I have a confession to make; I think I’m addicted to competitions. And not for noble reasons. I like the kudos of doing well, I love the momentary gratification of a win when they come by (especially if it’s unexpected), and, sometimes, the prizes are pretty darn cool.
Take, for example, the latest GuruShots Man’s Best Friend challenge, where the above image was the Top Photo winner. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that it came out on top. Yes, it’s one of my all-time favourite images of my sister in law’s great dane puppies, but, I’ve got to say, it’s a bit of a nerve-wracking slog to make sure your image stays at the top of the pile. And with 18 days of competition, it’s a long time to be nervous! The prize, though, is a Diana F+ film camera, a retro, lomo, piece of plastic cool - and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!
But this isn’t (just) a brag about winning a GuruShots challenge - because I genuinely think there is more to entering competitions that the superficiality of winning or losing. Competitions, I think, can be a gateway to getting your name out there, wherever ‘there’ is. Okay, so I don’t actually think I’ve got work from winning a competition. And I’m not sure if I’ve made any sales on the back of them. But I am a believer in you having to make a noise if you want to be heard.
To that end I’ve been compiling a spreadsheet of competitions that run throughout the year, so if you have any that I should include feel free to drop me a line! But it’s also worth keeping an eye open: I’ve always been an advocate of 500px, who recently launched Quests offering some amazing prizes (the latest is US$1000, which would be handy!), while Camera House has a weekly, themed Photo Friday competition on its Facebook page with some great prizes.
Of course, part and parcel of winning competitions is failure, because you’re going to lose far more than you’re ever going to win. I don’t care who you are, it’s just the subjective nature of the beast of being judged. And sometimes it can be crushing. If nothing else, if you don’t even have a few more photographs or don’t learn a new technique or understand your craft a little better, at least you should learn to deal with failure. I have to admit, I’m still a long way off - every failure still hurts.
But, essentially, and here’s your heartwarming conclusion, photography is all a matter of competition, even if only against yourself. Judge each image, critique yourself, and try and learn always how to improve. But above all, remember that the biggest prize is simply enjoying the art of photography. And, that way, you will always be a winner to me.
One of the best things about film is the fact that it is physically real. In a world of so much digital artifice, of images captured in pixels and enhanced by algorithms, film’s appeal is a layer of realism that - as yet - cannot be replicated; a certain honesty. Of course, photo manipulation isn’t something new to digital imagery, nor is the phrase ‘the camera never lies’ uttered without at least a hint of irony. But it’s the way that film carries the process within it, sometimes physically etched into its surface. Take Great Grandma. I’d resisted Photoshopping out the imperfections, as they added a layer of interest and told their own story (not just of the manual process of developing in my kitchen, but of an epic battle to get the damn film on the developing reel). To me, there was honesty there, an element of truth; the whole point and beauty of film. It said, this is not a sanitised collection of pixels, a soulless reflection of the truth, but instead a physical representation as flawed and complex and beautiful as the humanity it represents. Alas, indicative of our times, it seems most people assumed what was real was faked to make it look real. And after being asked too many times why I would add the effect, I got rid of it. I’m not mad about it, don’t get me wrong! We’re all tuned to view images in such a way that it was inevitable. Indeed, it was an interesting exercise to see what could be done to ‘clean up’ the image. I guess the whole thing has taught me that I need to be a little more patient and careful when it comes to handling film. Realism is one thing, but maybe there’s such a thing as a little too much.
JUST a handful of words, laid out carefully over a few, innocent lines, paint a scene as vivid as any picture. Without punctuation, without ostentatious language (only two words contain more than two syllables), the rhythm of William Carlos Williams’ This Is Just To Say (above) is yet dictated, the sense of a blissful summer invoked and the words so deliciously round they fill the mouth as satisfyingly as his purple fruits. To quote US photographer and critic, Minor White, “photography is a language more universal than words”. Poetry elevates even the simplest of language. And, if photography is language, then for me film photography is poetry. Photography quite literally speaks to us in a way more fundamental than we give it credit for in this fast paced world of instant imagery and instant gratification. We take it for granted, and images are thrown around like cheap words. But film? Film is art. Film dictates a different pace. Film fills each scene like so many blissful summers of childhood. Film speaks with such nuance that it sees the world and, indeed, shows the world from a different viewpoint. That, of course, sounds a little like hyperbole and a lot like my opinion. But take a look at the slides below and the images across the gallery. Better yet, take a look at the masters of analogue; Ansel Adams, Robert Capa, and Vivian Maier, to name just a few. Go on, I’ll wait. See what I mean? How beautiful is Cameron’s portrait of a wild-haired Alfred Lord Tennyson, an image that tells us as much about the man as his famed lines of poetry? How much depth and nuance is there to be heard in Adams’ The Tetons and the Snake River? Perhaps it’s the natural process, the way light lands on a strip of emulsion; but it’s also its fallibility, the imperfections of the process that reflect something much more human - soul. A photographer sees and reflects. But I am always surprised by what an image seems to say as the negative first hangs up to dry and then appears in its finished form; forming visual rhythms and riffing rhymes as they bare that inner light. Be it wedding, family, portraits, even the brutal reality of war photography, film is timeless, it is real, and it knows its own voice. And that, to me, is pure poetry.