Opportunity vs Outcome – Photography competitions

Garry Winnogrand said that “We know too much about how photographs look” and as a result can’t help pattern matching what we see with how our mind recognises things.

When a photographer looks at a photograph (that has been taken), how do they switch off their photographic eye and judge the photo for it’s worth instead of it’s actual result.

Some years ago I was judging for a work competition, and found myself confronted by just such a situation. The photo in question clearly captured the imaginations of the other two judges who pondered aspects of the photo… it’s atmosphere… it’s mood and so on. It was simply of a bicycle in a dimly lit hallway. And while the lighting and atmosphere was great, the composition wasn’t quite working hard enough… for example, if the photographer had only just moved six inches to the left and bent down a little, the bike would have been re-framed within the lit doorway at the end of the hall… a frame within a frame so to speak.

Micro-composition? Possibly, but it was just so slightly off, that for me it was actually a distraction. But the other judges loved it.

I couldn’t help feel that they, being photographers themselves where fully embracing the possibility of the scene but failing to judge the final product on it’s own merit. For me it was quite simple; This photo was a wasted opportunity.

This dark aspect of photographic appreciation scares me a little. Unlike paintings or other art forms, photography gives us such a literal report of the data that our poor brains can’t seem to resist jumping to its own conclusions… and ultimately ruins everything what that whole “interpretation” party trick that it does 😉

It’s bad enough that photography has no physical brush-strokes or defining marks that make a piece of work unmistakeably yours. But as I collate my entries for Take a view’s Landscape Photographer of the Year competition (http://www.take-a-view.co.uk/) I’m reminded of how hard (but important) it is to judge purely on what sits in front of you, and conscious of credit given for observation over execution.

If you live or have travelled to the UK and have taken a picture of this green and pleasant (and sometimes grey and hectic) land, Get involved and take part… everyone has a view and it’s important that, as a photographic community we embrace and enjoy them all, holistically.

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