Today, I came to the realisation that close can be close enough.
On April 6, I found out that I was a finalist for the Professional Photographers of Canada national image salon Portrait Photographer of the Year. On April 17, I found out that one of the other finalists, BC’s David Custodio, had actually won it.
I entered this year’s competition with one thought in mind: better my results from last year’s salon entry. As a professional photographer and, more importantly, as a creative, I feel it is incumbent on me to strive for more, to learn and apply with the goals of growth, advancement and greater understanding. It’s an industry with limitless potential in both opportunity and the craft, itself.
My first entry was an obvious choice. Having won an Excellence in the 2012 Provincial Salon, it would have been a wasted opportunity not to enter it nationally. “The Last To Go” is, perhaps, close to the top in my personal ‘favourite five’ that I’ve created. It won an Excellence in the Fine Art category in this year’s salon and made it into the National Loan collection. On to the other entries …
Let’s take a quick sidebar first, so I can explain just why I chose to enter these images, specifically.
In the provincial competition, I had three images that all received a score of Merit. I could have entered them in the nationals with a reasonable certainty that they’d do well but I chose not to. While the skill level of the competitors between the provincial and national salons is the same (they are all professional photographers after all), the competition is far more fierce when on a coast-to-coast scale. Hundreds of photographers all vying for the few top spots, entering their very best, meant that I couldn’t rest on past laurels. I simply knew, in my heart, that those three merits just wouldn’t cut the mustard nationally.
In selecting which new images I would enter, the first that came to mind was ‘Masters of Movember’, a shot I took last fall for a charity event. As a Group Portrait, I thought it had a certain modern, ‘graphic’ quality to it. The judges scored it an Accepted. “Ok, not bad”, I thought. Moving on …
The next one I shot specifically for this competition. ‘Being She’ is a Figure Study with a not-so-subtle message to it: the subject is willing to honour her religious heritage by wearing the Hijab but is also taking ownership of her femininity by wearing very little else. Perhaps I put too much thought into it, who knows? It scored a very quick, lightning quick, Accepted with no conversation. That surprised me to some degree as it’s a potentially polarising piece, culturally speaking.
And, there’s our second sidebar: just because I may see something in an image, some underlying message, context or meaning, it in no way means that the print judges will see the same. When entering image competitions, it’s important to consider your audience. Are they as versed in certain issues? How much do their cultural environments contribute to their own perspectives? Perhaps they’re looking for something else in a competition image, something that you’ve overlooked in creating a message-first image. Play to your audience – a rule I may have put on the back-burner with this one. Is it a pandering approach? Perhaps, but one that can certainly make or break an image competitively.
My final image, submitted in the Portrait category, was ‘Flex’. This was shot for a client last fall and one that I thought would do rather well. It did, in fact, score a Merit. In a competition as fierce as this one, a competition in which only 56% of submitted images ‘made the grade’, having all four of mine in the show was a cause for celebration. Last year, I had one score an Excellence, one score a Merit one score Accepted and one was not accepted, so this was a big improvement. It just wasn’t enough to win that Photographer of the Year award.
I’ll admit: waking up this morning, I was in a bit of a funk. It really only lasted long enough for me to justify eating the ooey-gooey left over beef ribs for breakfast (c’mon, it’s comfort food. You do it, too … don’t even!). The mood passed about the time I was washing up, so I started thinking, honestly thinking, about the whole affair …
My goal wasn’t to win POTY, that was David’s goal. My goal was to do better than I did last year. Would I have been happy winning the big award? I’d be lying if I said “no” but, really, what was there to be unhappy about? I set out with a goal in mind and I did just that. The plan was made, executed and achieved. I should do so well every day of my life. I’ll take it exactly for what it is – success.
And … congratulations on your success, David. You earned it.