subjects/styles?

Keith

I saw some images at Imaging that were unique, as I do not recall seeing anything like before. They may have been EI's. That is what made me think of that instructor.

I was glad to see trees, flowers and such b/c that is just where my interests are. :)

Christina_Showalter
05-07-2010, 02:53 AM
this is a helpful post, thanks.

Rose_Mary_Cheek
05-12-2010, 02:57 AM
I enjoyed this post very much, thanks all for contributing.

Brian_Dunn
05-12-2010, 04:21 AM
But it's also gotten lower. When was the last time you heard a judge challenge a print because the nose shadow did not meet the corner of the mouth?

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/6a/Mona_Lisa.jpg/250px-Mona_Lisa.jpg

(Nose shadow doesn't meet the mouth), back of a woman's hand is facing the viewer, no catch-lights ( maybe there are in the original ), distracting background elements, poor skin tones, could use some retouching... :)

We're all doomed! :eek: