Each year photographers of the AIPP look through all their images and lose sleep over working out which ones are their best. They spend hours looking at them, deconstructing them, finessing them. It can become all consuming. A bit fanatical or OCD.
Why? For some awards called APPA. Australian Print Photographic Awards.
We can walk away with grand titles like Travel Photographer of the Year, State Commercial Photographer of the Year. Categories include everything from Nature and Science, Commercial, Wedding, Documentary, Sport to Illustrative. Play well and work hard, and eventually, with enough points earned, we receive titles such as Grand Master Photographer, Master Photographer or Associate Photographer. These are hard earned and can take years. Years of money, emotion, time and work. To gain Associate, you need to earn 10 points in 5 years. 1 point for Silver, 2 points for Gold, .5 point for 78 or 79 which they say is nearly award standard.
Peers judge our work, some of the best in the industry. And some days it can be brutal. Photography is so personal; it can seem like they are talking about us when they discuss our work. Our judgement, our ability, our thoughts. Not to say they are right or wrong in a larger context of our world as many prints that are shown, and don't 'rate', have won other awards or been bought by clients for hundreds (if not more) of dollars.
I have been entering these awards for some years. Five or so. I always thought it was 'nice' to have my work reviewed by peers - but some years I left feeling like a failure, never good enough and perhaps needing to find a new career. But it's not like that. These awards are tough. My prints were getting professional standard with the occasional Silver Award (which means above pro standard). Of course, though, I'd look at others, and see their work as so much better and wish I could be more like them. Each year there are only a handful or so of Gold awards handed out from the thousands of submissions. Perhaps I'd browse these Gold prints that were hung up after each category and dream one day they would be mine up there with them.
This year I entered the awards with three prints that had received Silver status at the State awards. I also then rummaged through my archives and chanced across a sand dune shot from Kangaroo Island. A quick tweak and I sent the images off to be printed and shipped to Melbourne for awards. I thought I had a nice portfolio of subdued, quiet images that would definitely get me over the line for my Associate - at least three Silvers.
I didn't go over for the awards but watched via live streaming. It was a Saturday night when I caught up with my prints. I would sit holding my breath waiting for the scores. When the final score came up, I'd slump and begin to pity myself. I'd miss out on a Silver by a few points, and the score variance was crazy. Some judges were awarding one print just below pro standard to Silver award standard. I guess that is the subjective matter of photography.
So I sat for a few hours, waiting for image after image, hoping to get some Silvers or better. Two images were just below award standard, and needing 1.5 points to get my Associate, I was getting nervous. I saw my third come up and waited anxiously. At first I got Silver, but with Darren Jew believing it was worth more, a discussion was started. After what felt like hours to me, it was re-scored and received a Silver Distinction. Yay! My first ever! Now I just needed .5 point to get my Associate, and I'd be a happy lady.
The last print came up, and it was gone before I could think what happened. Apparently it was nothing special, being awarded Pro Standard. I was bummed. I missed out on my Associate by .5 of a point. I didn't know if I wanted to continue with these awards. I poured a glass of red wine. Why do I put myself through the emotional turmoil? Why do I spend so much money on these? Is it worth it? I don't need to have my ego patted - I should be happy with who I am and what I'm doing. I'm earning money; I love what I do, what else do I need? The questions ran wild. But I didn't have answers.
Two nights later and my phone dings with a Facebook message. Peter Barnes, another Adelaide photographer, was at the Awards Dinner. He's heard my name called for gaining my Associateship. I question it, but later find out he is, in fact, right. Yay! A .5 point that I thought was going to be dropped off (expired) didn't. Now my questions are definitely without answers. I'm still not happy I only received one Award, but I have learnt from it.
1. Look at my images throughout the year
2. Choose something that is quirky/different
3. Don't stress about retouching. Sometimes simple works.
4. Go with my gut