Kerrville Texas Judging
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Location
    Magnolia TX (N. Houston area)
    Posts
    8

    Thumbs down Kerrville Texas Judging

    As background, I got out of photography 20 years ago because, well, poverty sucks. I basically threw away 7 years of majoring in photography in my under-grad and graduate work plus a number of years of working in the photographic industry for other studios. IT pays much more. Senior Business Intelligence Architect. Just sounds lucrative, doesn't it? I now make enough in my full-time IT job to afford to open a small studio and bankroll all the initial investments without small business loans. So now I'm getting back into photography and again following my first love. At almost 50, I count it as my happy marriage-safe mid-life crisis.

    A number of weeks ago I went to a Texas PPA convention in Kerrville. I had no prints entered, so I had no horses in the race to bias my opinions. The judging was very, very disappointing. Outstanding, stellar, near-perfect portraits could not score higher than a 84. Amateur illustrations made with Photoshop and Painter enhancements all scored in the high 90s, with most of them getting 100s. Now, they're far better than I can produce. When I say amateur I mean as compared to quality professional illustrators (for one quality example, see digitalblasphemy.com). Almost every photographer I spoke with shared these observations and opinions but didn't want to rock the political boat.

    My take away is three-fold. First, judges are so accustomed to seeing outstanding portraits and bridals that they are incapable of scoring them highly based on their technical and artistic merits, but instead score them based on their "differentness". I think they would have scored fly-covered "cow patties" on a platter in the high 90s just because it would be different from the boring high-quality portraits they were used to seeing.

    Second, I learned how to add 5-10 points to print scores in Texas. Run your print through Corel Painter Essentials 4 auto-paint for 3 minutes.

    Third, TPPA judges no longer respect Photography - they want illustrators, not photographers, to enter their competitions. But here's the problem. Clients (remember those?) don't buy illustrations, and even if they did I couldn't make any money off of them because they take too long to produce. I'm a photographer, not an illustrator. I thought illustrators had their own professional organizations. And I thought PPA was ours.

    So why should I waste my time entering photographic competitions when the judges think it's an illustrative competition? Peer admiration? No offense intended, gentle reader, but I care far more about what my customers think about my work than about what you think about my work. I don't have the time, energy or desire to create stuff just to impress you. I create photographs to make money, and impressing peers who don't pay me doesn't make money. Aren't you the same? Do you really give a hoot about what I think of your work, as long as your clients keep buying your prints?

    I love photography, and I'm happy to be practicing our art again professionally. I will strive to improve my photography both artistically and technically with every image I create. It is my desire to create photographs worthy of receiving PPA merits for every one of my clients. I will continue to harvest the benefits I receive from TPPA education such as the outstanding Texas School. Unfortunately, TPPA Kerrville Competition has dramatically reduced the value I perceive in PPA print competitions.

    Kevyn
    Last edited by KevynSchneider; 07-23-2009 at 08:27 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Petaluma, CA
    Posts
    5,479

    Default Re: Kerrville Texas Judging

    Oh. Here we go again. We've just had a thread from someone in Southern California with the same perceptions based on a "local" print comp, that is, a comp that doesn't completely consists of national caliber judges.

    So, let me take this in different direction this time. Lets assume that all portrait photographers take the same attitude that you've mentioned. Let's assume that all portrait and wedding photographers give up and let all the pretty picture folks overrun the print competitions. Wouldn't you think that that would be more damaging to our profession? Would you rather see an entire country full of "Master Photographers" telling the public they are Masters, when, indeed, they got their degrees in pretty pictures?

    My last portraits at regional scored this: 92,88,87,82 (where'd that 82 come from?). So, it is possible. A friend of mine scored 100 on a sorta portrait (it was a combination of pretty picture with a person in it). The point is, if we don't keep the great portraits in the eyes of our colleagues to learn from, what do you think will happen to the quality factor in our industry. Is making money for the sake of mediocrity? I sure hope not, because there are plenty of those kinds of photographers in this country already. So, what do you want to be known as, an artistic, well-rounded professional photographer, or a mediocre well-fed one? Why not be artistically well fed, and use print comp to improve your portraiture, instead of giving in to the pretty pictures. That is my challenge to you. Attend Imaging USA in Nashville and look at the loan collection portraits that get accepted. You might be surprised to see some portraits that are even more perfect than the ones you saw at Kerrville.
    Michael Gan,M.Photog.Cr. CPP,
    Meritage House of Photography

