It’s a sure sign Christmas is just around the corner, the book presses are running, the calendars are being bound and the gift market is well and truly in the sites.
Yes, it’s the “Photographer of the Year” season, brace yourself for endless debates, cliched images, controversy, questionable choices and the odd good photo.
This week we’ve had the Landscape Photographer of the Year and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year announced with the usual fanfare, breakfast TV analysis, full page spreads and accompanying books, calendars, prints...
It seems every year the weeks following the announcement of winners in these competitions are marked with controversy; animals lured to locations unethically, the use (& over use) of editing techniques, composite images passed off as single captures, plagarism etc etc. As a marketer I tend to be a bit jaded by all this controversy & can’t help thinking there’s no such thing as bad publicity. As a photographer I have very mixed feelings about photography competitions in general and these high profile competitions in particular.
I won’t critique individual images - others have already done that and deemed the winning images to be the best. I’m always reminded by other photographers that it’s a subjective art-form and whilst that’s broadly true we all know a good & bad photograph when we see it so we know that any competition of this profile will be full of good photos. My concern with The Landscape Photographer competition is that in it’s thirteen years it has developed it’s own look or style. This year’s gallery is just as expected, beautiful vibrant, punchy views that look very much like previous years. Don’t get me wrong, as a collection, as a book that will make a great Christmas gift to be passed around the tipsy relatives on Christmas morning the photos look great. There’ll be lots of discussions before the Queen’s speech about how the photographer created those starbursts, where those vibrant, saturated colours came from and how they made those waves all milky and blurred.
I don’t see development, I don’t see cutting edge, new styles or the boundaries of landscape photography being pushed forward. Of course, this is where subjectivity really lives and taking risks, setting new styles doesn’t sell books & calendars.
Enjoy the images, take inspiration and plan your own journeys to discover this beautiful country through your camera but the best landscape photographs of the year? I’ll let you decide.
At the same time, over on the truly awful National History Museum website (a site clearly never planned to display image galleries) we have the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award. It strikes me that the Wildlife awards have stuck to their guns of showcasing the very best from around the world. These photos are not just images but the stories behind them and consequently they’re far more compelling. We see the story of endangered species, epic journeys to encounter animals in their own habitat and unique behaviour never before recorded.
Compared to the Landscape competition these images are far less attainable, you’re not going to pop down the local park and capture equivalent images, they remain no less inspirational however. Whilst improvements in technology and the ever expanding eco-tourism industry widen the possibilities of creating these types of images these wildlife photographers are pushing the boundaries, not only of what they can photograph but how they do it.
Take the winning image “The Golden Couple” for example; perfect location, vibrant & saturated colours, cute baby, etc etc but look carefully. That’s at least one & possibly two off camera flashes (the second may just be post processing) a pose that’s more human and a synchronised distraction that has caught the attention of both subjects at the same time. That’s a portrait that would grace any professional studio.
The lengths photographers have gone to in entering the Wildlife competition have drawn criticism and no little controversy in previous years, pushing limits to develop style is often uncomfortable and people don’t like change.
Whilst you can buy the book here too it’s clearly not the driver for the Wildlife Photographer competition and so you sense they’re not seeking to satisfy an existing, repeat customer.
Subjectivity I would suggest is less in the eye of the photographer and more in the eye of the audience. There’s no harm in satisfying a loyal, regular customer base but ultimately I don’t believe this feeds creativity & development, it simply becomes a commercial process like any other.
I know which book I’d put on my Christmas list.