In those days, preparing your prints was a tremendous task. My mentor group worked with a local custom printer who first produced a work print, on which we noted color and density changes and burning and dodging. Sometimes it took the printer several tries to get the "perfect" print. Then we did positive enhancement. Sometimes we did it ourselves with pencils and dyes, but we often sent it to Helen Yancy. We used to call her magic touch "getting the Helen Yancy eyes" because the eyes just sparkled.
After getting prints back from her, we physically trimmed the image to the final crop, mounted it to an underlay, trimmed that to just a sliver of color, and mounted the print to the final mount board. Finally, we added sealer coats of lacquer until we could flood the print to get the high gloss sheen. Sometimes we would have over ten coats of lacquer on a print.
It seemed that the night before the prints were due, my studio looked like a bomb hit. Everything happened there because, at the time, I had the most room and the tools we needed. The whole studio reeked of lacquer as we worked. Toxic fumes kept us going to the wee hours of the morning--perhaps that's why Dennis is a little odd now!
When Dennis and I traveled to various conventions to speak, judge, or just have fun, we always carried a stack of 4x5 proofs. We'd look for someone with a yellow ribbon and have them quickly go through the stack. They wrote their initials on the backs of the ones they liked, so we had a start on making competition print selections. Those Masters were always willing to share and help us newbies with valuable, one-on-one training. That alone was worth the PPA dues!
Print competition really became a ritual--a rite of male bonding--and it taught us to be better photographers. It forced us to critically look at our images, understand exposure and lighting, control eye flow, and pull the presentation together with color harmony. It forced us to learn. Above all, it was a lot of fun. Four of our five earned Master of Photography degrees. Between us all, we can take credit for a few hundred print merits.
Times have changed and so have the technologies. You no longer chance lung cancer because a beautiful laminate can make your prints shine. There's no need to mount an underlay--it can be done with a 15 pixel stroke. Carrying prints around is not needed--you can post images to the OurPPA forums and wait for comments. In many ways, print competition is easier now; in other ways, it's harder.
Many new to the industry seem to have a fear of failure, so they don't enter. But what's nice about print competition is that whether you earn the merit or not, you're still a winner because you tried and you learned. The next time you enter, you'll learn more and likely do better. There's no magic bullet in print competition. I earned my Master's in 1990, but I don't merit every image I submit...not even close. But because I enter, it hones my skills.
In February, PPA's Photographic Exhibition Committee (PEC) launched a series of four Webinars to teach you about print competition--what's involved, how to do it, and what you can gain from it. Even if you missed the series, you can still take advantage of the archived versions on PPA.com. It will either get you going strong, or will make you better.
Take the leap: gather your images, post them on the OurPPA forums (you can do it anonymously), and get some feedback. Watch the Webinars and pack your case. You'll need to hurry...the 2009 deadline is May 1!
It will be fun; you'll learn a whole lot in the process; and you won't have to smell the lacquer!
Follow Ron's travels this year...just visit http://blog.ronnichols.com.
Ron Nichols signature, M.Photog.Cr., API
2009-2010 PPA President
In 2008 I had my best print competition year ever. All four images were accepted into the International Loan Collection. The images were "out of my box," from my China travels the year before. As I prepared my images, I tried new techniques (Ok, my wife Carol showed me), so I learned, too. Carol also entered for her first time, earning a General and Loan Collection image. Not bad for the first time out of the chute.