2014 Ipa Award | Adam Marelli
Invisible City & Bear in the Canal
Matera & Venice, Italy
Photography competitions are a strange breed. They come in almost every variety from the town fair to international art recognition. To an outsider, it may be difficult to determine what a competition actually does and what it means to the winners. Because in a game of recognition, placing is often as important as winning. This year, I was happy to learn that two of my projects won Professional “Honorable Mention” in three categories: Historic, Cityscape, and Deeper Perspective. Awards play different roles for each of us, but lets look at a few reasons why its better to enter than to watch from the sidelines.
There are thousands of photographers who make outstanding work every year. They develop fascinating projects in every field from photojournalism to fine art. The range of work exceeds the number of awards offered every year. And more often than not, some of the best work does not fit neatly into a single category. It might be found between the covers of Vogue, running on the BBC or installed at an art gallery. For all of the steps in between soaring success and cataclysmic failure, photography competitions are a useful way to gain a bit of traction, get some press, and keep you on course to completion.
Winning a photography competition will not guarantee you any more clients, fame or respect. In truth, most companies or clients don’t follow competitions and won’t know IPA from NFL. But what they do understand is that they have just hired someone who wins awards. “Award winning” photographer can go a long way. Whether you won, placed, or qualified, it allows people to feel confident in your abilities. And if you win awards consistently, it means that you are capable, consistent, and committed. That is a good reputation to develop as a professional.
When we go outside with a camera there are always two people operating it…there is you and there is the voice inside your head. That voice can run wild. It can talk you out of pictures and it can exhaust you on days that don’t seem to go right. Every time a competition comes up in your favor, that voice gets quieter, until you can hardly hear it anymore. There are not many awards that will make or break a career, but a few points of recognition won’t hurt. It’s a vote of confidence which, like a nice compliment, is never needed but always welcome.
Not finished, no problem
All projects are not created equally. And while they might start with the best intentions, there will always be more ideas in the trash bin than on the table. Each project, big or small, takes time and energy. For this reason, competitions work as a sounding board to measure progress. An unfortunate byproduct of the internet is that it’s nearly impossible to find decent feedback online. Forums are corrosive, Facebook’s “Like” feature won’t explain why photographs of bunnies easily outrank your best efforts, and comment threads are to be avoided at almost all costs.
This year I happened to have two projects “Invisible City” and “The Bear in the Canal” that were in progress. Each one has at least two more trips before the series are complete. But while they are not ready for gallery walls, they are eligible for competition. Truthfully, win or lose, I will finish these projects, but it is helpful professionally and encouraging personally to garner recognition along the way. If you can win “in progress” it’s safe to say that the project is headed in a good direction.
Win, Lose, and Draw
A few of my friends judge photography competitions regularly. The judges, who are curators, gallerists, and writers do not agree on anything, ever. The only thing they do agree on is that the winners are rarely unanimous. Competitions are judged by panels, and creative types do not often see eye to eye. In fact, they are paid to disagree. This means that any of the shortlist, finalists, or qualifiers are well within reach of the top prize. The chemistry of decisions that results in the winner often means that anyone, literally anyone, could have won. So if the final selections do not go in your favor, it’s not worth fretting over. Eventually it will all come together. As they say, better luck next year, keep your head in the game, and keep pushing yourself. The efforts will pay off.
Matera Workshop Update
In case you missed it, last week Matera was awarded European Cultural Capital for 2019…the city is going bananas. For a city that was considered a malaria infested netherland during World War 2, this is a huge recognition and I’m very excited for all of my friends in Matera. It’s a brilliant city and a cultural treasure that should be experienced in person. There are already (3) photographers signed up for the workshop, with only (3) spaces left. This year will be a great time to see the city because it is at a tipping point, where it is unclear what this award might mean to the look and feel of the city. And this way, you can say “I was there before it was popular.”
Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to apply for the workshop.