    If your business depends on you, you don't own a business-you have a job. And it's the worst job in the world because you're working for a lunatic... You can't close it when you want to, because if it's closed you don't get paid. You can't leave it when you want to, because if you leave there's nobody there to do the work. You can't sell it when you want to, because who wants to buy a job?
    —Michael Gerber
    http://www.meritageonmain.blogspot.com

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Michigan
    Posts
    2,208

    Default Re: Kerrville Texas Judging

    While some people may be "playing the game" with only the end goal in mind (e.g. getting merits) -- I have another goal. I want my merit prints to be representative of the work I do for my clients. All of my prints I entered this year were images from client sessions. All of them merited.

    One of them - an image from a senior session, won best of show at our local competition. It was also picked as judge's choice at our state competition. Now, it wasn't a traditional portrait, but it did not have any special effects added.

    Why not try to challenge the "status quo" you've observed? Make it your goal to enter that stellar portrait that blows all the other digitally enhanced paintings out of the water?
    Betsy Finn, Cr.Photog., CPP
    bphotoart :: learnwithbetsy :: email

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Location
    Magnolia TX (N. Houston area)
    Posts
    8

    Default Re: Kerrville Texas Judging

    Betsy, I totally agree with your sentiment. One of my professional goals is to continually improve my meager artistic and technical skills with every image I create for my clients. I'm not in PPA to "play the game" and find fault with a system which encourages such game play. The only games I'll play deal with marketing. I wish there was a rule which stated that competition prints had to be ones created for clients, or at least judging categories created which separate "real work" images from "made just for competition" images.

    When I went to the state competition, I was certainly not expecting all portraits to score high. But the best portraits in the entire show should have scored higher than an 84! I don't expect that illustrations be judged harshly because they're not straight-out-of-the-camera style photographs. But they almost all scored in the high 90s and took all the 100 scores. The very best illustrative image did not get a 100 because the photographer's face was in it; the judges didn't want to appear overtly biased, even though the other multiple 100s that same photographer scored were all obviously his.

    Betsy, many photographers were "challenging the status quo" by entering great photographs, just as you mentioned. My outsider's observation is that it didn't make a dent. Michael mentioned
    Let's assume that all portrait and wedding photographers give up and let all the pretty picture folks overrun the print competitions.
    What I observed at my first print competition in 2 decades is that, at least in Texas, the handful of illustrative-style photographer folks have ALREADY overrun the print competitions, DESPITE the fact that the straight portrait and wedding photographers HAVE NOT given up.

    You see, sadly, entering quality prints into biased competitions does not challenge the status quo. It IS the status quo. The competition remains biased. The fact that Michael started his response with "Oh. Here we go again." highlights the recurring nature of this systemic problem.

    Will I enter my best production prints in TPPA state competitions? Probably. Do I expect to ever get a score over 85? Not unless I dramatically enhance the image. Will I ever enhance images? A bride I'm photographing next week loves Georges Seurat, the father of pointillism. If she wants me to enhance a photograph of her new husband pushing her on a swing with the gazebo they just got married in in the background, making it look like a pointillist painting, heck yes I'll do it! Have Painter, will travel. I think that will look awesome mounted on canvas, it will be a wall hanging Laura will treasure all her life, and I'm all about creating the very best heirloom artwork I can for my clients. And there's the key - I'll do it to create the best image for my client, NOT to create a winning competition print not intended for sale. If it merits, great. If not, hey, I sold a 20x24 canvas mount and frame. I think I'll live.

    Illustrative images can be very beautiful and creative. I don't think it's possible to clearly delineate when retouching turns into enhancement or photography turns into illustration. Since my halcyon Hasselblad 120 days things have changed a lot and photography has been redefined by the digital revolution. Photoshop outsourcing is now part of photography, like an airbrush artist used to be. I can embrace it or go back to shooting Daguerreotypes.

    You see, I really am not upset with illustrative rendering of images. I'm just upset with crappy judging. You know what is funniest (and saddest)? After speaking with some of them after the competition, the best TPPA judges seemed to be the newer ones with the least amount of PPA charm-necklace danglies. Other than that it appeared to just be a good-ol-boys club. All that was missing was the deck of cards, whiskey and cigars. My apprehension is that the good-ol-boy 20 lb. necklace club is where the national judges come from.

