Judging – fighting the battle from within the parapets!

This little web page has been a source of much discussion – heated and rational – about the judging standards in photographic clubs. We aren’t the only ones, but in our little corner of the world we were a squeaky wheel.

Our web page and the articles (in March 2011 and April 2014) about judging have been used as ammunition in a battle both in South Australia and South America (I kid you not). There are probably others (drop us a line if you did). I’m sure many people have read our blog and nodded or shaken their heads. Felt our pain. Shared in the angst of inadequate judging.

The discussion began due to the frustration many of us felt about the quality of photographic club judges. They seemed mired in the past. The technical aspects were the only thing examined. Trends in modern photography ignored. Were we pursuing art or were we aiming to be good technicians? I confess that I’m one of the instigators of this discussion. I had seen my photography decline as I tried to please a bunch of people that to me seemed locked in a time warp somewhere around 1970. I realised what I was doing and started to climb out of the abyss. It took some time.

The squeaky wheels – not just our little club – started to be heard around the photography clubs in this state. Judges were discussed in both whispers and loudly.

How could we change things? We discussed this many times. The suggestion – change it from within. “No” many of us cried. “Too hard”. “Don’t have the time”. “It’d be a lone voice lost in the wind”.

At the same time, the SAPF executive noticed – and set about reform and change. Training more judges. Getting a broader range of opinions. Keith Seidel and John Hodgson took on the task. SAPF President Alberto Guirelli talked at club meetings around the state about changing the culture. He even became a judge!

Judging schools were revised. Other opinions sought. The SAPF now had more and varied judges. We started to notice something new in the judges that came to our club. We were often told that the scoring was their opinion. That our own opinion of our images counted as much. What? Hang on? What happened to the 1970s technical judge? That rule of thirds guy? They were starting to fade. Technical issues were still considered – but as a method to refine down to what was the best image of the night. Not as the only arbiter of what was a good photography club image.

And then one night last year I was asked to put my own voice into the mix by Keith Seidel after a particularly poor judging effort we had both observed. “Come along to the judging school. Be part of the process.” said Keith. I had to put up or shut up.

So in February this year, 10 of us went along to SAPF head quarters and spent the day learning about how to judge. We went through a range of topics led by Keith, Peter Phillips (who judged one of my first images when I started) and Des Berwick.

We heard about what made a good image – Visual Impact, Composition, Interesting, Purpose, Originality. Oh – and then some technique. But not to exclude the other aspects.

We discussed distractions in an image. Balance was considered. Flat lighting. Things that diluted what could be interesting.

And then the crux of it – judging is relative and not to some pre-conceived standard. Judging should be diplomatic. A good judge should recognise a good image and have an open mind to other image types. Bias should be left outside as should ego. Cliche’s abandoned. Keep up with new trends. Be an active photographer. Understand photographic camera and processing techniques. Be Consistent and Constructive and Entertaining.

Ye Gods! This sounded like our wish list! What had happened? People had listened!

The day progressed with some technical discussions about defining set subjects, handling standard images (pelicans and meerkats!), what is “someone else’s art”, image border sizes, photographic quality (golden means, odds numbers, diagonals etc), plagiarism & copyright, types of paper suiting the image. There was a lot more……

The differences between solo judging and panel judging were discussed. We got to do a panel judging of our own just before lunch – a very sobering exercise.

Then we got into some examples – using stills from television programmes. Yes – some of the best photographic art is in TV and film. The creative use of light, focus, placement, viewpoint, perspective. Look at the great artists such as Turner or any of the impressionists. The history of photographic techniques. Trends from modern photographers like Trent Parke (Australia’s own and only Magnum photographer). Learning from the great photographers of the past and present and why they are great.

More aspects of judging – what to say and what not to say! Get rid of those cliches that add nothing.

We covered country judging too – supporting those who can’t have a judge on site every meeting. (For reference 1/3 of South Australia lives outside of Adelaide and deserve better). I’m pleased to say I’ve signed up to help Jeff Venning and his country judging team.

The day had a lot to take in. I’ve got pages of notes and thoughts and ideas.

To finish we judged ourselves. We’d been asked to send in 10 images which were mixed up and presented to us. We judged each of them and noticed the mix of scores around the room. Some were instant hits, other images divided the scores. In that session the broad church of judging was clearly exposed.

At the end of our day – and it was a long one – Keith announced that he and the others felt we were all ready to go out into the big wide world of club judging. A surprise perhaps, but Keith has been watching and listening to us. At the recent SAPF AGM and Delegates Meeting Keith reported exactly the same thing.

Thanks Keith, Peter and Des – I promise to do my best.

So there you have it – a mea culpa of sorts from me. I’m now a photography club judge. Will I bring a new perspective and more balance? I’m a bit apprehensive – but will give it a go. If you find my judging inadequate let me know. Tell me about what you were trying to achieve. I’m not perfect and have never claimed to be. But I am empathetic – and maybe that will be my saving grace.

Chris 🙂

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4 responses

  1. Ken Day

    Thanks Chris and well done. After several months of battling with others opinions I put my cameras in the cupboard and have only recently got them out again. Even at my age i am amazed at the impact negative voices can have. I may not always be the most technical photographer but I have started listening to those who like what I do. Having more open and supportive and guiding judges is a major leap in the right direction. Art is to be experienced and enjoyed. Keep up the great work. Ken Day

    31/03/2015 at 11:02 am

  2. James Allan

    Good onya Chris – About time we got some of our generation onto the judging panels.

    31/03/2015 at 11:21 pm

  3. jduhb50

    Good Luck Chris. It’s great to learn from the past but we don’t live there. Language has moved on so must Photography

    01/04/2015 at 8:33 am

  4. Eric Budworth.

    Bloody great! Chris, you have done well.

    14/04/2015 at 7:46 am