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Entries for the 2012 IPPA Awards

Entries for the 2012 IPPA Awards

Have you ever wondered what goes on at the final judging of the IPPA’s annual awards? Many members have. Certainly, I’ve been curious. Last Sunday, I was able to see for myself when I participated in the judging of the 2012 awards as a stand-in judge.

Before we continue, I should explain what a stand-in judge’s role is. You’ll already have figured out that one responsibility is to cover for any judge who cannot make it on the day. In the event, all of the first-line judges were present. That didn’t preclude me from participating, however. In fact, it was encouraged and I was invited to express my views on the photographs under review. As a second-tier judge, I did not have a vote though.

Instead, the final decisions were in the hands of a heavy-weight quintet: Kevin Wilson, Barry McCall, David Cantwell, Mick Quinn and Gareth Byrne – all of whom are Fellows, all of whom have received multiple high honours in their careers. Marshalling them was Vinnie O’Byrne, the association’s chairman of judging and himself laden with accolades and distinctions.

Was I intimidated?

Yes.

For the first five minutes. But it turns out they all drink tea and coffee like the rest of us. Besides, they couldn’t have been more encouraging to the new guy.

Impassioned Debate and Disagreement

That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t tell me, or anyone else in the room for that matter, if they disagreed with a viewpoint.

In fact, there was some fairly robust debate on occasion. Respectful, but robust nevertheless.

Some category winners were decided unanimously. They were the easy ones. The stand-out entries.

Other winners were reached after long discussion, multiple pleas on behalf of diverse candidate panels or prints, and tight 3-2 votes.

It was interesting to see how judges would, having heard the insights of their colleagues, change their position if the argument put forward was good enough. If it was twaddle, they’d dismiss it. I found that out first hand. You live and learn.

The Process

The judging process itself was straightforward. All of the candidate portfolios or single prints in a category would be displayed together, and the judges would inspect each one. Then, by a process of elimination, the entries would be whittled down.

Judges would first be asked to vote to keep a panel or single print in the judging. Those panels and prints that didn’t receive a vote were removed. This was repeated, if necessary, until three or four entries remained. Then, Vinnie would instruct the judges to vote only for the entry they wished to see win.

I found the final pronouncement the most powerful part of this process. When an entry had been voted the winner, Vinnie would ask the judges: “Are you happy that this is the winner of [Category XYZ]?” It might not convey as well on your computer screen, but hearing that question asked, and so directly, made you consider the magnitude of what had been decided. If you have someone of the calibre of Vinnie O’Byrne asking you this directly, you want to be definite in your mind that you can live with the decision.

Photograph of entries being judged at the finals for the 2012 Irish Professional Photographers Association awards

Vinnie O'Byrne asking judges for their vote on an entry to a single print category. (I removed image itself as leaving it may have given the photographer false hope or despair)

Keeping It Honest

None of the judges had work that was entered into the finals. You’d expect that.

One issue that crops up regularly among members is that they feel some photographers’ work is so recognizable that judges know their photographs and will act according to the individual’s reputation. I can only go on what I saw last Sunday.

Yes, some photographers have a very distinct style. It is something we should all aim for. Yet because the judges are drawn from various disciplines and have varying degrees of involvement in the preliminary judgings, not everyone has the same level of exposure to the work of every member who enters the awards. In fact, two of this year’s judges would have have seen none or very little of the work of IPPA members at all.

Watching the process unfold where a photographer’s DNA was very evident in the work entered was fascinating. If you think that a photographer’s work has an advantage because it is well-known and their style is evident, think again. It makes no difference. Every single debate I witnessed was about the photography, the images in their own right – not the photographer, nor their reputation.

I’d like to give you a very concrete example of this, but to do so would give away a category winner and the ultimate title of IPPA Photographer of the Year.

When the awards dinner has passed, please someone remind me, and I’ll fill in the gap. You’ll find it very enlightening and reassuring.

Five Tips to Help You Win

So how do you win an award? Is there a formula?

No. There is no silver bullet that will catapult you to victory.

I can instead give you five tips that will help you.

1 – Only enter strong photographs. If you’re entering a panel, don’t add a make-weight.

2 – Make sure your work is printed and presented as best as it can be. Shoddy printing and presentation lost people awards on Sunday.

3 – If you enter a panel, try to make the photographs hang together well. A mishmash of image sizes, printing techniques, themes, post-production and so on hinders the coherence of a panel.

4 – Obey the rules. One entrant’s work was disqualified because it was known not to have been taken during a genuine wedding as part of a real wedding commission, for instance.

5 – Dare to be different. Dare to follow your heart and express your vision and your voice. The strongest panels were those that were a true expression of a photographer’s individuality.

To these five, I’d like to add a sixth.

6 – Enter. It will challenge you to became a better photographer.

-Roger-

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