    Kevyn
    Last edited by KevynSchneider; 07-23-2009 at 08:39 PM.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Fort Worth, Texas
    Posts
    1,789

    Default Re: Kerrville Texas Judging

    You failed previously because of your lack of understanding of what a successful photographer is supposed to be doing with their time and resources....won't be any different this time.
    ____________________
    Dave Cisco M.Photog, Cr., CPP, F-TPPA

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Fort Worth, Texas
    Posts
    165

    Default Re: Kerrville Texas Judging

    Just FYI, Kerrville had Illustrative, Commercial and Electronic Imaging catagories along with photographic open and wedding (but I get your point).

    And don't kid yourself, I doubt there was EVER a 'straight portrait' entered in past PPA comps. Usually they were shot by the photographer, developed by a lab, neg. retouched by one artist, custom printed by another person, enhanced and painted by a retouch artist and mounted and sprayed by another person. At least with todays 'Illustrative' pics there is a good chance the 'photographer' is also the 'artist' and possibly also the printer with all of the large format inkjets out there.
    Tracye Gibson, M. Photog.
    www.Tracye.smugmug.com
    Talent is the ability to do hard work in a consistently constructive direction over a long period of time" - James Whistler

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Fort Worth, Texas
    Posts
    165

    Default Re: Kerrville Texas Judging

    BTW Dave, I would love to get together with you some time so you can show me 'old school' how to mount and spray a print for competition.
    Tracye Gibson, M. Photog.
    www.Tracye.smugmug.com
    Talent is the ability to do hard work in a consistently constructive direction over a long period of time" - James Whistler

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Location
    Magnolia TX (N. Houston area)
    Posts
    8

    Smile Re: Kerrville Texas Judging

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave_Cisco View Post
    You failed previously because of your lack of understanding of what a successful photographer is supposed to be doing with their time and resources....won't be any different this time.
    Thanks, Dave, your comment was as uplifting as it was helpful and insightful.

    I never said I failed, I said I got out of photography for a while. I consider myself hugely successful.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Kerrville Texas Judging

    Ahhh...old school competition prints. Now those were the days...spraying and spraying...just to find a cat hair in the gloss coat. Then sanding that out and starting over.

    And let's not forget cutting all those colored sheets of paper for the colored liners. Yeah...those were the days and what a pain. When I try to explain what we had to go through with this process to some of the people who are just starting to compete they just give me that blank stare.

    Photoshop has definitely spoiled us so far as presentation goes. What used to take hours can now be accomplished with a couple of clicks of the mouse.

    Pretty amazing when you think of it.
    Joe Campanellie
    CPP, M.Photog., Cr., Fellow-ASP

    www.campanellies.com

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Location
    Magnolia TX (N. Houston area)
    Posts
    8

    Default Re: Kerrville Texas Judging

    Quote Originally Posted by TracyeGibson View Post
    Just FYI, Kerrville had Illustrative, Commercial and Electronic Imaging catagories along with photographic open and wedding (but I get your point). And don't kid yourself, I doubt there was EVER a 'straight portrait' entered in past PPA comps.
    Thanks for your comment, Tracy, as it helps me state the point somewhat more meaningfully. If you look at the average score of meriting prints by category, I bet it would really highlight my point. I believe you would find that the Illustrative category had a high averaged score and the Portrait category had a low averaged score. I believe this would demonstrate the bias favoring illustrative style images on the part of the judges.

    Also, let me clarify the term "straight portrait". I did not intent to represent that things are not outsourced, either in the days when I left college and we sanded out cat hairs from competition prints nor today. I simply mean portraiture that still looks very much like a photograph. I don't care if a legion of people collaborated to make it.

    Since you were there, this will have meaning for you. Two of my favorite portraits were both enhanced. One was the little boy with the train. Awesome image. Another which did not score as well was the lady in the fern. (I have a thing for fern, not sure why.) I liked the Painter effect the photographer did to abstract the visual motion of the fern leaves. While enhanced, I still consider them "straight portraits" as they were both clearly photographs which were artistically interpreted. Compare that to the "Blue Demon" image, made with composites of a portrait, animal miniatures, and heavy photoshop work. NOT a "straight portrait".
    Last edited by KevynSchneider; 07-23-2009 at 09:46 PM.

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