Freeing Ourselves From The Constraints Of Competitions

Most of us have at least something in us that makes us competitive and, so, we want to compete against each other and seek to win (or at least do well). And we get a buzz when we do succeed. So we photography enthusiasts enter photography competitions – at our local photography clubs, in the ever expanding number of Web-based opportunities, in so-called salons or exhibitions given approvals by our national photographic bodies such as the Australian Photographic Society, or by international bodies such as FIAP.

The judges of competitions vary in their personal photography skill levels or ability to assess images. The local newspaper where I live in Canberra conducts quarterly seasonal photography competitions for readers where the final judging of a group of selected images is done on Facebook by anyone who cares to vote. This means the eventual winners of modest cash prizes are the authors who have the most FB friends or the best social media skills to self-promote.

Judges at our photography clubs and in National and International salons are generally well-credentialed and experienced photographers who have themselves succeeded in such competitions and may well have completed a judging course. So, when we enter these competitions we submit images that we hope will please the judges. Whilst we learn from these experiences and, hopefully, improve our photography as a result, I wonder whether we also put our imagery into something of a straight-jacket at the same time.

At last year’s Australian Photographic Society Convention (APSCON 2015), some of the presenters introduced us to approaches that may not produce images that would succeed in competitions. I think that is a good thing as it helps free up our photography. Not every image we take needs to be aimed at competition. We should enjoy making images that will simply bring a smile to the face of a friend, or cause another person to ask “why on earth did you take that?”

The Society’s Contemporary Special Interest Group does not conduct any competitions, preferring instead to encourage its members to focus on exploring their own personal approaches to photography and to illustrate concepts. Members break “the rules” and seek to stretch the boundaries of their photography. I am not trying to make a case for joining the Group, simply suggesting that it is well worth exploring our own personal approaches by pursuing personal projects.

Last year I began working on a specific personal project which I now refer to as “Of Books and Memories”. I not only construct images relating to particular memories associated with particular books, I also write words about those memories. The possibility of a book of both the words and the images is not yet resolved in my mind. Here are some examples of the images that I have been constructing for that project.

Small - Dusty

Of Books and Memories – Dusty

Small - The Power of Positive Thinking

Of Books and Memories – The Power of Positive thinking

Like many others I also explore themes. Sometimes those explorations last for years, often lapsing and later being revisited. Others become the focus of intense activity for a relatively short time. One I have been exploring for the last few months has seen me grabbing quick images of the feet of people as they go about their activities in shopping centres, art galleries and elsewhere. I am wondering whether or not it has the potential for an exhibition in a gallery.

Feet - Tom Roberts at the Gallery

Feet – Tom Roberts at the Gallery

Feet - interacting outside after the opening

Feet – interacting outside after the opening

Feet - moving through the shopping mall

Feet – moving through the shopping mall

Feet - viewing the exhibition

Feet – viewing the exhibition

After having had the opportunity to learn from the Canadian photographer Robert Walker, firstly in Times Square, then at APSCON 2015 and finally by studying one of his books, I have explored imagery using something of his approach which often involves abstract shots with a limited colour palette and comprising geometrical shapes – perhaps where the same colours appear in diagonally opposite quadrants. I do not wish to simply imitate Robert, but rather to explore my own possibilities using his style as something of my inspiration. My explorations have already resulted in a photobook for home coffee table in which every image is a vertical.

Vertical - Tenterfield shop entry

Vertical – Tenterfield Shop Entry

Vertical - Tweed Heads Fish

Vertical – Tweed Heads Fish

Vertical - Circus Elements

Vertical – Circus Elements

Vertical - Sunshine Coast Coffee Shop

Vertical – Sunshine Coast Coffee Shop

I will continue to enter competitions at my local club, primarily because as a member I want to participate in as many of its activities as possible. I might even enter some of my freed up images! I will also continue to enter into a few select other competitions. But my principal focus is on creating new images for projects that I embark on; images that mostly will never be entered in competitions but will be shared with anyone who is interested – like those of you who have read this.